Isabel Okoro Explores A Vision of Black Utopia Through Her Singular Photography

“This is where we answer the call of the sun,” begins the narrator of Isabel Okoro‘s short film Friends in Eternity, “because we want to tell its stories, our stories.” The film is one of many works contained in Eternity, an ongoing archive of a Black utopia created by Lagos- and Toronto-based photographer Isabel Okoro. Eternity is a space she describes as “an ongoing exploration of my visual universe.”

Isabel Okoro, Double Trouble, Twice Blessed, 2019.

Aptly named for its vast immortalizations of Blackness, Eternity offers us glimpses into what Okoro calls “a distant yet achievable ideal.” The effortless swagger of two Black boys dancing, a group of friends dressed all in white, solemnly pondering the sea, a kiss between young lovers; Eternity offers us depictions of the motherland and the diaspora that are undamaged by the violence of a colonial gaze. Each image contained within Okoro’s ongoing archive centres on “trying to depict Black people as free.”

Isabel Okoro, Friends in Eternity (Sanity Sanctuary), 2020.

While Eternity serves as Okoro’s imagined, utopic possibility of Blackness, she is simultaneously careful to anchor it in reality. Eternity’s scenes unfold beneath trees, in tall grasses, on the beaches of Lagos. “There’s a reason I chose to stick with very natural spaces,” says Okoro, and although she appreciates the high-tech imagery of Afrofuturism, the artist expresses that “sometimes looking at it in that way, it feels very distant, and it might feel very discouraging and unachievable.” Her decision, then, to situate Eternity in familiar spaces serves as an invitation to imagine a better world as, above all else, achievable. “I want people to look at my work and ask themselves, just how different is this image from reality? And why is it different? And how can we make it so it’s not that different?”

Potent, hopeful, and grave, Okoro’s Eternity is brilliant in its ability to serve as both an archive of today and a dream for tomorrow.