Nigerian visual artist Malik Afegbua has captured the attention of the world with his recent fashion show titled ‘The Elder Series’ in an effort to challenge stereotypes surrounding the elderly and to amplify the under-represented African faces and bodies in the fashion industry.
What is interesting about this fashion show is that it never actually happened. Afegbua harnessed the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) to generate awe-inspiring images of elderly Black African models gracing a virtual runway. Leveraging the AI platform mid-journey, he experimented with different text prompts and painstakingly refined his search terms until he achieved the desired effect. Each image was then meticulously edited using photoshop, resulting in a collection that challenges preconceived notions about ageing and beauty.
The inspiration behind this show stems from Afegbua’s personal journey and his deep connection to his mother. Following her stroke, Afegbua sought solace and a means of expression that would transport him to a happier place, away from the image of his mother confined to a life-support machine. What emerged from his creative exploration was a powerful visual narrative celebrating the vitality, style, and resilience of elderly individuals.
While the integration of AI into Afegbua’s artistic process represents a true milestone, it has not been without its challenges. Early on, he noticed that AI platforms often exhibited biases, particularly in their portrayal of racial diversity, black skin was sometimes inaccurately rendered or confined to less favourable environments. Undeterred, Afegbua persisted in his quest for representation, conducting repeated searches and training the AI to generate images that were both faithful and aesthetically pleasing. His breakthrough not only enhanced his own work but also enriched the broader AI system, providing improved and diverse representations for others to access.