The New York Times has their annual feature called “The Year in Pictures,” and the cover image for the print edition featured this photograph (below left) by Adam Ferguson. The woman in the picture is Rahab Ibrahim, who was one of over 200 girls kidnapped from school by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014, and was later released in 2016 after the Nigerian government negotiated for her freedom, along with many others.
When I first saw this image, the first thing I thought of was Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” 1665, pictured below right. While not an exact match by any stretch, there are several aspects of Ferguson’s picture which makes me think of Vermeer’s famous painting: the woman looking over her left shoulder; the blue wrap around the head; the earring which shines near the center (composition-wise) of the overall image; and the somber expression. What do you think?
However, while doing some research for this blog post, I see a story about Ferguson’s series of portraits of these freed women, and he mentions referencing art history, but not Vermeer. He is quoted as saying: “I needed to find a deliberate reference to Nigerian culture to honor it. So I started researching Nigerian art, looking for a visual cue,” and he decided to use a painting known as “The African Mona Lisa” as a reference for lighting his subjects. This painting, shown below left, is a 1974 portrait of Adetutu “Tutu” Ademiluyi, by Ben Enwonwu, and you can see it here also next to the photograph of Rahab Ibrahim.