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How Beyonc-endorsed stylist Daniel Obasi uses fashion to create new realities



Daniel Obasi believes in the power of Instagram. The multi-talented designer – who has portrayed for The New York Times and Billboard, and styled fashion editorials for Vogue Portugal and Dazed – has long used the platform as a way to connect with like-minded talents from the art world. and fashion.

Last year, he put him in touch with his most famous collaborator to date. “I received a DM from (Kwasi Fordjour), Beyonc’s creative director, saying he would be interested in having me on this upcoming project,” Obasi said over the phone from Lagos. “Then he said, ‘Oh, this is for Bey’ and I was like ‘I’m sorry, what?'”

“Water” from the visual album Black is King, on Disney + Credit: Travis Matthews / Parkwood Entertainment / Disney +

The undisclosed Beyonc project would turn out to be the “Black Is King” visual album, his companion recovered by the critics for the remake of “The Lion King” last year. Presented by the singer as a celebration of “The extent and beauty of black ancestry”, the star-studded production showcases an eclectic mix of artists and creatives from Africa and those from the Diaspora, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

At first, Obasi had assumed that Fordjour wanted him to participate in the research process. Instead, he was enlisted to work with a team of Nigerian creatives to help styling talents for the scenes set in Lagos. “We literally phoned the next day… The next thing I knew we were filming and styling, and then the video came out,” he said. “It wasn’t until the credits rolled around that I liked” OK, it really happened. “”

Looking at previous 25-year personal projects, “Black Is King” – an Afrofuturist take on a world where darkness is celebrated and African designers and their traditions are brought to the fore – was a fitting commission. Over the past three years, Obasi has used fashion, as well as photography and film, for similar purposes.

In short films like “An Alien In Town” and “Udara”, as well as in photo series like “Lagos Futurism”, he combines the traditional, the contemporary and the imaginary to create a Nigeria free from political and social boundaries. reality. Dark skin, afro hair, and beautiful clothes (often from local designers) abound, and diversity of genders and sexuality is embraced.

Futurism of Lagos by Daniel Obasi and Willy Verse.

Futurism of Lagos by Daniel Obasi and Willy Verse. Credit: Daniel Obasi

An element of Lagos’ burgeoning cultural scene, Obasi took the opportunity to work with other Nigerian talents brought to life Beyonc’s vision, including superstars Afrobeats, Mr. Eazi and Tiwa Savage ( which he both photographed for the June 2020 issue of Billboard), and designers Emmy Kasbit, Lanre Da Silva and Tola Adegbite of Turfah, with whom he has collaborated in the past.

“This project was just a bringing together of people I love, people I respect, people who are my friends, people I grew up with as an artist. It was great to be like.” You too? Oh wow! Oh my God. Yes! He said.

Speaking to CNN, Obasi shared his thoughts on community, fashion and the limitless possibilities of the imagination.

CNN Style: How do you see “Black As King” compared to your current work? There seem to be a lot of aesthetic and thematic similarities.

Daniel Obasi: Yeah, I guess you can say that because it’s very contemporary work that talks about changing the African narrative. My work has always been about the fact that (African) stories are best told by Africans. We all have different experiences, but in all that diversity and under that difference, we still have things that connect us all together, you know?

(To me) it presented this new possibility for us to collaborate and create beautiful works from all of our different junctions. It’s just a matter of how to get there.

“Brown Skin Girl” from the visual album Black is King, on Disney + Credit: Parkwood / Disney + Entertainment

Some critics of the film objected to this framing of an intercultural exchange, suggesting that the lack of specificity linked to the borrowing and combining of different African cultures is problematic.

I wouldn’t say it’s cross-cultural in that sense because the creative direction has come to an end. It was more about the fact that even a country like Nigeria is very diverse and there are so many tribes in this country. On a normal day, many of these tribes would probably not coexist just because of politics, because of everything that has happened long before all of us. So “Black Is King” brought us all together.

“Keys to the Kingdom” from the visual album Black is King, on Disney + Credit: Parkwood / Disney + Entertainment

When we were trying to do the “Keys to the Kingdom” part (when the prince marries his childhood sweetheart), it was very important to find a structure that spoke Nigeria as a country. The location, the National Arts Theater (in Lagos), does this very well because it’s a structure that we can all look at and say, “Oh my God, this is Nigeria.”

If you check the artists who created the work from Ghana, if you check the artists who created the work from South Africa, if you watch the videos they worked on, you can see the strength of the specificity of the culture that they’ve been around.

How do you define Afrofuturism in the context of your own practice?

For me it’s an imaginative space where things are a bit limitless when it comes to what’s possible. You can explore the past, the future and your idea of ​​the present in this space.

Much of this is because growing up we (Nigerians) don’t really have many references to Futurism in our culture or in the stories we are told. In addition, our history is often lost or falsified so that even the past sometimes seems very blurry.

“Out of my dreams” for ID Magazine Italy by Daniel Obasi and Jesse Navarre Vos. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Obasi

Afrofuturism gives you that space to define for yourself what your future is and what you believe in, so it often feels very personal. I love looking at examples within culture, society, politics, things that myself and the people I know grew up through, and create an alternate reality of my own. Much of the work and stories we see today are very negative or very confrontational, so Afrofuturism can be a space for healing, a space you can just escape into and believe things could get better. .

When did you first realize the power of image making and fashion as tools for building the world?

When I was younger I really liked the very dreamlike stories we grew up with like (Nigerian kids TV show) “Tales by Moonlight”, about the animal kingdom where animals could talk and stuff. which, normally day, would not be real; and stories and books from writers who painted worlds that were unlike anything you see when you step outside your home. The liveliness and specificity make you realize that the mind is really very powerful.

One of the things I love about fashion is that it also works like that. You can step into that space and, inspired by the idea of ​​a shape or form, use materials or clothing to create a style, look or feel that didn’t exist, and people came across it. either connect to it or they won’t. . It all comes down to how far you can think or how much you can bring your imagination to life.

In your films and photographs you have often gone out of your way to uplift and find beauty in groups that have been historically marginalized. What political potential does this kind of image creation have in your eyes?

So I think the powerful thing about imagery is that it says a lot, you don’t even have to say the same when it comes with a great picture. I like to think of what we do as subtle and low-key activism in itself.

When we talk about beauty in this country – or even the world – we have issues that visually have to do with skin and gender politics. We work in an industry that is very materialistic and sees the image as a (reflection of one’s) point of view, so it is very important for me to differentiate myself and use (my work) as a platform to say what that I mean.

“Out of my dreams” for ID Magazine Italy by Daniel Obasi and Jesse Navarre Vos. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Obasi

I was talking about natural hair; I was very (aware of) not touching the skin too much to show the beauty of a black person’s skin. When it comes to gender, I always positioned women in positions of power, strength and beauty; and looking at masculinity and weirdness and all that stuff, society teaches you that you are not allowed to be a man.

These are things we literally experience every day, so it was important for me to always find a way to bring this to the forefront of the work in some way. We’re in this place where anyone can talk about these things, but three years ago it wasn’t really good.

This year alone you worked on “Black Is King”, stylized editorials for Dazed and The Face, and featured in iD magazine. What are you hoping to reach the next one?

I love making experimental films, so I think for me that’s the next thing I’m trying to work on, hopefully soon. When it comes to goals, I try to solidify myself not only as a creative but also as a businessman. Other than that, I don’t know. Anything can fly from anywhere.

You don’t know who will contact you next.

Literally. We are open for business.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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