Meet the African female photographers unraveling mysteries of identity 

Meet the African female photographers unraveling mysteries of identity 

IDENTITY— the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. 

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender-diverse people. It influences how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the distribution of power and resources in society.

Gender identity is not confined to a binary (girl/woman, boy/man), nor is it static; it exists along a continuum and can change over time. There is considerable diversity in how individuals and groups understand, experience, and express gender through the roles they take on, the expectations placed on them, their relationships with others and the complex ways that gender is institutionalized in society.

Identity is such a profound concept that shapes how we view ourselves and our place in the world. It’s all about celebrating our individuality and what makes us stand out from the crowd, and it is fascinating to explore how different female photographers capture this essence through their lenses.

Forget the static portraits of the past. Today’s female photographers are wielding their cameras as powerful tools to capture and share the evolving narratives of identity. They’re not just documenting faces and places; they’re diving deep into the human experience, exploring the complexities of self, and sparking conversations about gender and social change.

Discover how these unique perspectives are reshaping the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

Nengi Nelson

Nengi Nelson, now a freelancer, was the creative director of Big Cabal Media. She is a Lagos-based freelance photographer and filmmaker who captures authentic stories of individuals and communities within and outside Nigeria. Her work highlights joy, progression, and, where necessary, suffering to incite change and drive aid. It interrogates the daily lives of Nigerians, exploring community stories, individual identity, and social responses in public space.

Nengi’s project “Alternate Identity” depicts Angel, a 35-year-old Ghanaian female who defines her identity as fluid. For her, her journey to self-definition has been a rather tough one in which she embraces both masculine and feminine representations of herself. “Alternate Identity” was exhibited at the Lagos Photo Festival in 2019 and was published in the African Women Board 2019 Book, amongst other exhibitions.

Yagazie Emezi

Yagazie Emezi is a Nigerian artist and self-taught documentary photographer who focuses on stories surrounding African women, their health, sexuality, education, and human rights. She started her career in 2015 and has since worked with Al Jazeera, the New York Times, Vogue, Newsweek, Inc., Time, the Guardian, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Bloomberg Businessweek, the New York Times Magazine, and The Weather Channel.

Yagazie’s ongoing personal project, “Relearning Bodies,” explores how people reclaim their bodies. This project studies the fragility and endurance of the human form and the acceptance of self within African communities. Relearning Bodies began in 2017 and is ongoing. The project has since evolved, now honing in on the details of scars alone. It seeks to connect the patterns etched on the skin with those in nature.

The project aims to demonstrate that the inherent way our bodies regenerate is a natural phenomenon, and society can and should recognize and embrace it.

Vanessa Endeley

Vanessa Endeley is a visionary artist whose captivating creations are a fusion of contemporary art and profound introspection. Hailing from a rich cultural background in Lagos, Nigeria, and drawing inspiration from the intricacies of human emotions, Endeley’s art is an exploration of the human experience and the essence of existence itself while addressing the social injustices faced by Nigerian women, education, health, and insecurity in the northeastern region of Nigeria.

Her ongoing project, Working Women, aims to document sex workers and the trials they go through as a result of their profession, humanising these women and portraying them as being just as valid human beings as the next person.

Sarah Waisa

Sarah is a Ugandan-born, Kenya-based documentary and portrait photographer with an interest in exploring identity on the African continent that explains how younger generations of Africans feel more expressive and less restrained by tradition than their predecessors. Sarah’s work explores social issues on the continent in a contemporary and non-traditional way.

She was named one of the 100 influential women, Uganda’s best-emerging artists, by OkayAfrica. She won the 2016 Rencontres d’Arles Discovery Award for a series that explored albino persecution in sub-Saharan Africa. Sarah was also recognized by the 2015 Uganda Press Photo Awards.

Some of her remarkable and profound projects include working with photographer Joel Lukhovi on “African Cityzens,”  which records daily life in multiple African cities. She is the founder of African Women in Photography, a non-profit organization dedicated to elevating and celebrating the work of women and non-binary photographers from Africa. In 2023, her passion for curatorial work led to her curatorial debut with the successful  ‘Sisi Ni Hao’ exhibition at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi, featuring the work of 12 East African women and non-binary photographers.

Delovie Kwagala

DeLovie Kwagala is a social activist, photographer and multidisciplinary artist from Uganda but has been based in South Africa since being exiled from her country. She is a non-binary queer self-taught African female photographer who is not afraid to push the boundaries on sexuality, beauty, gender identity, social activism, human rights and advocacy for women’s equality.

She uses photography as a tool to spread messages of awareness, especially about her social community. Kwagala’s artwork not only reflects the challenges, strength, and happiness of the LGBTQ+ community but also the resistance of queer Africans against enduring colonial ideas, common beliefs that homosexuality is ‘un-African,’ and ongoing oppressive structures in South Africa and Uganda. It symbolizes the rejection of queer Africans to give up their rights and visibility, conveying a powerful statement that they will not stay quiet in response to intolerance, bigotry, lack of knowledge, and violence.

The role of female photographers

The essence of identity—who we are and how we present ourselves to the world—profoundly shapes our experiences and interactions. Gender identity, fluid and diverse, transcends traditional binaries, influencing perceptions, behaviours, and the distribution of power in society. The exploration of identity is not merely a static reflection but a dynamic narrative, continuously evolving and reshaping our understanding of self and others.

Female photographers today are at the forefront of capturing and redefining these narratives. Through their lenses, they delve into the complexities of identity, challenging societal norms and sparking crucial conversations about gender and social change. Nengi Nelson, Yagazie Emezi, Vanessa Endeley, Sarah Waisa, and Delovie Kwagala exemplify this movement, using their art to illuminate the multifaceted nature of identity and advocate for greater inclusivity and acceptance.

Their work demonstrates that identity is not confined to static portraits but is a vibrant tapestry of stories, emotions, and experiences. These photographers not only document but also empower, offering new perspectives that challenge stereotypes and celebrate diversity. By showcasing their unique viewpoints, they reshape how we see ourselves and the world around us, inspiring a deeper appreciation for the rich complexity of human identity.

As we reflect on their contributions, it becomes evident that the fight against colourism, gender bias, and other forms of discrimination requires collective effort. Through awareness, advocacy, and the powerful medium of photography, we can foster a more inclusive and accepting society where everyone is valued for their unique identity. Let us continue to support and amplify these voices, celebrating the beauty of diversity and the strength found in our shared humanity.


React to this post!
No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.