'a nasty boy' magazine is challenging what masculinity means in nigeria
Living in a country where labels are deadly, founder and editor Richard Akuson chooses to paint otherness as nothing but a beautiful time.
A Nasty Boy
A Nasty Boy is a fashion website documenting the myriad queer identities of Nigerians. Which is important since the Nigerian government is attempting to extinguish queerness altogether. In 2013, the country criminalized homosexual acts, making the "offense" punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Just this past weekend, over 40 men were arrested for engaging in sexual conduct with other men at a Lagos State hotel during a targeted police raid. But if the situation for Nigeria's LGBTQ people looks bleak, you can't see it in A Nasty Boy's fashion spreads or films.
Founded and edited by 23-year-old Richard Akuson, the publication presents a glossy world in which boys caress freely on the beach, boys wear mascara, and everyone is dressed to the nines. The visuals are picturesque and aspirational, implying few concerns beyond being beautiful and in love. Akuson exclusively shares the Nasty Boy editorial "No Place to Call Home" with i-D. In it, Akuson captures the solitariness Nigeria's cross-dressers commonly feel by shooting them alone on a quiet beach. Arms wrapped around each other, the models appear withdrawn, but also graceful and self-reliant. Readers around the world have connected with A Nasty Boy's message. Akuson says the site's audience has grown to include readers in the US and UK, Italy, Japan, and Canada.
"It does feel gratifying knowing that through A Nasty Boy we're able to expand the definition of what it means to be Nigerian," Akuson says. "It's a huge responsibility, but it is one I'm proud to bear."
Akuson talks to i-D about how Lagos is morphing into a fashion capital and what growing up different in Nigeria was like for him.
How do these photos explore Nigerian male beauty standards?
The story is really about boys like my eight-year-old self who don't know judgment and feel more alive wearing makeup. It's about boys who don't mind something extra or glam. I think Nigerian men are gradually warming up to the idea of makeup and beauty in general. Some of my friends wear one form of makeup or the other, be it concealer or light foundation. A lot of Nigerian boys I see on Instagram do so too. This story is about those boys who go all out wearing red lipstick, colorful eyeshadow, wigs, and long painted nails. These boys exist and they are as Nigerian as I or any other person from this part of the African continent. They matter and they are not invisible.
How did the idea for A Nasty Boy come about?
Working in the Nigerian media for some time, I realized first-hand how much Nigerians were averse to difference in whatever shape or form. We're a conservative country that is very comfortable in the things we hold as standards, so anything that differs from the perceived norm is seen as a threat. Similarly, as a young boy growing up here, I was bullied and called names because of these perceptions. A Nasty Boy came about as a result of some of these personal and general experiences. They made me realize that no one's world view will change if fashion sits back and lets archaic, non-progressive traditions dictate what is alright. I decided to put up a fight through a platform that challenges the norms, and ultimately provides room for otherness to thrive.
What's the meaning behind the title?
I wanted the name of the publication to be honest in its representation of "the other." I wanted it to be unapologetic, disarming, and right-in-your-face. A Nasty Boy seemed to carry these sentiments the most.
What has your coming-of-age experience in Nigeria been like?
I grew up the second of three boys and I was always the effeminate one. I liked watching lifestyle shows, while my brothers liked soccer and wrestling. My immediate family never made a fuss about it, so, in that sense, I couldn't tell how different I was from them. However, everyone outside my household always made it a point to mention my femininity. Leaving for boarding school and then university were some of the worst times, as I was constantly made fun of. This made me spend most of my days alone as some sort of alien who did not fit in. However, as time went on, I realized I couldn't spend my life worrying about people's opinions of me. I learned to accept who I am with all of my quirks, and in doing that, I found peace in my being. It wasn't easy reaching this point, especially in Nigeria where labels can be deadly. And had it not been for the support system I was able to build through my friends and immediate family, I'm not sure I would have made it this far. It's for this reason that I hope A Nasty Boy is able to be a platform that pushes new and subversive ideas, celebrates difference, and provides a platform that pushes for conversations around some of these traditions that allow young boys and girls to feel alien in their own bodies and societies.
Are there any formative moments or memories in your life that helped lead to the creation of A Nasty Boy?
My entire life, I'd say, has led up to A Nasty Boy. I remember growing up and wondering if there were people like me — people who thought and reasoned like myself. I remember when I was about eight years old, we had a family portrait. For those pictures I wore a slightly red lipstick, filled my brows with eye pencil, and had my mother's powder on. I thought I looked fantastic, and I really did. My parents didn't ask me to wash it off or anything — the frame still sits in my parents' living room. Home for me was a haven where I could be and do anything. I also remember wondering back then if other boys ran around their homes in heels and wrapped themselves in skirt-like wrappers. I'd always wanted a platform that allowed people to be their true selves. I lost a chunk of that boyishness, but I still wonder if I'd have turned out any differently had I not been forced to lose all those quirks.
What it's like to work so far away from the traditional fashion hubs of the world?
Lagos is an amazing example of an emerging fashion capital. We have designers who are exporting their fashions to the rest of the world and a thriving fashion week that has caught the eye of some of the most elite fashion personalities and media worldwide. But like every other emerging fashion city, we are very much behind. There's so much we'd like to do with A Nasty Boy in terms of content, the talents we work with, and just general access. But the biggest pro would have to be the rawness of the Nigerian fashion industry. It is passion driven with a small, but growing, crop of top-notch talents. There's a rare opportunity to discover a new talent and grow with that talent as they find their footing. That said, we'd love to be part of the global industry while championing our stories from within. The dream is someday being invited to a Chanel or Vetements show, being able to see the pieces up-close and give our perspective to our audience.
Text André-Naquian Wheeler
Photography Terna Iwar
Creative Direction Richard Akuson
Makeup Mike Michaels
Models Okechukwu Ojukwu, David Nirvan