Rahima Gambo (Nigerian, b. 1986) is a documentary photographer and visual storyteller who explores socio-political issues through the themes of postcolonial Nigerian identity, gender, history, and memory.
Her multilayered narratives navigate the spaces between documentary, visual art, and photojournalism. Gambo is the recipient of the Magnum Foundation Fellowship (2014), the International Women’s Media Foundation grant (2015), the LensCulture Emerging Talent Award (2016), and the Fourthwall Books Photobook Award (2017). She has received degrees in gender, social policy, and development studies from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (MS), the London School of Economics and Political Science (MSc), and the University of Manchester (BA). The Open Society Moving Walls Grant will support a new project that combines the aesthetics of photography and sculpture to reflect on northern Nigerian women and the increasing use of female suicide bombers by Boko Haram.
Rukkaya, Hadiza, Falmata, and Rashida are students of Shehu Garbai Secondary School in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria. In 2013, when Boko Haram started attacking schools, killing and abducting with alarming regularity, these students described an intense atmosphere where each morning when they would leave for school, they considered that they may never return home. Attacks on schools and universities and the highly publicized abduction of hundreds of girls from the town of Chibok, prompted officials to close public schools for two years.
Started in 2015, this project reflects on the experiences of students living within the Boko Haram conflict in northeastern Nigeria. “Boko Haram”—loosely translated as “Western education is forbidden”—began an insurgency in the region in 2009 to create an Islamic state purged of all Western influence. Insurgents have directly targeted schools and universities and have killed, abducted, or displaced thousands of teachers and students.
As the educational system has been targeted by the group, the complexity of these students’ individual narratives has been obscured by sensationalist media coverage. This project takes a different approach and focuses on students returning to schools and universities to resume their studies. They wear the same uniforms, sleep in the same dorms, yet they have changed.
Healing from past trauma doesn’t fit into a timeframe. It overflows into the present, as each retelling resurrects the story in a new form. By combining photography and school book illustrations, I aim to convey the complex, open-ended, and fragmented nature of these students’ experiences. A pock-marked blackboard layered over a school girl’s portrait alludes to both personal trauma and an education system that was in decline for decades but has now been devastated by conflict.
—Rahima Gambo, October 2017