Etinosa Yvonne lives and works in Abuja, NG

Photographs documenting the horrors and insanity of war contain within them a denunciatory gesture—they serve as eyewitness accounts meant to provoke an intensely visceral reaction to atrocities that we are called upon to protest. With patent moral outrage, such images capture war’s physical degradation—of bodies, buildings, landscapes—with an utmost sense of immediacy and urgency, the damage inflicted caught in the act, or shortly thereafter.

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Etinosa Yvonne, Hamida, 2020, from the series It’s All In My Head, 2019-20, photograph, 41 x 61 cm © Etinosa Yvonne

But what about the psychological and emotional injuries that continue long afterwards, and that are invisible to the camera’s eye? This was the question Etinosa Yvonne, a self-taught photographer and mental health advocate, asked herself when she began interviewing women victimized and displaced by the armed conflict in rural northeast Nigeria. The black-and-white portraits based on these exchanges depict her subjects looking away from the camera, engaged in reflection and remembrance, unable to forget, while longing to heal. Layered onto the serene countenances of these women are visual fragments suggestive of their thoughts—a plastic toy of a child who provides comfort to his mother, a shattered vase embodying childhood dreams cut short, a gate left ajar between mental freedom and captivity.

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Etinosa Yvonne, Halima, 2020, from the series It’s All In My Head, 2019-20, photograph, 41 x 61 cm © Etinosa Yvonne

Alongside these images are handwritten testimonies filled with incidents of forced marriage, physical abuse, abduction, and rape, revealing the ubiquity of gender-based violence during war. Sexual violence against women has long been acknowledged as a deliberate military strategy—to punish and destabilize the enemy but also to reward the victors. However, what Yvonne’s photographic installation suggests is that the abuse of women is also the inevitable outcome of conflicts waged between men over territory, natural resources, identity, religion—the very foundations of patriarchy. Indeed, in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), Susan Sontag cites Virginia Woolf’s pacifist-feminist 1938 essay Three Guineas to reiterate a point that is “too obvious or inapposite to be mentioned … that war is a man’s game—that the killing machine has a gender, and it is male.”

Michele Faguet

Exhibitions

Follow The River, Follow The Thread, 2022, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool (UK)

It’s All In My Head, 2021, ART X Lagos, Lagos (NG) und Full Circle Photography Gallery, Maryland (US) (solo)

Through the lens of, 2021, Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal (NL)

LUMIX Festival for Young Visual Journalism, 2020, Hannover (DE)

In Conversation: Visual Meditations on Black Masculinity, 2020, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Philadelphia (US