Styling for Freedom

  • Moshood Balogun , Image: Nii Kotei Nikoi - @niikotei
  • 1 month ago

They say clothes make the man but in the case of Sel Kofiga and Awuye Eli however a slight reworking of the aforementioned statement renders it indisputable; clothes make the young men stand out.

Sel and Awuye are artists and siblings. For these two young men their peculiar style of dressing is a way of life. On any given day one of them could be seen dressed in a flat cap, a suit jacket over a turtleneck sweater, cut off jean shorts and a pair of sneakers with tube socks to go with. The other would be decked out in a waistcoat over a denim jacket with rolled-up sleeves, tucked into a pair of baggy trousers with a glistening pair of dress shoes and a straw hat to top it off. Their delightfully quirky sartorial ocean has no limits, from very brightly coloured attire to more subdued duller pieces and everything in-between from denim to corduroy.

It is tempting to regard the duo's dress codes as uncanny at best, and incongruous at worst. But it is not merely about unconventional flamboyance, Sel and Awuye both say: “It's also about art, self-love and freedom.”

When it comes to their art the two seem to be preoccupied with the idea of freedom. Of his paintings Sel says: “How people perceive me and my lifestyle goes into them. I try to use them as a medium to change people's perceptions about things that are very critical to conversations on freedom - things like selfhood, religious oppression, class struggle, gender and sexuality.”

Awuye, who's debut EP is forthcoming, says he wants to use his music “to inspire people to be their real selves and to love themselves.” To that end he lives the way he does in the hope that he encourages others to also live their lives unashamedly, freely.

It is pertinent to consider their sense of style and art against the background of the kind of environment in which the two live. It is a deeply conservative one, largely founded upon sociocultural norms of colonial society, sustained by governments that have been unable – or unwilling – to replace generally stifling existences with imaginative, liberatory ones.

Living and dressing as they do in such a reality, it follows that Sel and Awuye encounter people who are prejudice in their utterances and actions towards them. There have been sneering and outright pejorative comments made about their appearance and even some instances where people turn the other way on seeing Sel walk in their direction.

These things really, really, really got to me; even made me depressed,” Sel recounts. But not anymore. “If I have to go with the conformities and make people feel comfortable by how they want me to look, then fuck them. I'll not make you feel comfortable, then I'll go inside to go and cry. I'm not going to do that.”

It hasn't been all disdain, however, there are also appreciative remarks, those that acknowledge and admire the creative courage in their distinct ways of dressing. There have been offers, as well, for them to style musicians as well as modelling for underground brands.

On a typical day when Sel is not painting and Awuye is not writing music or designing rings, the brothers can spend up to ten hours dressing themselves and trying on outfits “just for fun”. In conversation, the brothers intimate that if an individual's style of dressing is constantly dictated by some entity then that individual is under some form of oppression. Their subcultural style then is, among other things, a way of resisting this peculiar form of oppression.

Beyond the look Sel and Awuye's quaint sartorial choices are a declaration of their disinterest in going along with the limiting tides that are the dress norms of their society. Crisply put: “That kind of oppression... it's something that we're trying to swerve from.”


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