“Our Lived Experiences are So Similar”: In Conversation with Aisha Ife on Art, Photography and Empowerment

“Our Lived Experiences are So Similar”: In Conversation with Aisha Ife on Art and Empowerment

The Feature” is designed to bring attention and awareness to the amazing works that Muslim women are doing in the world, inspiring you to live your most brilliant lives. In conversation with Aisha Ife, TMWT explored the intersection of Art, Photography and Empowerment.

Art is one of humanity’s greatest antidote for solving the problems of modern life. It has the potential of expanding people’s understanding of what others struggle with, as well as being a generator of resistance to power relations and outdated discourses. Most of all, we are awed by the power of art to empower women and to make them identify their talent by the way of art. One of the live examples of women’s empowerment through art is Aisha Ife’s photography project, “The Skin Series“, which does not only challenge the Media’s monopoly on beauty but also upturns unrealistic beauty standards.

Aisha Ife is a Portrait and Product Photographer based in Lagos, Nigeria. She’s the Creative Director of “Littart by Aì“, a Nigerian creative stationery brand. She’s passionate about improving the visibility of women in photography and creative genres. She also founded “Tiwa“, a community of Nigerian female photographers. When she’s not photographing people or products, she’s channelling her art through her illustrations, books, doodling or plant care.

To find out more about her various art projects, TMWT had a chat with her and here’s what she had to say:

“As a person living with acne myself, “The Skin Series” was borne out of realising that many people have similar struggles and even worse. I became a social recluse because I was tired of being constantly reminded of the condition of my skin and being looked at like a “monster”. As a result of the unrealistic standards of beauty perpetuated by the media, I often feel like I am not ‘normal’.”

Aisha Ife

TMWT:  What would you say inspired your interest in art and how did this evolve over the years?

Aisha Ife: Growing up, I was surrounded by art and crafts. I grew up knowing how to draw. I guess I was born with it. Over the years, I’ve gone from being really interested in arts to forgetting that I could do a lot of creative things and picking them up again. Now, my artistic side has evolved into telling stories with all the various forms of my art; photography and illustrations included.

TMWT: How easy was it for you to choose this career path? Did you have a mentor to guide you? 

Aisha Ife: I didn’t have a mentor to guide me. I also didn’t actively choose photography. It’s something I grew into. I studied civil engineering at University because I always wanted to be a Civil engineer. But in my final year, I lost interest and didn’t want to do it anymore, especially not in Nigeria. Initially, it was tough not knowing what to do with my life. I had picked up taking random images in my final year in Uni but I never saw it as a career path. It was just a hobby at the time. I wrote about my photography journey sometime in 2019 here.

TMWT:  Would you say that your religion and African Identity has made your work stand out?

Aisha Ife: I don’t think my religion has made my work stand out. For the most part of my photography journey, I was known as “Aì” and I’m mostly anonymous, so many people assumed that I was a man. It was only recently that I started identifying as “Aisha Ife”. Now, people can figure out my identity but I can’t ascertain if it has affected how my work is perceived.

Portrait of Aisha Ifeoluwa by “Olanrewaju Ali”

TMWT: Your photography project “The Skin Series” made people living with acne feel seen and heard. Can you tell us more about this and what you seek to achieve with this project

Aisha Ife: ‘The Skin Series’ was a very personal project. I’m a person living with acne and it was important for me to share the experiences of other people living with acne too. People needed to see how our lives have been affected by their constant judgement. With this project, I hope to provoke thought within people, to make them look inwards and admit how they contribute to making life difficult for people. I want people to learn to be kind and to mind their business. Pointing out the obvious is very unnecessary.

TMWT: You have used your art to amplify the voices of women. In what ways do you think your art can inspire and empower women to build a sense of community?

Aisha Ife: I think sharing so many stories about different women has made me realise that our lived experiences are so similar. I feel like it might open people’s eyes to the fact that our stories are similar and that community is important.

TMWT: What has been your most challenging experience as an artist and how did you overcome them?

Aisha Ife: I think it might be getting people to notice my work. As my work slowly evolved from being just a hobby to something more commercial, I’ve had more need to be discovered. No one can know what you’re capable of if they don’t see it. For someone who’s a social recluse like me, it has been tough. I used to be shy and anxious about sharing my work. I still am but I have coping methods now.

I love Art, Design, Architecture, Illustrations and Plants. Photography for me is a means of expression, I want my images of people to feel like home and I like to capture my subjects being themselves and comfortable. I express my love for design and colours through Product Photography. I express my love for Architecture through the images I shoot and curate of the Structures of Lagos.

Aisha Ife

TMWT: It may be difficult to pick just one but if you could pick the first one that comes to mind, which achievement in your career or personal endeavours holds the most sentimental value to you and why?

Aisha Ife: Considering the evolution of my career, I take pride in the fact that I taught myself photography. I went from being clueless about what to do with my life to fully immersing myself into photography and teaching myself how to photograph people and products.

TMWT: What will be your advice to any young woman who wishes to follow your path?

Aisha Ife: It’s probably what I’ll tell my younger self too, “Everything good will come. It’s okay to be a beginner and it’s okay to make mistakes. You’ll hone your craft and you’ll get better. Believe in yourself. Believe in your work. You are amazing and worthy” Also, know that what’s separating you from where you want to be is knowledge and practise. You’ll get there.

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