Hey creative Friend, “The Gele Skyscraper” is my most recent piece of work that I’ve completed.
Here’s the story behind this piece.
The last piece I created, “Queen Sissieretta“, inspired me to create a new series of works. This new series was going to be all about brides. Here’s what got me thinking in that way. After I’d dressed Queen Sissieretta up like a queen, I realized that, she looked exactly like an African bride. That’s how brides dress up for their traditional marriages.
Well, maybe not exactly. But close.
I can definitely see the hair being worn differently. Still with jewelry in it, but different.
A bride as a queen
Well, that’s where the idea started from. And then as it usually does, it took on a whole life of its own. As I started looking at other African countries, I observed that brides were also dressed like queens in the various cultures. So, I started researching and looking at different countries and how they dress up for their wedding ceremonies. Almost all including European countries and even here in the U.S., have similar traditions. In Western countries, elaborate wedding dresses, and expensive jewelry are hallmarks of the concept of a bride as queen. Additionally, brides wear tiaras as that final touch of queendom to their bridal outfit.
Needless to say, I was intrigued.
As a result, I decided to start a series of portraits of brides from different African countries. My aim is to explore how different cultures have created an equivalence in the relationship between marriage and royalty, elevated status, and honor.
My first stop around the African continent was in Nigeria.
Nigeria did not disappoint.
Firstly, their special wedding head dress is something that’s been embraced all around the world, not just in Nigeria. I’ve worn this headdress on a number of occasions myself.
“Gele” – a head wrap for celebrities.
In this 2016 NPR article, the author points out that actress Lupita Nyong’o’s outfit to the Canadian premier of her film was a nod to the Nigerian Gele, although not done exactly right.
Moreover, Lupita is not the only celebrity who has worn a Gele in recent years. Beyonce also wore the head wrap in her Black is King music video.
Gele as an Art Form
Secondly, The Gele head wrap is an art form by itself. There’s a whole industry behind it. There are hundreds of videos on Youtube trying to explain the intricate way it should be folded. For starters, it’s folded in a special way, so that you have several pleats around the forehead. Then you’ll have to make it fan out at the top. See an example here.
As you can imagine, not every fabric is suitable for creating these crisp folds and allowing the head wrap to hold its towering shape. You’ll have to find a crisp fabric, which feels like paper to the touch, that’s specifically used for this head wrap to make it work. It’s said that Nigerian women used to style their Gele head wrap to look like the first Nigerian skyscraper. It’s no wonder they’re so tall.
So, there you have it, The Gele Skyscraper. It’s not just a head wrap, it’s a piece of art, a slice of architecture and perhaps, sculpture. 🙂
That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed seeing the close up photos of “Gele Skyscraper” and learning about the story behind the art. I’m already thinking of the next country I’ll be stopping at to create a portrait of their traditional wedding outfits.
PS: Want more? Read other Stories Behind The Art.
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Also published on Medium.