In recent years, the Northern region of Nigeria has made international headlines as the site of brutal attacks by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The group has been responsible for rampant gender-based violence, and the 2014 kidnapping of hundreds of school girls, brought to light by the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. It’s a region where women are under siege and marginalized; as a result, many of their narratives are rarely heard. Now, in a new photobook titled Diagram of the Heart, photographer Glenna Gordon has captured another side to the lives of women in Northern Nigeria.
- Firdausy El-yakub reads a romance novel in her bedroom in Kano, Northern Nigeria. Her university has been on strike for weeks, so she spends most of her days reading and dreams of one day becoming a novelist too. Her father allows her to go to the market and buy new books often. While Northern Nigeria is best known for Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group whose name means Western Education is sinful, there’s a small but significant contingent of hijab wearing ladies writing subversive romance novels.
- Farida Ado, 27, is a romance novelist living in conflicted and rapidly Islamicizing Northern Nigeria. She’s one of a small but significant contingent of women in Northern Nigeria writing books called Littattafan soyayya, Hausa for “love literature.”
- Author Amina Hassan poses for a portrait in her home in Kano on April 21, 2014. She loves Jane Austin novels.
- Few women have computers, and even those who do usually have very old models, like this one in a writer’s home in Kaduna, Nigeria on April 16, 2013.
- Women buy novels at a shop run by Jamila Umar, a poplar writer who opened her own stall at the market in Kano.
- Rabi eats watermelon.
- A woman reads a Hausa romance novel using the flashlight on her cell phone as a train traveled through Nigeria.
- A twenty year old widow sent home to live with her family after the death of her husband.
- A bride looks out the window before her wedding. Many of the books are about love and marriage.
- Novels and other books are put together by hand.
- Books are tied up and packaged at the local market in Kano, Northern Nigeria. While Northern Nigeria is best known for Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group whose name means ‘Western Education is sinful,’ there’s a small but significant contingent of hijab wearing ladies writing subversive romance novels.
- Khadija Gudaji works on her novel while laying in bed at her home in Kano, Northern Nigeria.
This isn’t Gordon’s first time working in Nigeria. She’s photographed extensively there, focusing on Nigerian women, and even documenting the belongings of the girls who were abducted by Boko Haram. This time she set her sights on a group of Muslim women who write pamphlet-style novels about love and marriage known as “littattafan soyayya” or “literature of love.” Some novels tackle hard-hitting issues like human trafficking or arranged marriage, some offer advice on how women can please their husbands, and others offer the fantasy of escape — the familiar narrative of the poor girl marrying the rich man.
In the strict Muslim-majority country, many of the women Gordon photographed struggled to receive an education. Even for the few whose families encouraged them to pursue a career in writing, the act of publishing their novels is a dangerous one, with the constant threat of censorship and violence. Some of the women sell their books in the same markets targeted by Boko Haram terrorists. Back in 2007, then-governor of Kano Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau burned a collection of novels in public, claiming they were “pornographic” and at odds with the region’s conservative values. Nevertheless, Gordon’s quiet, contemplative portraits offer a glimpse into a world where, though the backdrop may be one of violence and fear, women have found creative, subversive outlets to pursue their passions and make their voices heard.
Read the full story at Buzzfeed News.