Land of Ibeji, wins one of the Contemporary African Photography prizes at Basel.

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Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde, Land of Ibeji
Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde, Land of Ibeji

Land of Ibeji, the photography series that examines the mythology of twinhood in Nigeria was announced as one of the five winners of the 8th edition of CAP Prize – (Contemporary African Photography) at Photo Basel.

The prize rewards photo projects by artists of any nationality that engage with issues pertaining to the African continent or its diaspora. The winning projects will be included in international outdoor exhibitions, to encourage a wider audience “to engage with images of Africa” according to the prize organisers.

All over the world, twins have often been surrounded by an air of mystery, ranging from fascination to apprehension, depending on the belief systems of the cultures they were born into. These beliefs continue to inform some cultural practices upheld in part of Nigeria.

Land of Ibeji, Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde
Land of Ibeji, Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde

Photographers Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde traveled to 3 locations in Yoruba land in South West Nigeria, a region that is reputed to have one the highest occurrence of multiple births in the world, to capture the images that are part of Land of Ibeji.

The often-vertical symmetrical composition of the pictures emphasizes the complicity and duality inherent to life as twins. The series is a compelling visual investigation of the notion of identity, a usually singular notion that in this case is expressed in double. In the series, the mirror images of the twins relentlessly ask the questions: what does it mean to see your features in the face of someone else? What are the bonds that unite individuals who share physical appearance, the confined space of the womb and continue to share everyday and extreme life experiences – including abandonment when their arrival is perceived as a bad omen?

Land of Ibeji, Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde
Land of Ibeji, Bénédicte Kurzen and Sanne De Wilde

In one portrait, the faces of the twins are fused into one, collapsing any physical boundaries between the two and ushering the investigation into metaphysical realms. A shrine for twins at the back of the exhibition, stresses that their bonds continue beyond death. In case one dies, a small statue representing the deceased is created and looked after as if it were still alive.

Chief Nike Davies Okundaye is quoted explaining that “we believe Ibeji (twins) bring good Luck. They represent fertility and bring love.” They are now officially celebrated at the Twin Festival in Igbo Ora.

From the shared anonymity of the twin teenagers who turned their backs to the camera, to the moving portraits of a pair of young girls at an orphanage, Land of Ibeji tells a balanced story of what it means to be twins, to be either celebrated or feared in part of Nigeria today.

The exhibition continues until June 29th at the Gallery TJ Boulting.

The other winners of CAP Prize include:

  • Jodi Bieber, a South African photographer whose #i series delves into the experiences of the post-apartheid generation.
  • With Slaghuis, a series of photographic collage, photographer Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo draws the parallel between the place he was born and a slaughterhouse: a space deprived of hope and full of despair.
  • Dry by Abdo Shanan, is a fragmented record of contemporary life in Algeria, a snapshot of a long life, a shared moment of joy.
  • Taking his father as a departure point, Jansen van Staden grapples with the social impact of violence in the series Microlight.

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