© Glenna Gordon

The quiet violence of an arranged marriage – a bride is taken by her female relatives to her husband’s home on the outskirts of Kano on April 13, 2013.

Unfortunately, the majority of news stories coming out of Northern Nigeria in recent years have been about the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram (whose name translates as “western education is forbidden”) but of course there’s much more complexity and tolerance within the society than Boko Haram’s perverse and hardline view of earthly existence. Centered in the city of Kano, there’s a small but significant contingent of hijab wearing ladies writing subversive romance novels.

These women, their lives, aspirations and works are the focus of a new–and somewhat unorthodox–photobook by Glenna Gordon who met dozens of authors. They write in Hausa, a Chadic language spoken by 50 million people, but their work rarely gets beyond the regions borders. Some translations of the novels appear in English for the first time in Gordon’s book. It is called Diagram of the Heart, published by Red Hook Editions and hits the shelves on February 11th.

I reviewed the book for Time Lightbox in a piece titled Anatomy of a Photobook: Diagram of the Heart, by Glenna Gordon.

“What if a photo of a woman writing a book was as important as a photo of a man fighting a war?” asks Gordon. “What would our foreign policy objectives be? How would we understand and conceptualize places and people we haven’t personally encountered? It often seems to me that fear is one of the driving forces behind the way America interacts with the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world. What if we filled those blank spaces onto which we project stereotypes with visualizations of the specific textures, colors and nuances of a life that is lived on terms different than our own?”

Read the piece in full: Anatomy of a Photobook: Diagram of the Heart, by Glenna Gordon

© Glenna Gordon

Khadija Gudaji works on her novel while laying in bed at her home in Kano, Northern Nigeria on September 29, 2013.
© Glenna Gordon
Books are tied up and packaged at the local market in Kano, Northern Nigeria on October 4, 2013. While Northern Nigeria is best known for Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group whose name means ‘Western Education is sinful,’ there’s a small but significant contingent of hijab wearing ladies writing subversive romance novels.
© Glenna Gordon
Rabi Tale, a popular novelist, in the courtyard of her office at the Ministry of Information on October 3 in Kano, Northern Nigeria. She is one of the few novelists who has a “day job” in an office. Many men allow their wives to write because they can do so without leaving the house.
© Glenna Gordon
A woman reads a Hausa romance novel using the flashlight on her cell phone on a train crossing Nigeria on August 21, 2015.
© Glenna Gordon
The wedding Fatiah, or party, of Maryan Nazifi, in Dawakin Tofa, another small town outside of Kano on November 8, 2014. Most of the time, men and women live very separate lives in Northern Nigeria and marriages are the main point of interaction.
© Glenna Gordon
Ahmed Adama, age 35, had wanted to marry Jamaila Lawan, 22, for more than a year when he heard about the mass wedding program organized by the Hisbah, the Islamic morality police in Northern Nigeria, who also censor the novels. They pose for a portrait at their home in Kano, Northern Nigeria, on October 7, 2013.
© Glenna Gordon
A woman poses for a portrait at the Office of Enlightenment at the Hisbah, the Islamic morality police, on August 17, 2015.
© Glenna Gordon
Firdausy El-yakub reads a romance novel in her bedroom in Kano, Northern Nigeria on March 21, 2013. Her university has been on strike for weeks, so she spends most of her days reading and dreams of one day becoming a novelist too. Her father allows her to go to the market and buy new books often.
© Glenna Gordon
An officer of the Hisbah, the Islamic morality police, adjudicates a family dispute in Kano, Northern Nigeria, on August 17, 2015.
© Glenna Gordon
The diagram of a heart drawn on the outside of a school in Kano, Northern Nigeria on February 26, 2014.
© Glenna Gordon
Farida Ado, 27, is a romance novelist living in conflicted and rapidly Islamicizing Northern Nigeria. She’s one of a small but significant contingent of women in Northern Nigeria writing books called Littattafan soyayya, Hausa for “love literature.” She poses for a portrait at her home in Kano on April 15, 2013.

 

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