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Capturing Culture: The Visual Journey of Babangida Iklima Shehu

Capturing Culture: The Visual Journey of Babangida Iklima Shehu

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and Iklima captures beauty through the eyes of her lens. Babangida Iklima Shehu is a visual storyteller, whose exceptional photography skills combined with her enthusiastic fervor to curate Nigerians collective artistic heritage, she captures the visual beauty as well as the heartbeat of the Hausa culture through the lively traditions, celebrations and everyday life in Kaduna and Northern Nigeria.

Dedicated to upholding and advancing Hausa music, her efforts extend beyond mere visuals, fostering a comprehensive celebration of our cultural heritage through artistic innovation and community involvement making her a conduit for Hausa talent. 

In an interpersonal exchange, Iklima gives us an insight into her career so far.

Iklima’s Sister and Mother

What inspired you to be a visual artist?

I’ve always been drawn to pictures ever since I was younger. We used to have a small camera at home and I loved to take pictures with it a lot. Also when I was in school, I used to document a lot of my life on Snapchat. I never thought that a casual childhood hobby would lead me to becoming a photographer but I’m glad it did. 

Regarding the project you did on Mother’s Day, can you kindly discuss the details of the project and what inspired it?

We lost our grandmother five years ago, everyone called her Mama, even her grandchildren, we called her Mama, that’s how close we are. She practically raised me and my siblings because we lost our father at a really young age. Losing her five years ago was the hardest blow we’ve ever experienced as a family; it was the toughest loss especially for my mother and her siblings because she was everything to them. She was like a single parent for most of their life, so they were really close. They were also her spitting image; all five of them (one male and four women) and all of them inherited certain features from her so that inspired me to do something that they could all hold on, something that immortalized her. She was also a picture person, she left a lot of pictures behind (pictures that we are still going through) because she always requested photographers to take pictures of her at every event she went to, she documented pictures of herself from a young age till when she passed. I’ve always been fascinated about how one person can be so in tune with creating memories and like preserving them and I think I got it from her too. 

The project was basically a way to give back to them because though they’ve been so strong for five years, I still see them struggling every time her name comes up; I  wanted something that reminded them of how virtually similar they were to her. I also decided to make it a bigger project for other people to participate in, so I put out a call on Twitter on March 3rd or so for anyone who would be interested in the project. The project was for my mother and her siblings, but it grew a little bit to other people. 

The project was really emotional for members of my family, I could see members of my family holding back tears as I took pictures. We barely talked about her since she died but on that day we did, it was bitter sweet but we poured our hearts out. For other people, I got to interview my friend, Hauwa and others and shared stories about their relationship with their mothers;  how it has grown, changed and evolved. It was a really good experience, I would say.

Can you share your creative process with us? What’s it like?

My creative process is very chaotic. I do my due diligence but for me, it’s important that my ideas are original. There’s no original idea but you can always try to make yours unique with a different angle. One thing that is helpful to my work is research; research helps to learn more about the ideas I have and immerse myself in the experience but as much as I like to research, I try not to be overly influenced by other people’s work so that I don’t end up imitating them. It is important to let your mind actually create on its own, you don’t know what your  mind is capable of producing till you experiment and try new things.

 What challenges do you typically encounter during your documentary projects and how do you overcome them?

For me in Kaduna, the challenge is usually situations. There are so many situations that I put myself in that I don’t feel very safe; or when I get back home, I’ll be like, “ah, that wasn’t exactly the safest place I could have gone”. Then again, these stories need to be told and I think I’ve made it my responsibility to tell the stories.

Regarding Nigeria and the future of photography, what’s your view on the future of photography in Nigeria?

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Recently, people have garnered so much relevance and recognition from photography. Photography has evolved so much from what it used to be 10-15 years ago. A lot of people paved the way for us to get to this place where it is now becoming mainstream and still we keep growing and expanding. I know the future holds something bigger; the future is definitely going to be bigger than it is now because more and more people are working and creating art that outlives them and paves the way for others.

Do you believe it’s necessary that people undergo a form of formal training to be able to practice photography?

I wasn’t formally taught photography. I picked it up because I had an interest in it. I started in 2017 and over the years, I’ve changed my eyes constantly by ‘doing’. You have to train yourself in one way or the other even just by the media you consume, YouTube videos etc, especially if you’re going into documentation. It’s a craft which you need to hone and train with consistent practice.

Iklima’s Mother and Grandmother

What advice do you have for aspiring documentary photographers, who would want to make a meaningful impact through their work?

Just start and also be original. Don’t copy and paste; push yourself out of your comfort zone, only then will you be able to discover what you are capable of; you have to also apply yourself, push yourself, and take as many pictures. Also, don’t box yourself into one genre or one segment of photography. You can try so many things and by trying so many things, you learn so much, the learning never stops. If you want to be dynamic and actually do something different, you need to venture and expand your horizon. You can’t stay in your comfort zone, good stories do not always find you, you’ll have to go outside your comfort zone to find them. You have to do something different and actually tell the stories from your own perspective.

What matters most to you and why?

My family; my family matters most to me because they have been supportive through it all. When I decided to go into photography and decided against using my degree, they stood by me and chose to support my dream especially in this part of the country where being a photographer isn’t a welcomed profession.They have been loving through it all and they are my rock stars. Without them, I don’t think I’d have been able to come this far. When I told them about the project, they were so excited to get on it and work with me. Yeah, I think it’s my family. They are the most important part of my life.

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