When Yagazie Emezi was a young girl, she was run over by a car. The accident left her alive but with permanent scars on one of her legs. Becoming the subject of endless stares from strangers led to the enduring habit of seeking out others’ ‘imperfections’, maybe, she says, “as an attempt to feel similar to others with marks.” “Like most, I’ve always been naturally curious about scars, but because of my own, I like to pry a little bit deeper to understand how people feel about theirs.”
Through her documentary photography, Yagazie wishes to understand the process of re-learning to recognise a body as your own after a traumatic experience and how family and community can impact that. She explains this further, “We are birthed with a body that we grow to recognise as ours then something happens to some at some point. And that body changes, sometimes forever, and it leaves a story.” Under the title ‘Re-learning Bodies’ she had the opportunity to investigate this subject further last year during Invisible Borders’ Trans-Nigerian Road Trip which travelled through Lagos, Benin, Warri, Asaba, Enugu, Umuahia, Port Harcourt and Aba.
Yagazie set out with the questions: ‘What role does culture play in a person appreciating their body intimately?’ and ‘In Nigeria, are we taught recognition and acceptance with self?’ and collected insights that came close to answering these. She says, “Naturally, everyone has a unique relationship with their bodies, but it has been interesting coming across narratives and sentiments that are similar. Culture does play a role. A lot of the people I interviewed grew up in homes that didn’t quite nurture the practice of self-love and body-positivity. Not that it was actively ignored, it just didn’t exist.
“My questions come from a place of personal belief that teaching young boys and girls to love, respect and appreciate their bodies does have an additional positive impact in the development of a person. However, when coming across adults with scars, they appear to now be passing that lesson of acceptance to their children despite having had no prior introduction. They came into it on their own.”
Yagazie has since extended the project into an ongoing series which she describes as a study of the fragility and endurance of the human form and the acceptance of self within communities. Each portrait comes with a back story, one of her favourites being of twin sisters she met last year:
“One had visible scars on her head and hands and was shying away from my questions. I showed her pictures of some of the other people I had photographed and her sister was delighted, saying, “See? I told you you’re not the only one!”. It was exceptional to see the acceptance of one from another.”
“I’ve never cared much for other people’s definition of perfect. I’m drawn to lines and raw surfaces and bumps and coarseness and things as they are.”
– Yagazie Emezi
This article first appeared in Casimir’s column on Hunger TV.
These photographs are a selection made from Yagazie’s personal archive of street photography and images from her #relearningbodies focus created during Invisible Borders’ Trans-Nigerian Road Trip.