8 Artists Using Photography to Change the Narratives of Northern Nigerian

Northern Nigeria is a region steeped in rich cultural heritage, diverse landscapes, and a vibrant tapestry of traditions. Its people are diverse, and its landscapes are stunning. In recent years, a new wave of visual artists has emerged from the region, capturing its beauty and complexity through the lenses of their cameras.

Northern Nigeria is home to a new generation of talented visual artists who are bringing the region’s stories, culture, and people into global view through their groundbreaking work. From documentary film to street photography, wedding photography, filmmaking, photojournalism, and a lot more, these lens-based creators are shattering stereotypes and spreading nuanced perspectives of life in Northern Nigeria.

These creative individuals are making waves not only in Nigeria but also on the global stage. In this article, we’ll introduce you to eight lens masters from Northern Nigeria who are leaving an indelible mark in the world of visual storytelling. They are not only telling the stories of Northern Nigeria in their works but also directly changing the narratives of Northern Nigeria.

Fati Abubakar

Fati Abubakar is a Nigerian photojournalist, documentary photographer, and public health worker known for her powerful and impactful work documenting the lives of people, especially in conflict-affected regions of Nigeria, especially Northest Nigeria, specifically Borno.

“…the insurgency has been portrayed from mostly one angle, which is devastation and death. They [the media] don’t really see outside that, which is really unfortunate. And for the rest of your life, you will be labeled as something that came out of the insurgency, something that is depressed.”

 She goes out of the norm and portrays the resilience of conflict affected people and photographs their lives beyond the insurgency, and beyond what the media portrays.

“I was tired of the trauma narrative so I diverted from it. I started with “Nostalgia” where I was photographing architecture because I was afraid we were losing our buildings. Very soon the school you went to might no longer be there so I decided to capture the buildings.”

Fati gained prominence through her project “Bits of Borno,” which focuses on the daily lives, struggles, and resilience of people in Borno State, an area heavily affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. Bits of Borno on social media has gained critical acclaim, and has been published in media outlets including the New York Times, BBC, Reuters, CNN, Voice of America, Newsweek Europe, Irish Times, and Nigerian Newspapers such as ThisDay and The Blueprint. She has been commissioned to work with UNICEF, International Alert, Action Aid, NPR, and other organizations. She was also nominated as one of the most powerful women in journalism by WIJAfrica in 2023.

“The highlights of my career have been many but the most amazing is definitely the opportunities to do exhibitions all around the world and to finally fulfill my dreams of working in academia especially at a prestigious university such as Duke University.”

Her work has been widely recognized and has drawn attention to the humanitarian and social issues faced by the people in Northeast Nigeria. Fati Abubakar’s dedication to using her photography to shed light on important issues and amplify the voices of marginalized communities has earned her acclaim and respect in the fields of documentary photography and journalism.

“Build relationships in the photo industry. Always be willing to assist the way you want to be assisted. Be kind. Good things will come. And work a 9-5 if you have to, to fund your dreams. Do a fundraiser. Apply for grants, even if you get rejected; keep trying.”

Fati Abubakar is also very committed to training aspiring visual artists in the city of Maiduguri through Kanem Creative, and Fati Abubakar Arts Foundation which she says is a means for her to continue what she started.

Abubakar Mustapha

Abubakar Mustapha is a self-taught Niger state based Visual Artist whose art journey goes back to early 2000s, when his father gave him a small camera as a gift.

“That was the beginning of my journey into visual art. I started taking photographs during family ceremonies,” he said.

His journey continued as a mobile photographer in his early university years. He has come a long way by passionately capturing lives of his people, climate stories in his documentaries, such as the one titled “Things that went to Water,” about northern Nigerian Culture and displacement.

He has flawlessly found his way to a good number of national and international exhibitions, including a solo exhibition of my work Gozan curated by Photocarrefour Africa in 2022 in Abuja, Exhibition at Kaduna fashion and art festival, and Exhibition at  Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

Abubakar is also a writer whose works have been featured in Ebedi Review, Panorama: The Journal of Place and Nature, The Song Is, Ake Review, The Nigeria Review, The Shallow Tales Review, Libretto Magazine,Salamander Ink Magazine  and elsewhere. He is also a fellow of the Bada Murya Fellowship, a 2023 fellow of the Imodoye Writers Residency, and a Finalist for Africa Soft Power Climate Change Photoessay Prize.

“Northern Nigeria has a high number of visual artists like never before, and I see us winning and putting Northern Nigeria on the global map,” 

Abubakar Mustapha’s audience should look forward to his works in these forthcoming exhibitions: Africa Center New York on September 15, Africa Center London in October, Cop28 Dubai in November, ArtX exhibition Lagos in November, and Abuja International Photo Festival in October, including two of his photobooks that will be published before 2023 runs out. 

“I see us winning, and occupying places because I personally dedicate time to teaching my skills, and this already says a lot about the future of visual art in northern Nigeria.”

Abubakar is part of a project that has taught more than 300 young artists the right skills to thrive in visual art and is still counting.

Ahmed Abubakar Bature

Ahmed is a young photographer with an unquenchable passion for capturing his world through the lens. He brings a fresh and vibrant perspective to every frame he takes. Ahmad started as a mobile photographer before he got a text message from a wonderful man who bought him a camera because of how talented his skills are.

“I got a message that read, ‘I like what you are doing.’ This created a bond that birthed a camera that has transformed my life.”

The camera gave him new power, which made him transition from mobile photography to photojournalism. Ahmed focuses on capturing Taraba’s beauty, especially in Zing, where he started his journey.

“Photography made me redefine where I come from—nature’s gift to the nation.”

Ahmed’s picture was exhibited in Wenaijaphoto content, 2022, supported by the Nigeria Support Fund. He has worked with We2geda, Google Dev Taraba, and PD Pious. 

Ahmed is currently working on a project that aims to tell the stories of street hustlers in Northern Nigeria.

Sani Maikatanga

Sani Maikatanga is a Kano based photographer whose career journey dates back to 1992, when he ventured into photography as a secondary school student. Maikatanga began his professional photography career in 2000 as a reporter and photographer for the popular Hausa Movie publication FIM Magazine. He later ventured into photojournalism for leadership newspaper before joining Media Trust, publishers of the award-winning Daily Trust newspaper, where he has been featured consecutively as the photographer of the month six times.

With each click, this artist not only freezes time but also invites us to see the world through his eyes—a world filled with wonder, richness, festivity, curiosity, and boundless potential.

“It is very difficult to be consistent with photography because of alot of factors but it is worth it as the young generation will benefit from it”

Maikatanga has captured various Northern Nigerian Royal families and Arewa festivals in Nigeria and even beyond, in places like Agadas in Niger. 

Among his coverage is the popular Argungu Fishing Festival, which earned him an award with his photograph, Fishers on the Run, taken at the Argungu Festival, as the first prize Winner of the Global Landscapes Forum Africa Photo Competition 2022 , and he also received a Wiki Loves Monuments 2022 in Nigeria Winners 2022 award for the Kano Golden Jubilee roundabout. 

He is currently working on capturing various cultural items in Northern Nigeria so they can be used as a reference by various future generations and even documenting all his works in regards to Northern Nigerian culture into photobooks.

Stanley Mshelia

In the world of wedding photography, where emotions run high and moments pass by in the blink of an eye, there exists an artist whose lens has the power to freeze time, preserve love, and tell a beautiful story through pictures. This artist is Stanley Mshelia, a self-taught photographer who has been documenting beautiful people of Northern Nigeria, especially on their big days. His journey into photography started when he was serving as a corper, and he has come long way in capturing beautiful moments of couples on their wedding days.

“I’d like to call myself an accidental photographer because I just found myself in it, it was never planned or even thought about.

Stanley is not just a wedding photographer; he’s a storyteller of love stories set against the enchanting backdrop of Northern beauty. With an unyielding passion for capturing the most genuine and heartwarming moments, Stanley has carved a niche for himself in the world of wedding photography in this region. Hailing from the very heart of Northeastern Nigeria, Stanley’s connection to the landscapes and cultures of the area is profound, and this reflects vividly in his work. He possesses a unique ability to harmonize the region’s natural splendor, cultural diversity, and the emotions of the couples he photographs. 

Musa Gwary

Musa Gwary is digital storyteller who turns ideas into realities. He ventured into photography in 2016 before transitioning to videography and documentary filmmaking after a while. The main reason why his career took a U-turn is because he felt and understood that stories needed to be told from a different lens, and he did just that. 

Musa has won an award for using photography as a means to campaign in Maiduguri for bridges at various landmarks, which have now been successfully constructed. All thanks to Gwary.

“The media has a different image of Northern Nigeria, especially northeastern Nigeria, this is why we need to always work as hard as we can to be our own storytellers. We need to tell our stories.”  

He has worked with Search for Common Ground, Neem Foundation, Yobe State Emergency Management Agency, Equal Access, USAID/OTI North East Regional Initiative and  National Geographic, which he said was a game changer for his entire career.

“Working with National Geographic has, and will always be a highlight in my career.”

Musa has released 10% of a project that projects Borno in all  its positivity, beyond the insurgency. It is titled “Borno Rising,” and it was first displayed during the maiden edition of the Borno Book and Arts Festival curated by Sa’id Sa’ad Abubakar in November, 2022.

“We have changed a lot and we will continue doing that, the future is very bright for us.”

The public should await the full display of Musa’s documentar which brings Borno to the world from a lens of resilience.

Umar Ladu

Umar Isa Ladu is a highly accomplished video journalist, filmmaker, and photojournalist. He has worked for several prominent media organizations and NGOs, including BBC News, and Kian Smith Group and is currently the creative director of Cemo Nation Fils. 

He has covered a wide range of topics, including politics, social issues, culture, and human-interest stories. Ladu is also a passionate advocate for promoting Nigerian culture and heritage. He is currently working on a documentary film titled “Kano Tumbin Giwa: The Ancient City” in collaboration with other highly talented visual artists across the nation.

Ladu is a talented and versatile individual with a deep commitment to his craft. He is making a significant contribution to the field of journalism, Northern Nigeria, and the Nigerian creative industry entirely.

He got his motivation to go into filmmaking and videojournalism when he realized there was a very high need to tell the stories of the insurgencies after an incident that almost took his life. 

“That day was the day I knew it was important to let the world know the real story of the Boko Haram killings,” Umar said

The trauma of the event that almost took his life made him start a journey into photography, where he shot photos of terrible events that have reshaped the people of Borno in a very alarming way.

“The glass of my car was smashed! No one dared look into their eyes unless the person wanted to take his last breath.” he said

He started with photography with a pure passion to tell the stories of his people visually before going into photojournalism and now he majors in filmmaking and videojournalism. 

“One of the highlights of my career is being part of Legacy of Traditions  and its main aims are to encourage innovation, and digitization to develop cultural economies,” He said when he was asked about one of the highlights of his career so far.

Terry Jerry A’wase

Terry Jerry A’wase is a filmmaker, director, and photojournalist from Taraba State, who works with the African Union at the African Film Institute. Terry’s Visual Art journey started with complete support from his father, who enrolled him in a film institute to get professional skills to tell stories.

“I always wanted to tell stories, even though I grew up in an army barracks and was supposed to follow in the footsteps of people I grew up around.” 

He has been trained in prestigious institutes such as the African Film Institute, The African Film Institute, etc. He has  executed projects in more than 18 countries, Trained and empowered Hundreds of Filmmakers, Media practitioners, and Entrepreneurs in Nigeria and West Africa at Large.

Terry has been honored and recognized by various prestigious organizations and individuals, including Transparency International-IACC Berlin, The African Union, the World Bank Business Grant Award, and a former President of Nigeria. These accolades celebrate Terry’s remarkable contributions in inspiring and leading positive change, particularly among the youth.

He is the founder and head of A’DOO Creativity Arts Media, a company that produces films and content and trains and equips young filmmakers, especially female filmmakers. Through this, A’wase has created jobs and impacted over 300 youths, especially females, in North Central Nigeria in less than a decade. 

Making films and digital contents that inspire and lead social, economic, and political changes are his own ways of giving back to society.

These photographers have not only captured the visual beauty of Northern Nigeria and beyond but have also used their lenses to tell compelling stories, challenge stereotypes, and contribute to the cultural dialogue within and beyond the country’s borders. Their diverse styles and subject matter reflect the complexity and richness of Nigeria’s artistic and social landscape. These visual artists are a proof that the future is bright for Northern Nigeria.

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