Noma Osula: Challenging Social Norms

Out Of Africa: Noma Osula

The contemporary art movement out of Africa doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Especially not for Nigerian born photographer, Noma Osula. Born and based in Lagos, Nigeria, Osula interest in portraiture is a mainstay in the young artist life. Teaching himself how to use the camera on his final year of university. He found photography to be an ideal format to express his ideas, and portraiture a compelling genre to display them in.

Noma Osula, Out of Africa
Noma Osula, Untitled

Using color as the focal point in many of his photographs, he captures moments as vivid as they are somber. Dominating the background of his photographs are bursts of color, However, the jubilance feels misplaced in the scenes’ wider contexts.

“Capturing people in bright outfits and awkward poses or weird gestures is my way to reflect on what I see around me,” he explained. “I get a lot of inspiration from my locale — Lagos is a chaotic, colorful, energetic place to be in, and that definitely informs my pictures.” He continues to explain the use of color. “Life in Nigeria is very much defined by color, in a way that’s completely different from the West,” he said. “We have a lot of vibrant patterns all around us, from the clothes we wear to the objects we use.”

The Portraiture: Noma Osula

However, Osula’s pictures don’t just want to challenge local customs. Their aim is to also critique the West’s perceived prestige, in Africa. Through the subjects, the textiles, accessories, and garments they wear, and the sets that surround them, his photographs celebrate the African aesthetic.

“Throughout modern history, western standards have deeply influenced and affected many aspects in African society, including what’s supposed to be aesthetically pleasing,” Osula said. “We’ve been taught to appreciate sharp noses over wide ones, light skin over dark. To shy away from our form of beauty. ” He continued.

Noma Osula
Noma Osula, Untitled

“Both subjects didn’t care of what other people might think of them posing like that,” Osula said. “They were ready to experiment, which is why I chose them. We have a lot of social norms in Nigeria, and Africa in general, when it comes to beauty, identity, sexuality, and gender. Society is quite conservative and conforming. There are set ideas on what’s feminine or macho, from colors to garments to how you behave in public. With the people in my photos, I’m trying to push back on that.”

The old tropes and narrow purview of Africa and its many peoples from different countries and cultures is long overdue for a change. With that, Osula believes artists from the continent must help with that narrative. “Most people think of Africa as one big country, not a continent. It’s like, we’re all the same to them. They think it’s a jungle, where people still live in primitive ways and according to exotic notions of beauty. Western photography has often pushed that perspective, as have the media. But we are not primitive,” Osula said.

Unafraid of challenging the social norms Noma Osula work chronicles the beginnings of new era in African art.

See All Articles
Dimension Unit