#YNaijaNonBinary: 10 Young Nigerians Challenging Conformity in The Culture

For every generation, there exists a code; a set of norms passed on by the predecessors, so that society may continue on a certain trajectory. But we know that many of these norms are, at best, generalisations—at the individual level there are always varying degrees of adherence or deviation. This, too, is normal. The Nigerian future we are envisioning—and ultimately, building—will require a new normal; one that makes space for as many realities as possible, one that rejects the idea that society should keep “moving forward” at the expense of the same groups of people, and one that recognises that our beliefs should never compromise how others choose to live.

 

This new normal will be a result of a generation choosing its own trajectory and making its own rules to realise more egalitarian values. These ten people are a small reflection of our current cultural shift. They are redefining what it means to be young and Nigerian; challenging conformity and dancing on the edges of social permission, choosing to be who they are, rather than who they’ve been told they can or should be.

 

Temmie Ovwasa

23-year-old Temmie Ovwasa is that quintessential goth-artist type: she’s covered in tattoos, wears dark clothes and makeup, and sported a pale grey or lilac-tinted afro—until she shaved off the sides of her hair in order to have her scalp tattooed. But beneath the striking appearance lies a complex and multi-talented artist. Ovwasa is a painter, a poet, a guitarist and a songwriter, although her most outstanding trait is the captivating and soulful voice that arrests audiences, both in performance halls and online. Her Instagram page is rich with esoteric rituals, too: sound healing, sage burning, Zen meditation and the use of energy crystals. Ovwasa’s individuality inspires many young Nigerians who feel stifled by the rigid and normative aspects of our culture, and her journey towards a solitary spirituality, rather than collective religiosity, models a rare self-ownership that resonates almost as much as her bold and beautiful voice does.

 

Vincent Desmond

In the span of just a few years, Vincent Desmond has made massive strides in his field of culture journalism, especially with media advocacy for important LGBTQ+ issues in Africa. At 20 years old, this storyteller has reached such great heights that one must recognise the sky is no limit for someone who shines so brightly. In 2019, he received the Young Activist of the Year award from TIERS Nigeria. Additionally, his stories and reportage on pop/alternative culture, fashion and music have appeared in major international publications like Dazed, VICE UK, i-D, Mail & Guardian, NYLON, and many more—including a recently announced anthology of writing about LGBTQ+ rights, forthcoming from Vintage Books. Vincent Desmond has become a light to young and marginalised Nigerians, modelling hopes and possibilities of life beyond the pains of marginalisation. He shows us the kind of progress that can be made when we reclaim control over our narratives.

 

Fakhrriyyah Hashim

There are some people with the rare passion and courage it takes to begin a movement in the spaces where revolution is needed most. Yemeni-Nigerian feminist and poet, Fakhrriyyah Hashim, is one of such people. Hashim is passionate about her fight against “the scourge of sexual violence” in Northern Nigeria. This is why, buoyed by the global reckoning of the #MeToo movement, she pioneered the hashtag #ArewaMeToo, creating space for countless Northern Nigerian women to vocalise their experiences of sexual violence. The #ArewaMeToo movement has been far-reaching, creating awareness and amplifying the many voices demanding a change. Hashim also works with the North Normal movement, which places pressure on conservative Northern authorities to implement laws that protect women and prohibit sexual and gender-based violence. In addition to this, her social and political commentary have been featured on numerous international media platforms. Hashim works fiercely against a culture of silence, and the labour of her witnessing has achieved many necessary results so far.

 

Adebayo Oke-Lawal

Since founding Orange Culture back in 2011, self-taught fashion designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal has remained consistent with his and his brand’s message through fashion: individuality, diversity, and a reiteration of the idea that there is no single way to “be a man.” Although commonly regarded as a menswear brand, Orange Culture has put considerable effort into breaking down the Nigerian ideal of masculinity through androgynous and colourful collections over the years. According to Oke-Lawal, some of the inspiration for the brand’s identity comes from “The Orange Boy,” a story he wrote as a 16-year-old, detailing his adolescent experiences with toxic masculinity. Clearly, the message remains resonant and timeless: Orange Culture has grown into one of the biggest names in Nigerian and African fashion today. Oke-Lawal celebrates uniqueness through his bold designs and personal style, reminding us that, as his thigh-tattoo says: “Men Cry Too.”

 

Ashley Okoli

Fashion designer-cum-stylist Ashley Okoli is a creative force to be reckoned with. At 22 years old, her portfolio is extensive, featuring styling credits on music videos from major alternative artists like Lady Donli, Santi, Wavy the Creator, Nonso Amadi, etc, all in addition to being the creative director for Sillet, a womenswear brand she founded in 2017. The femme-fatale aesthetic of her work draws from punk and BDSM imagery: often leathery and androgynous, always edgy as hell. Her strategic involvement in visual and musical projects means that a lot of her stylistic elements have been diffused into the alté scene, a growing subculture among young Nigerians. One look through the comment sections of her spectacular Instagram profile will reveal passionate responses ranging from “Hot!!!” to “u scare the shit out of me.” But Okoli manages to shrug off her haters. In 2019, she said to Okay Africa: “[…] Nigerians are used to being in a box. A lot of people here aren’t used to freedom and seeing creativity—most people are very traditional and stuck in those ways. We, on the other hand, are bringing the new, the fresh, and the modern to the mix, and that upsets, or even scares, people.” So, if you love her style, great. But if it makes you scared of her, maybe that’s even better.

 

Vche Uba

Vche Uba has attained a unique style of cross-dressing that many aspire to; a graceful and harmonious balance between masculinity and femininity that makes it difficult to discern his maleness as a separable reality—destabilizing preconceived ideas of what gender and embodiment can be, and how they can be manipulated through appearance. Uba is a fashion designer and model, who has been featured in Vogue and other major publications, in addition to appearances in mainstream and alternative music videos. He is a clear signifier of the fact that some norms will simply never do justice to some people’s being; rather, they constitute limits. But Uba defies limitation—he can always be found in edgy creative spaces, or in his corners of the internet, being free and curating his own specific forms of beauty.

 

Wavy the Creator

Words like “unconventional” and “different” are often used to portray Jennifer Ejoke—better known as Wavy the Creator—although she defines herself as a “Nigerian alien” instead. The Lagos-born, Houston-bred artist is most popularly known as an Afro-alternative musician, although her other mediums include fashion, video art, and photography—she initially rose to prominence in 2017 as a personal photographer and videographer for rapper Olamide, before beginning her foray into a solo music career. Within that time, Wavy has established herself as a singular act, with a distinct sound and style. Arguably one of the most fashionable acts on the current music scene, her style is vibrant and retro, masc-adjacent, almost entirely devoid of gender. It’s just…wavy. The same approach is applied to her craft as a musician. Wavy describes her music as an art and “a form of expression”—perhaps this is why a rare authenticity shines through everything she does. Other words that should be used to describe this artist? Try “exciting” or “refreshing”.

 

Daniel Obasi

Aba-born celebrity stylist, filmmaker, photographer and art director, Daniel Obasi, is one of the brightest lights on the creative scene of Lagos, Nigeria, and Africa at large. The 23-year-old’s visual work, which often deconstructs and redefines themes of fantasy, masculinity and Afrocentric beauty, has been widely featured in the most respected of fashion and culture publications: Marie Claire, i-D, Vogue Portugal, Okay Africa and Billboard, to name a few. He has also done some exceptional work styling music videos for Tiwa Savage, Davido, WurlD, and many other artists in the mainstream. Obasi has a unique talent for leaning into the fluidities of sexuality and gender, and emerging with outstanding imagery that compels and stuns viewers. One could call him an artist to watch, but all eyes seem to already be on him.

 

Alex Maduagwu

Colonialism is at the heart of what we consider “normal” in Nigeria, making decolonisation a radical and necessary active practice. Alexandra Maduagwu embodies this redefinition of what it is to be a young African, from her cowrie-adorned dreadlocks, to her androgynous style, and her important administrative work on the scene of African arts and culture. Even more striking is ArtxJuJu—the business/community she co-founded in 2018. As a brand, JuJu. calls for “a conversation on the demonisation of several ancient African practices and lifestyles.” The clothing items and accessories feature motifs of prints, beads, cowries, bone ornaments and wood carvings; all associated with pre-colonial spiritual aesthetics. The JuJu. blog is a treasure trove, too, filled with rich essays and conversations about cosmologies, deities, and spiritualities originating from various African tribes. Even the name “JuJu.” presents a question about our cultural perceptions of our own indigenous beliefs and practices. Maduagwu challenges these perceptions, and invites members of the JuJu. community to do the same. The brand slogan to “know your past and own your future” is a much-needed admonition for all young Nigerians.

 

Ezra Olubi

It is no longer uncommon for young men in tech spaces to wear nail polish as a symbol of “cool” and evolved masculinity. In most cases, however, the limit is one or two fingernails on each hand, coated in a black polish—most would balk at the use of any other colour. This is one of the things that sets Ezra Olubi—co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Paystack—apart from his more normative peers. Olubi’s aesthetics are not intended to follow an industry trend. When he wears nail polish, he goes all out, in beautiful, dazzling shades like “Scarlet Obsession,” completing his look with a complementary colour of MAC lipstick. In recent weeks, he has cut off his shoulder-length dreadlocks, but it was in the fullness of this femme-bordering presentation that he would attend his meetings with Paystack investors. Speaking with The New York Times in 2018 about strangers who ask him why he chooses this style and appearance, Olubi’s answer is simple and complete: “Because I like it.”

 

 

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