A woman in silver body paint and white feathers is surrounded by a band at carnival in Nigeria

Tobi wears custom Mofenik Millinery headpiece and Diamond Band Calabar wings. Musicians wear Eki Kere

The Way of the Birds: Celebrating Nigeria’s Biggest Carnival

Photographs by Daniel Obasi

Styling by Daniel Obasi, Uche Uba

At carnival, each band moves like a flock of birds. Outfitted in clothes from Nigerian designers or made from upcycled materials, these dancers and musicians transmit the rhythm of Calabar, home of Nigeria’s biggest carnival.

For multi-disciplinary artist Daniel Obasi, the energy at carnival feels transcendent. At Nigeria’s biggest carnival in Calabar, performers sashay through the streets, adorned in flamboyant costumes, vibrant body paint, and ethereal wings, everyone moving in effortless rhythm. Each band is an assembly of bright colors, personalities, creativity, and craftsmanship, reminding the Nigerian artist of a flock of birds.  


With this project, Obasi set about to capture a dream. “The Way of the Birds,” Obasi said, is a whimsical story inspired by the beauty of carnival culture and the freedom and power that carnival performers exude. He took carnival from the streets to more intimate settings—the bar, the bedroom—to showcase how deeply embedded the celebration is in the community. Aside from Tobi Momoh, all the models in the shoot were from Calabar. Most of them are dancers in actual carnival bands. The costumes took their inspiration from Calabar, the landscape, and from birds themselves, mimicking their flow and their gradient colors. 


Shot for Atmos Magazine Volume 8: Rhythm, these photos encapsulate the kind of art Obasi aims to deliver: an exploration of Afrocentric concepts in a way that expands how the rest of the world talks about the African continent.

Two women work on costumes for carnival in Nigeria.
Left to right: Elizabeth wears her own clothes. Praise wears Torlowei dress
A carnival performer poses in an orange, pink, and green dress with large feathery wings.
Tobi wears Orange Culture dress, Diamond Band Calabar wings
Esther, Purpose, Precious, Faith, Chinonyerem and Udeme wear Masta Blasta Band Calabar costumes
A man with white wings carries a tray of beverages inside a bar, while a man in red plays the trombone.
Back to front: Coty wears Daniel Obasi Studios and Orange Culture costume. David wears Daniel Obasi Studios wings. Patience wears Daniel Obasi Studios costume
A carnival band dressed in red plays instruments while an older person sits in front of a blue-painted bar.
Left to right: Coty, Efiok, Ekpenyong, Ebuka, and Williams wear Daniel Obasi Studios and Orange Culture costumes. Ekpenyong wears his own Efik traditional regalia. David wears Daniel Obasi Studios wings
A carnival performer smiles while dressed in a flamboyant costume.
Udeme wears the Onyonyo/Ekombi costume from Efik Calabar
A person dressed in a colorful costume stands on stilts while a crowd of children look on in the background.
Stilt walker wears the Obio Okpo masquerade from Nsit Ibom Ibom in Akwa Ibom state
A carnival performer stands in the center of a bar with her hands on her hips while other performers dance around her.
Left to right: Anastasia wears Diamond Band costume. Ebuka wears Daniel Obasi Studios costume. Samuel wears Orange Culture shirt and pants. Patience wears Daniel Obasi Studios costume. David and Calista wear their own clothes. Tobi wears Lisa Folawiyo dress. Blessing and Princess wear their own clothes. Purpose wears Mazza Blasta Carnival Costume. Williams wears his own clothes. Glory wears Pepperow top and Orange Culture pants. Hachimenum wears Torlowei bralette and shorts. Praise wears Lisa Folawiyo dress
Six carnival performers convene outside a blue building. Two of them are having a conversation, two are holding instruments, and two are doing flips against the wall.
Left to right: Glory and Praise wear Lisa Folawiyo clothing. Efiok and Ekpenyong wear Eki Kere clothing. Emeka and David wear David Obasi Studios costumes
Two carnival performers are painted with silver body paint and adorned in white feathers. The male performer poses in a runners stance while the female performer leans against the white wall.
A carnival performer is covered in silver body paint and wearing feathers on top of her head.
Left to right: Samuel wears Daniel Obasi Studios costume. Tobi wears custom Mofenik Millinery headpiece
A man wearing white feathery wings with silver paint on his face looks at the camera.
A woman dressed in a frilly colorful dress looks down at the camera.
Carnival performers dance on the streets of Calabar.
Left to right: Efiok and Ekpenyong wear Daniel Obasi Studios costumes. Udeme wears the Onyonyo/Ekombi costume. Stilt walker wears the Obio Okpo masquerade. Precious wears Diamond Band Calabar costume. Queen wears Pepperrow skirt. David wears his own clothes. Francis wears Eki Kere skirt. Luci wears Daniel Obasi Studios costume
Left to right: Bella, Justina, and Princess wear Diamond Band Calabar costumes
A woman with glittery face paint and a green feathery dress stands in a bedroom and looks into the camera.
Glory wears Orange Culture gloves, Daniel Obasi Studios feather costume
a woman in a silver dress leans on a man with black wings on top of a large bed with red sheets.
Front to back: Patience wears Torlowei dress. Samuel wears Daniel Obasi Studios costume
A carnival performer in yellow, purple, and red body paint poses.
Tobi wears Mofenik Millinery custom hat
A female carnival performer is being carried on a flat piece of wood while the rest of the band plays instruments around her and holds firey sticks. They are all dressed in red.
Efiok, Williams, Ebuka, Coty, and Ekpenyong wear Daniel Obasi studios and Orange Culture costumes. Godwin and Stone wear Daniel Obasi Studios costumes
Samuel wears Daniel Obasi Studios costume

Video Daniel Obasi

This article first appeared in Atmos Volume 08: Rhythm with the headline “The Way of the Birds.”

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