Born in the UK to Sierra Leonean parents, 21-year-old multidisciplinary artist and architecture student Ejatu Shaw was raised to embrace all the parts of her dynamic identity — black, female, British and Muslim.
It was when she was asked by Reform The Punk to create a series which explored these labels that she realized how detached she actually felt from her religion, and its implications. That was how her stunning series, Poly-, was born.
Ejatu, who started wearing a hijab when she was a teenager but eventually stopped, said the more she researched for the photo series the less connected she felt to Islam. Poly- is her way of exploring this loss of a vital part of her identity.
Inspired by the likes of Malick Sidibé and Nadine Ijewere, Ejatu used the series to explore and celebrate her African heritage as well as her spirituality, while recognizing her detachment from both aspects. It's her attempt to redefine herself.
Speaking with Okay Africa about the photo series, Ejatu said:
"Made up of many different identities, the project made me realize that I often struggle to have a firm understanding of myself and my place in all the communities I belong to."
"Poly- explores the conflict I have with my identity whenever I try to connect with my Fulani roots outside of the confinements of Islam, and my struggle and failure to meet both the religious and cultural requirements of my tribe due to my British identity and values."
About what inspired the series' unique name, she continued:
"Every time I try to reinvent my identity to suit my values, every time I try to break down the polymeric chain that is my cultural and religious upbringing, nothing but toxicity comes from it and I end up feeling as though I have no identity at all."