Very often it is the energy of a few individuals that can make an art scene flourish

Very often it is the energy of a few individuals that can make an art scene flourish. To my opinion Lagos is all about that.

After waking up to the sound of cars marching slow into the city and having our breakfast, our first meeting is at the Ben Enwonwu Foundation. We meet with Oliver Enwonwu, one of the four sons of the late Ben Enwonwu and an artist himself. The centre not only focuses on the life and work of Ben Enwonwu, but also organizes lecture series, publishes a magazine, and provides scholarships for promising artists. Right now the permanent collection is on show. We see a series of beautiful Modernist African sculptures and documents of his life. The fact that the artist was commissioned to make a statue of the queen of England has undoubtedly contributed a lot to his fame. We see an old newspaper article and an image of the queen, inspecting the statue that he made for her (keeping a straight face). Clearly the British colonizers had a large impact on any part of life, including the arts.

After the Foundation and a short traffic jam, we have an appointment with a very charismatic man in a tiny office. This man turns out to be amazing.

After Hollywood and Bollywood there is Nollywood in Nigeria. And we are situated in the very centre of the production hub of this lucrative business. The man in front of us is Tunde Kelani. He is not part of the Nollywood crowd, but gives us a small introduction into the business.

Tunde himself makes experimental films that are based on books that nobody is reading anymore. Artists have a great appreciation for his work. What makes his organization, Mainframe, very unique is that he brings cinema to the people, and for free. He sets up his mobile cinema everywhere in the country.

We have lunch at a local restaurant at noon. They have snails that look very interesting but I think I’m not ready for the experience.

At 2 ‘o clock we arrive at the Ojidee dance foundation. This is one of the projects that the Prince Claus Fund has supported in the past. The atmosphere is fantastic and energetic. We’re being welcomed to the sound of the drums, and after an official welcome by the CEO of the dance centre, Mr. Adedayo M. Liadi, we visit the studios of two visual artists who also work in the same building and the dance studios. In one studio a group is working on a theatre piece. In the piece, the dancers critique the government of Nigeria. Rightfully so to my opinion. The president has disappeared from office since a couple of months to be ‘treated for disease outside of the country’. No one has clear information about where and how he is, and rumor has it that he has died. This all has to do with the fact that every four years another president is elected, one time a Muslim, next time a Christian and so on. Something else that strikes us, and clearly creates a frustration for the Nigerians is the very bad electricity system. Blackouts are happening every day in Nigeria. (This resulted at one point in Bas being stuck in the elevator of the hotel).

We go into a next dance studio, where another group shows us a dance piece. They ask us to join in, and for 10 minutes it becomes a big joyful party.

After the dance, there is a moment for the press to ask questions. The local TV station had been following us all the time. Fariba bravely stands up for the camera. We’re full of energy when we leave.

After a short stop in the hotel our day continues with a visit to a commercial gallery space, Mydrim Gallery. Mrs Simidele Ogunsarya gave up her career as a lawyer to become a gallerist. She represents Nigerian artists of all kinds. One interesting thing about the Nigerian gallery system is that artists work with several galleries in the same city.

At 8 ‘o clock, our final destination of the day is the party at Bisi Silva’s house where everyone we’ve met in the past days is being invited to a garden party! We meet Bisi’s mother and aunt, get a speech from the Dutch consul in Nigeria, and enjoy a very nice performance work by two Nigerian artists, dealing with the problematic relationship between the oil-rich North and the South.

The food is very good, the atmosphere really nice, and shortly after everyone has finished his or her plate, we move to the dance floor. We all practice our dance moves and are being helped out by many great people we met in the past two days. Around close to midnight we manage to gather everyone and drive off to the hotel, because the next day will start at 5.15…

– Heidi Ballet


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