There are millions of pictures of Nigerian brides on Instagram, many of them taken by talented artists who work as wedding photographers on the weekends, to pay their bills. I know some Nigerian artists, on the other hand, who swear that they will never stoop so low, no matter how needed the remuneration. Their reasoning is that wedding photography in Nigeria is, at its crudest, an interminable record of competitive ostentation, and that enough weekends spent thus engaged might turn you into something other than an artist with integrity.
Lakin Ogunbanwo’s portraits of Nigerian brides suggest no such artistic compromise. His pictures are, rather, an ingenious investigation into the elements of our culture’s wedding traditions that have been taken for granted. There are thirty-six different states in Nigeria, each with its own set of tribes, individual family customs, community ideologies and neuroses, rationales and taboos. Finances allowing, Nigerian weddings are densely peopled affairs spanning days or weeks, uncompromising in their opulence. They involve sequences of events that must never be contravened, lest the carefully apportioned roles of mother, father, sons, and daughters get disrupted or undermined. There are long lists of gifts that must exchange hands, oiling the self-worth of every relevant kin of the bride: forty tubers of yams, forty sedulously smoked aba-knifefish bellies, a large metal wedding trunk, a goat, new underwear for the bride, a fancy walking cane for the father of the bride, and so on.