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Photograph by Jenevieve Aken

Jenevieve Aken’s photographic series Great Expectations

Nigerian photographer Jenevieve Aken focuses on documentary photography, self-portraits portraits and cultural issues. Her work was selected to be part of the Photographic Museum of Humanity, which launched in 2013. As the first internet museum dedicated to contemporary photography, the museum created a category specifically for photography from Nigeria. This was curated by LagosPhoto founder Azu Nwabogu, and shows work by emerging photographers exploring themes related to identity, relationships, and cultural representation. Aken’s self-portrait series Masked Woman with a character named “super femme fatale” is a visual exercise of subverting the patriarchal male gaze. 

With a fascination for how events shape characters, her photographic series ‘Great Expectations’ takes inspiration from the book by Charles Dickens. In the book the character Miss Havisham is left at the altar, leading to a breakdown and becoming a so-called “man-hater”. Aken translates this into a Nigerian context, photographing herself in wedding attire. This series is a commentary on the pressure women face to get married and the emphasis placed on marriage as the ultimate goal for women. Her works also highlight how this has an effect on the emotional wellbeing of women, leaving some to feel a sense of incompetency when not married despite the successes they may have achieved.

There is a haunting melancholic aura that surrounds these images which comes directly from the silence communicated in her eyes. A photograph with her lying on the bed in a wedding gown highlights the mournful attitude attributed to this series. A white dress, pearls, a bouquet and a wedding magazine are symbols of the institution of marriage. Being covered as surrounded by these objects while alone invites viewers to imagine the internal dialogue she is having with herself about the desire to be a bride.

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