On April 14, 2014, the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, between the ages of 16 and 18, from the town of Chibok. The Nigerian government has so far proven powerless in their pursuit of the militant organization that now controls most of northeastern Nigeria. Although the twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls was quickly picked up by commercial media and popularized by Michelle Obama, it gathered less than 9,000 followers and did little to galvanize the world. As of this writing, none of the girls have been rescued and only 57 have escaped on their own, returning with stories of rape, forced marriage, and abuse. Some reports claim the girls have been used as suicide bombers. Over a year after their disappearance, the story of the Chibok girls continues to be shrouded in mystery. We know little of who they are, what they aspired to be, or what their future holds.
Peer is an ongoing effort to re-contextualize this horrific event that remains inaccessible to much of the world. Once completed, the work will consist of 219 portraits of American girls (the same number of Chibok girls still missing) between the ages of 16 and 18. The portraits are taken in the girl’s bedroom where she is asked to write a message to her Nigerian contemporary. The name of a kidnapped Nigerian girl is paired with each portrait. Like their Nigerian peers, the American girls are approaching a pivotal moment in their lives, as they prepare for college, careers, and adulthood. By re-imagining the scale of devastation wrought on the people of northeastern Nigeria, Peer aims to find new ways of understanding this conflict.
#1, Deborah. "Girls here think they need feminism. They want to walk to school in short skirts and feel safe. What they don't realize is how blessed they are to be safe in their own homes."
#4, Asabe. "Stand tall, stay strong, keep fighting. Never lose hope."
#9, Gloria. "'Everything will be alright in the end. If it's not alright, then it's not yet the end.'"
#14, Ruth. "Where there is trust, there is love. Where there is love, there is hope."
#19, Aisha. "I could never understand how you feel at this very moment. I wouldn't know what I would do in your place. Yet [you're] still here reading this, and that makes you the strongest person I know. Keep pulling through not just for you but for your family to. No one should ever fear being taken out [of] their own home."
#21, Kwanta. "The girls here are in solidarity with you. Education is a means of freedom and should be free of violence. Your kidnappings have not gone unnoticed, do not lose hope."
#22, Kummai. "Be careful. Remember your family and how much they love you. Above all, keep faith. I really, truly believe that you will make it home."
#23, Esther. "I absolutely cannot imagine the horror of being taken out of your home within these circumstances. It's unfathomable. I cannot begin to process what that would be like, all of the fear and pain that you must be experiencing. You are all in my prayers."
#25, Rifkatu. "There is hope. [Whether] it's directly beside you or a million miles away. There is always hope."
#29, Tabitha. "You have been through so much and all I can say is that I am sending you strength and love. Have strength."
Madeline Cottingham is a North American photographer dedicated to examining environmental and human rights issues. Her photography has taken her across the globe, from gold mines in Tanzania and the ruins of Hurricane Sandy, to the front lines of the natural gas revolution in Pennsylvania. She received a BA in Photography an Environmental Studies from New York University and is currently based out of Brooklyn. http://madelinecottingham.com/