Margaret Ngigi is a 24-years-old photographer based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Her photographic work focuses on social and cultural issues such as mental illness and feminism, and her most important photo series aims at bringing them to the limelight. To better know the artist, here are some curiosities about her life and career.
Since childhood, Margaret has been fascinated by art. Learning from the DIY tutorials and experimenting by herself, she was always the girl to ask for help in school if you required any assistance with drawing, collage or any other creative activity. “I have been an artist at heart all my life”, Ngigi says. But only in 2015, Margaret approached photography while studying for the diploma in fine art at Kenyatta University, she took a three months photography training course. “I thought photography could be a hobby I could cultivate, but I discovered a whole new world that I never knew existed”, confesses Margaret.
She fell in love with portraiture and started looking at photography as a medium to be used to express herself. It’s by practising photography that she discovered filmmaking as well. After graduating in art at Kenyatta University, in 2018 she joined The United States International University of Africa to pursue a bachelor degree in film.
Mental illness, women conditions and other social issues
Not only the love for photography but taking the opportunity of showcasing the works to questioning and bringing awareness about social issues. Margaret has been engaged with socio-cultural themes and issues affecting the African continent and the world at large. For instance, she created a series inspired by people around her who suffered from mental health problems such as depression. “Wrapped in My Head” presents a series of shots in which the models have their heads wrapped up in white bandages or trapped in cages with an additional flower crown. Through these symbols, Margaret is trying to represent the double nature of mentally ill people, who feel trapped and suffocated on their inner side, but who struggle every day with appearing good and serene on the outside.
Margaret Ngigi, Wrapped up in my head, 2018
Looking deeper into women’s matters.
Women have been, and still are, the centre of Margaret’s projects. As a feminist, she always tries to highlight the social disadvantages of being a woman, especially in her origin country, Kenya.
With the body of work “Mke Mwema” 2020 (means “good wife” in Swahili) Margaret is portraying her models as young brides on a dark background in different poses and wear; Ngigi is questioning marriage as an institution from the female point of view, particularly referring to women she knows, such as her mother: “I admire their strength, resilience and perseverance with the tribulations that the marriage comes with”, she declares. Margaret became so passionate about this topic that, at the same time, she realized the series “The Bride Avenue” 2020, in which she confronts the role of marriage in African society, and its social importance for black women, as she already did with “Murky Waters” 2019.
Margaret Ngigi, Murky Waters, 2019
In 2020, Margaret was selected as one of the top ten emerging photographers of the year, an award given during the Photo London by Nikon Northern Europe. especially because, when she was starting out, she had to struggle to be taken seriously in the photographic work world:
“(In Kenya) There weren’t really a lot of women photographers to look up to or to use as blueprints, which made it even harder for me to navigate the art sector” says Margaret.
She continues “My work has been and is still a reflection of the personal journey that I’m taking into womanhood and as I continue to figure that out and wrap my head around the realities of what it means to be a woman in my society, I intend to continue working on my Mke Mwema photo series. In the process asking myself questions such as, what kind of woman do I want to be in the future? Married or not married? What options society is offering me? What has influenced the choices of the women before me? And so on.”
After being featured in the current exhibition at AKKA Project, IExist! Margaret is going to participate at PhotoBasel in September 2021 with a new body of work, and on the 2nd of October, during ArtNight in Venice, AKKA Project will present the outcome of a project that she was commissioned by the Ca’ Foscari University.
To be updated with the development of Margaret Ngigi’s career, check out her dedicated section at akkaproject.com/artists, and sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch with the upcoming events!
Installation shot exhibition I Exist, AKKA Project Venice, Italy