“My dad, I think, is the greatest influence in my creative life”, Aize Muhammed — Benin-hailing fashion critic, model, stylist and, as recently as two years ago, photographer — confesses within minutes of us meeting. He proceeds to somehow smoothly segue from telling me about being one of 22 siblings scattered across the globe to being born into a life in which art, specifically local art, was overtly celebrated.
“My life was literally modelled around art because my dad appreciated everything from paintings to sculptures, so in the house where I grew up, everywhere there was art. I was immersed in this all my life without really knowing,” Muhammed says of the epiphany he had about a year ago.
He educates me about Benin, a very cultured West African kingdom 300 km inland from Lagos, known for its bronze works. “They need to retain that cultural, dynamic way of life, and I always say that things don’t change here. It’s good because it keeps people connected to their roots,” he explains peacefully before adding, “These days when I need to cool off, I just come back for a while”.
Muhammed explains that he was doing a shoot in Benin when the pandemic hit—he immediately leaned into the forced downtime: he went offline for a month, devoured five “life-altering” books in 28 days, learned how to meditate, developed a structured yoga and cardio routine, and added photographer to his credentials.
The last ten years have seen Muhammed’s creativity evolve in various fields from designer to stylist, creative director to fashion critic and model to photographer, but it’s hardly been glamorous. He shares how his is a prominent family, and even though his father was a great purveyor and consumer of art, a career in art was out of the question.
“Working in the industry was one of the biggest obstacles of my life”, he explains, “I come from a very strict family, so my dad felt that anything creative was for people outside of the family. I had to be a lawyer or a doctor or a banker or an engineer, and so I studied law. For the longest time my dad fought me, and my entire family wanted me to practice it.”
The multi-talented man admits that although it’s been many years of “you’re gonna fail!” and “you won’t make money!”, which negatively impacted his creative confidence, he’s immensely grateful that he persevered, and how he now has his family’s support — eventually earning the respect and support of his late father way before his passing.
I get the impression that photography was what eventually made supporters of the family, specifically his debut exhibition. Muhammed explains how someone he’d met in his cardio class during the second month of lockdown approached him and asked him if they could do a shoot together, which he reluctantly agreed to.
“That shoot is what started all of this because previously I did fashion photography, so after that shoot I was like, ‘you know what, this is very intense… I didn’t believe that I could do it “After showing images from these shoots to his manager, the enthusiasm it met with made it clear that his work was world-class and, more importantly, exhibition ready.
“In the process of editing, the images all made me feel a certain way, and that’s why, coming up with the narrative, there was so much vulnerability, and the mood of not being left alone to be your true self,” he explains.
In realising that he was telling his own story, Frozen Choices. Sacred Space was born. “The idea came from wanting to]be free to make my own decisions, live my life and not have people judge you just because they have things working for them, or they feel like you’re not getting things right,” he elaborates. It’s clear that being authentic and expressing his true self is very important to him.
“My dad passed away last year, so that was a contributing factor. I’d been through so many emotions, and I had to do something to uplift myself. I had people crying at the exhibition, and that also gave me a real sense of purpose, knowing that this related to other people’s lives. Everyone who came to the exhibition felt like their story was being told–it was a great journey and experience for me that triggered my next exhibition”, he divulges, barely giving me time to process his story before piquing my interest with his upcoming — second ever — exhibition which, he explains, “…is almost like a continuation of the first”.
Words | Alden Clapper @AldenClapper
Editor | Nikki Temkin @NikkiTemkin
Images | All exhibition images by Aize Muhammed @zpxnso
Images of Aize by Reed Davis @reeddavisphotography
Title image – Wardrobe by Panaga @_panaga