The radical trend millennials love

Softness as resistance also informs the work of Nadine Ijewere,  an award winning south-east London-born fashion photographer who was the first woman of colour to shoot the cover of any Vogue edition. Informed by her own Nigerian-Jamaican identity, Ijewere’s work showcases a new standard of beauty, and aims to give life to the uniqueness of disparate cultures. It is currently exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery as part of The New Black Vanguard exhibition. Works such as Joy as an Act of Resistance – a joyous smile amidst an explosion of orange tulle – or images from her recent Nina Ricci campaign –  four black women, draped in pastel, resting on each other’s strength – capture softness in action. 

“In the past and still today we have been shown a lot of images of black people suffering, being incarcerated and ridiculed,” Ijewere tells BBC Culture. “Over time these images have created stereotypes. Black trauma is very comfortably shared. Why is black joy not shared as frequently? I love to capture beauty, happiness and community. The truth is there’s a soft side to all of us that no one really sees. As time goes on I am learning through my work to give myself the same love and attention. It’s a tough industry to navigate, especially as a black woman. It’s important to me to check in with myself. We all should.”

The black women pioneering the simple pleasures and bold ideas of a soft life can too be seen as a vanguard. As Ijewere puts it: “We all know how powerful imagery is, how it has shaped the lives of the people before us and how it will shape the lives of those to come. Undiscussed, we are creating references for a softer existence. There will always be reference to the hard life, but it’s not the only option.”

For a social media trend to have nurtured a movement of black women –  pioneers leading the way in redefining strength as softness, and reclaiming a life of joy and healing – is something of a quiet revolution. So, snuggle up in your comfiest outfit, take yourself on a walk, or curl up by the fire, and be prepared to allow yourself vulnerability. Be gentle with yourself as you battle with an internal dialogue that requires repetitive self-talk, self-questioning and ultimately, self-love. Feel the liberating sense of freedom as habits, patterns and expectations are discarded, then melt into the creative, imaginative, possibilities of what a soft life could look like, for you. 

The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion is at the Saatchi Gallery, London, until 23 January 2023.

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