First day in Lagos

Still alive and kicking after our first day in Lagos, which might be considered a miracle taking the numerous traffic jams into consideration. Over 15 million people live in Lagos and as public transport is malfunctioning, streets are packed with cars and mopeds without great awe for traffic lights and who goes first.

With expectation, we started the day with meeting up with four new friends from Ghana at the Bogobiri Hotel, which seems to be an artists’ hang out in Lagos. Amongst other working for the organization Foundation for Contemporary Art in Ghana (FCA), dedicated to promote contemporary art within Ghana, as well as with art-journalism and curating, this group of four joined us the rest of the visit in Lagos. Interestingly, the art-journalist John Owoo told us about the lack of critical and serious writing on art in Ghana. This seems to be a general problem in Africa. A situation which led Owoo to use the Internet actively, finding himself amongst other writing for the recently published Internet magazine www.artinghana.com as well as www.artsghana.org.

At the Bogobiri we were also presented to the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) in Lagos. An organization started about 20 years ago, when the spaces for and discussion around art in Nigeria were shrinking. CORA mainly works with setting up conversation- and discussion platforms on and about culture, such as film, literature and visual art. The general secretary, Toyin Akinhoso, led us into an interesting discussion on the film industry in Nigeria, so-called Nollywood. In Akinhoso’s opinion the industry’s commercial and soap opera adapted profile has failed to learn from the successful literature scene in Nigeria, let alone to use Nigerian fiction for their scripts. Akinhoso, a clear spoken man, also initiated an engaging discusssion on the gap between the development of the local Nigerian and the international biennale driven art scenes, including the international success of Nigerian curators such as Okwui Enwezor, who seldom returns back home, it seems. And – in relation to this – how a young local art scene such as the one in Lagos, barely surviving on an almost nonexistent funding system, can and should develop.

Next stop; the African Artists Foundation. The organization works with creating awareness of social issues through visual art. It provides support to professional artists in Africa through for example healthcare and scholarships. The space, filled with stocks of paintings, sculptures and all kinds of remains from workshops, also houses exhibitions and holds art competitions.

Back to the Bogobiri Hotel for lunch and presentations by the photographers from the photo collectives Depth of Field (DOF) and Black Box (www).

Participating in the Photography Festival in Bamako in 2001, the photographers from DOF returned home with a feeling of wanting to make a greater impact that what they experienced in Bamako. Thus, the collective was set up, resulting in several exhibitions. Their concern today is the local people and population of Nigeria. This engagement characterized much of the photographs we were presented to during the meeting, by Nigerian photographers such as James Iroha. The city of Lagos and Nigeria as such were returning topics, documented in-between tough reality and national pride. The field of photography in Lagos is evolving, especially the last ten years.

Photography was also dominant in our next visit to the Nigerian curator Bisi Silva´s Centre For Contemporary Art (CCA), later in the afternoon. We were introduced to a workshop, finishing up the same day, within which artists were invited to work with international artists and curators on the topic of photography. However, not taking their point of departure in documentary- or street photography this time, but working conceptually and performance based.

Several artists presented their works (excuse any misspellings!), dealing with all kinds of topics, from paternal reflections to the world of football supporters in Nigeria:

  • Richardson Ovbiebo
  • William-West
  • Chidinma Nneoma Nnorom
  • Sabelo Mlangeni
  • Uche Okpa-Iroha
  • Iria Ojeikere
  • Ndidid Dike
  • Lucy Azubuike
  • Jelili Atiku
  • AkingBade Adeyinka
  • Folarin Shasanya

The CCA started in 2007. Working with developing, presenting and discussing contemporary visual art and culture in Nigeria, huge efforts must have been made into making this centre see the day. One of few platforms for contemporary art and experimental practices, the centre is privately funded, housing several exhibitions a year. Resting on the balcony for a couple of minutes, watching the nonstop traffic and all kinds of goods being carried around, Bisi Silva took us to see the library. The core of the CCA is the library, built from Silva´s own personal collection of art books and slowly added to through donations, gifts and buys. Working as a reference library, its main function is to try to increase the lack of knowledge on contemporary art in Nigeria. Which also, it seems, goes to say for the art education in the country, also lacking a tradition for teaching contemporary art.

A chaotic dinner with shrimps, fish, snails, chicken, meat and spinach served in one great messy row, ended an extremely exhausting but very interesting day! What strikes me is the many untold stories around and the joy I felt amongst the artists in telling them. Also the spirit and the impressive skill of doing a lot with little means, regardless of the lack of funding and public support systems. This public neglect, seems above all to characterize the small and somewhat striving but growing art community in Lagos, in addition to the lack of tools for discussing art critically. Through a strong community feeling, however, a lot has happened the last five years. And with the energy of some of the people we met today things might develop sooner than you think.

– Caroline Ugelstad

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