Memoir II: Society’s Aches and Pains

Disclaimer: Before we start this memoir, I would just like to state I do not own the following pictures. The aim of all of these memoirs is to educate. Some of the content in this memoir is of a sensitive nature and contains explicit language.

There is a famous quote by Obafemi Awolowo, and its states, ‘Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, or ‘French’. The word ‘Nigerian’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not’.

If we look at Nigeria, it has 36 states, and over 250 ethnic groups with the three biggest being Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. As a child, my father would always tell me I am an African, a Nigerian, but most importantly, I am a Yoruba boy.

Even though I live in the diaspora, I am no fool to this tribalism and its existence within Nigeria. A very good example of where this idea rears its ugly head is the Biafran war.

But that’s not the focus of this memoir. Our focus is this 2020, that unpredictable year. If you have social media, you’ve probably saw the hashtag, #EndSARS. To get a good understanding of this movement. We need to look at the origin of SARS.

In the early 90s, armed-robbery was becoming rampant in Nigeria, and the government’s solution to this was SARS. SARS (Special Anti Robbery Squad) was founded in 1992. The unit’s main objective was tackling crimes related to robbery, kidnapping, and firearms.

In the beginning, SARS was a faceless unit given a fair amount of autonomy, but over the years, they abused this. From extortion to illegal detention, the unit became infamous amongst the people of Nigeria; if you had dreadlocks, piercings, an expensive phone, or an expensive car you were a target.

But Nigeria eventually reached a tipping point with SARS, and it was 2020. On October 3rd, a video surfaced online which showed SARS officers killing someone in front of a hotel. The video instantly went viral, and the people of Nigeria took to the streets to protest this.

The government responded to these protests, and on October 11th, SARS was disbanded. But people saw this as a lazy tactic because this was not the first time SARS was disbanded. Since 1992, the unit has gone through multiple names and has been disbanded and dissolved, and every time this has occurred the officers of the unit have been redeployed into other areas of the police force. So, after the government’s announcement, protests continued, and on October 20th the protests reached a massive crescendo.

On October 20th, protestors gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos. During the afternoon, protestors gathered, shared food, and sang the national anthem. At around 7 pm, the lights were switched off, and officers opened fire at the protestors, and this resulted in 12 people being killed.

It was what happened next that shocked the people of Nigeria, and the rest of the world. The Governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu denied the military’s involvement and denied the deaths. With regards to the President of Nigeria, his long silence on the incident validated his ignorance.

#EndSARS is more than just a unit coming to an end. It is about reforming Nigeria’s political system, economic system, and social system.

When it comes to SARS, the solution that I adore the most is Our Five Demands which has the hashtag #5for5. The first demand calls for the immediate release of all arrested protestors. The second demand calls for the justice of all deceased victims of police brutality, and the appropriate compensation to their families. The third demand calls for an independent body to be set up which oversees the investigation and prosecution of all police misconducts within ten days. The fourth demand calls for a psychological evaluation and retraining of disbanded SARS officers before their redeployment. The last demand calls for a salary increase for officers in SARS and the entire police force.

In my whole-hearted opinion, these are fair demands, as they ensure the reformation and progression of Nigeria’s police force, but as I said before #EndSARS is more than just SARS. When we look at Nigeria, SARS is just the tip of the iceberg, there are other areas we need to reform; however, if we can start here, then as a nation we can start to strive towards a country that has peace and justice.

With that being said, it is time to delve into this memoir, and we are going to look at the photographer who calls himself ‘The Craziest Photographer from Africa’, Abdulrasaq Babalola or Perliks.

In terms of how he discovered photography, Perliks states, “Photography to me was like a fluke, I didn’t plan on becoming a photographer. I didn’t plan it. I just knew I love creating artistic stuff”.

In our interview, Perliks stated he dreamed of being a footballer when he was a child. “I loved playing football, so I dreamed of becoming a footballer”. But as he continued growing up, he was exposed to the creative industry, thanks to his father. With regards to his father, Perliks’ father is a music video director and is well known for directing Fuji music videos.

Initially, Perliks was editing his father’s videos, but this would soon be overshadowed once he discovered photography. As soon as his father noticed his new passion, his father seized his laptop and went to extreme lengths to ensure he would never see it again. As a matter of fact, his father gave it to someone else.

Moreover, when it comes to photography, Perliks states he has tried different photography styles. “I like challenging myself a lot, I’ve tried every aspect of photography. I’ve done documentary photography; I’ve done event photography like weddings; I’ve done portrait photography, and I’ve done beauty. But when I found this form of photography, this conceptual photography, it gave me joy. It helped me explain who I am”.

Besides photography, Perliks also has an impressive track record as a music video director. The photographer has worked with an array of artists such as Naira Marley and Davido. Perliks was the assistant director for As E Dey Go by Naira Marley and worked on the music video 1 Milli by Davido.

In terms of how he describes his photography, Perliks states the following, “I describe my work as crazitivty! When I say crazitivty, it’s a positive side to craziness. I love to show beauty in its original form. What you see as trash, I’ll turn it to treasure. I’ll turn it into something amazing”.

A good example of this statement is the photo titled Joy {Ayo} (2019). The photo was released on Instagram during Nigeria’s 59th Independence Day in 2019. Perliks stated that the photo was not created to highlight climate change or provide commentary on Nigeria. He stated that the photo was taken to show the joy that exists in Nigeria. If we look at the boy and the man in this image, we can definitely see this. “In Nigeria, we know we are suffering, but we are smiling. Next year this picture could mean something completely different since its meaning is constantly changing. But from this image, I want you to always remember the joy”.

Additionally, I love how this photo pays homage to the Nigerian flag, it’s the presence of the green that I really love – from the green bottles to the green trousers. Even small details such as the green and white underwear are amazing additions; you can truly tell that Perliks is proud to be Nigerian.

Joy {Ayo} (2019)

Moreover, in terms of what his art means to him personally, Perliks states the following, “I’m not a good talker. I have so many things I want to talk about. I’m not good with words. So, photography helps me express myself. My lifestyle is in my work. I am crazy, I am very funny, and I put all of those things together to create amazing stuff”.

Besides Joy {Ayo}, Perliks has used his other photos to provide commentary on multiple issues, and a good example is Do You See Me (2019). Do You See Me is a photo series that consists of three photos – in this memoir we have two of the three. In this series, Perliks explored relationships, menstruation, and sexual violence. “The title Do You See Me works for everything. While I’m menstruating, do you see me? When you rape me, do you see me? A forceful relationship, do you see me? Do you see what I am going through?”.

In June 2020, Nigeria declared a state of emergency on rape and sexual violence in all 36 states, this was triggered because of the reported cases in May. Barakat Bello was raped and killed in her home; Vera Uwa Omozuwa was killed in her church in Benin City (South Nigeria), and the worst report was the rape of a 12-year-old girl by 11 men in Jigawa (North Nigeria).

In the first photo, you can see a woman resting her head on the shoulders of a man. Perliks states that this photo is about the relationship between a man and a woman during her period. During that time, it can be emotionally and physically difficult for a woman. Perliks wanted to highlight the importance of a partner’s support and assistance. “While I’m menstruating, do you see me?”, we see the answer to this question unfold in this photo; the woman is at ease, and the man is reassuring her by holding her hand.

In the second photo, we can see the man’s hands on the woman’s neck and head; this is the photo that focuses on relationships. Perliks stated he wanted to use this to delve into controlling relationships, and the impact a man has on a woman. In my opinion, the hands on the woman’s head are symbolic of the man controlling the woman –  the man is the puppet master, and the woman is the puppet.

Across the two photos, you will notice blood on the woman’s shorts – this imagery represents sexual assault. Additionally, you will notice the sunflower – this is used to represent the woman’s fragility and innocence. Across the two photos, the woman is gripping the flower very tightly – this also has a symbolic meaning. The action you see is representative of her strength and determination to hold on to her essence.

Do You See Me (2019)

Along with Do You See Me, another good example is Untitled {Happy 60th Independence} (2020). Out of all the photos discussed in this memoir, this is Perliks’ most recent picture.

To celebrate Nigeria’s 60 years of independence, Perliks wanted to do something new, something different. Perliks wanted to use this photo to send a message to the rest world and that was ‘This is Nigeria’. “I wanted to do something that showed how I am feeling, and how everybody else is feeling, and what we are facing with this police brutality”.

In this photo, Perliks gives us an insight into the daily interactions between the people of Nigeria and SARS. The men in black are the SARS officers, and the men in white are civilians. Like I said in the beginning, SARS officers are notorious for harassing young Nigerian men who either have dreadlocks or expensive items, and as you can see, one of them has dreads, and the other civilian has an expensive bag.

If we turn our attention to the girl in the corner, you can see she is holding a sign that says, ‘POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND’. The phrase can be interpreted as confusion. So, it’s a rhetorical question, “POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND?”, and this can also be supported by looking at the girl’s expression since she herself is in a state of bewilderment. But on the other hand, you can also interpret the phrase as a sarcastic remark.

Moreover, if you look at the sign on the floor it says, ‘HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY NIGERIA’. With the sign being on the floor, and out of focus, I think it is representative of the zeitgeist. In that current moment, the people of Nigeria were not concerned about Independence Day, they were more concerned about the country’s police, and how it is treating its people.

What’s even sadder about this photo is the group of elderly women, and how they do nothing to intervene. The women we see in front of us do not just represent a minority, in my opinion, they represent the elderly generation who have given up and accepted the current situation.

Untitled {Happy 60th Independence} (2020)

Because this is Volume III: The Maverick Series, I asked the photographer, “What makes your work different?”. Perliks’ response to this question was amazing. “My answer is originality, and like I said before the craziness, the crazy aspect. Even if it is a personal project or a client has reached out to me. Every shot that I do is a lifetime moment. It is a moment where if you want to do it again, you will have to think twice. Every time you shoot with Perliks, it is a lifetime moment. Every shot is precious and crazy. So, when you look at my work, you’re like, “this is something!””.

Some good examples of this are Vices of Reality (2019) and Greed (2019).

Vices of Reality was inspired by a movie Perliks watched, and a quote he heard. “I was watching this movie, and I saw a shot of a guy sitting near the bar. The shot was amazing, and something struck me, and I wanted to do that shot but from a different angle. […] With regards to what you see, have you heard of this quote, it says three things can destroy a man – they are gambling, drinking, and women. So, I fused those three things into this photo”.

If we look to the left, you can see a man fixated on his cards, gambling. To the right is an unconscious man, and on his table is a bottle of alcohol. If we turn our attention to the middle, we can see a woman wearing lingerie, seducing a man. The man who is being seduced looks depressed, and clings to his cigarette. But if you look closer, he is also clinging to the cross. Perliks stated that the cross represented hope. “If you look at that guy, he looks depressed, but he still has hope in God”. Above the cross is the phrase, ‘Na God’, and it is pidgin for ‘It’s God’s doing’ or ‘God is responsible’. As a West African, Na God is a phrase I am very familiar with,  I have heard the phrase countless times. The phrase is used when you hear good news or when something good occurs. But the same can be said when things aren’t going your way, and you use the phrase to give you hope, and that is what we see in this photo, that confidence in God, even in a hopeless situation.

Vices of Reality (2019)

In terms of Greed, the two photos of this series were inspired by the biblical characters, Cain and Abel. “I was doing some research, and I saw this stuff on Jesus being black. So, I thought about Cain and Abel, and what if they were black? What if I could create this, but in a sort of black version? So, I thought what does a man fight for? He usually fights for food and land.”

In the first photo, we see the two men fight, and in the second photo, we see this fight come to an end. In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain kills Abel and is banished by God due to his actions.

Moreover, in terms of the viewer deducing that these men were portraying brothers, Perliks stated the following, “I want it to be obvious, once you see the clues you would know they were brothers”. If you look at the two photos you can see the hints left by the photographer, for example, the colour of their shorts are the same, the two men have dreadlocks, and they both have the same physique.

Perliks stated in our interview that the photos were more than just the story of Cain and Abel, the photos were about exploring greed, and how it impacts humanity. “This is why these pictures are timeless because when we talk about greed, in what aspect are we talking about?”.

Greed (2019)

In terms of who inspires his work, Perliks stated the Canadian photographer, Benjamin Von Wong. With regards to who Von Wong is, he is a photographer who utilises his engineering and artistic background, and in doing so creates images that delve into environmental and social issues.

His encounter with the Canadian photographer began when he started a photography course. After the course was finished, he was given a list of photographers to research, and completely ignored the list.

After completing the course, Perliks began his journey into photography. But in the first couple of months, he felt lost. “I would say to myself, “Am I doing something wrong?”. Because it got to a point where people would say, “why are you always shooting in a rough place?””.

At that moment, Perliks immediately returned to the list he was given, and he saw the name, Benjamin Von Wong. After googling the photographer and seeing his work, Perliks was in a state of awe. “When I found Von Wong’s work I was like, “Wow! There is someone like this!”. I lost my mind! I said to myself, “So there is someone as crazy as this, and has made it?!””.

I asked Perliks, “besides Benjamin Von Wong, who else inspires your work?”, and he was honest, and responded with, “myself and life”. We actually laughed about this, but Perliks went on to explain his reasons behind this.

In terms of his work’s legacy. Perliks states he wants his work to always connect with the viewer. “When people see my work, I want people to say, “you can be crazy, and still prosper”. There is beauty in being original”.

I wanted Perliks to expand on his answer, so I asked him to imagine his work being viewed in 100 years. Perliks responded with following, “100 years is a long time, but I know my work will still pass a message by then. So I don’t know what kind of message it will pass by then. But what I just know is whenever you see it, you will connect with it. So I don’t want to say in 100 years I want people to feel the creativity in it. No! Because creativity by then would have evolved. Me saying creativity puts my work in one box. So, what I will say is that every time you see my work, there is something different you feel about it”.

In terms of what to expect from Perliks, the photographer stated the following, “craziness, just more craziness. That’s just it. If I tell you now, it won’t be a surprise anymore. So, that’s it, more craziness”. In terms of potential exhibitions, this is definitely on the artist’s agenda and is hoping to do something in Nigeria and even London. So, don’t sleep on the man who calls himself ‘The Craziest Photographer from Africa’, because his work will blow you away.

I encountered Perliks’ work on Twitter a year ago, and when I saw his creative process, I instantly fell in love with his work. Perliks is just one of many talented people coming out of Africa, and it is important we acknowledge such talent. With regards to the photographer’s opinion on the current situation in Nigeria, the artist wanted to share these words. “Everybody should just know we are human before anything else. Before religion, before race, we are all humans. If you can act that way, then you won’t treat the person next to you like sh**. So, if the police in Nigeria who are brutalizing their fellow black man can remember that they are human before being a police officer, then they wouldn’t be doing this. With the rest of the world, I like the energy that is coming from the countries outside of Nigeria, nobody saw this coming, it is mindblowing. So I hope we win this”.

Like I said in the beginning, #EndSARS is more than just SARS, it is a movement that is challenging the status quo, it is challenging the political elite, and holding them accountable. So support the movement because things have just begun.

To see more of Perliks’ work follow him on Instagram at @perliksdefinition

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