As you approached the gate you were welcomed by a hubbub emanating from speakers conveying the very essence of Emeka Ogboh’s Lagos Soundscapes presented as one of 13 works that were on show in a group exhibition curated by Folakunle Oshun, founder and director of the Lagos Biennial, together with South London Gallery.
Featured artists included Yinka Shonibare CBE, Victor Ehikhamenor, Ndidi Dike, Emeka Ogboh, Temitayo Shonibare, Christopher Obuh, Seyi Adelakun, Temitayo Ogunbiyi, Onyeka Igwe, Abdulrazaq Awofeso, Adeyemi Michael, Chiizii and Lagos Studio Archives.
The sounds died on the 29th but the memories will linger for a long time in Peckham which has been fondly referred to in the past as “Little Lagos” because of the large population of Nigerians residing in the South London precinct.
Stepping into the South London Gallery, you would be confronted by Victor Ehokhamenor’s Cathedral of the Mind, a large scale piece fashioned out of rosary beads, brass, thread, rhinestones on lace and wooden sculptures.
The work riffed on Christianity and African spirituality with the duality enhanced by the ibeji twin sculptures that framed the back.
Yinka Shonibare’s 1998 works; Diary of a Victorian Dandy 14.00 hours and Diary of a Victorian Dandy 19.00 hours were described as commentaries on “race, class and disability”. Employing elements of cosplay, Shonibare mimicked the satirical social commentary in the works of British 18th-century painter and caricaturist William Hogarth. Dressed in upper class finery, he seemed to be addressing an audience in a make-believe salon.
History, nostalgia and the reclamation of memory were key themes in the works presented by the Lagos Studio Archives (based in Helsinki, Finland) in The Archive of Becoming, 2015-ongoing; Onyeka Igwe’s No Archive Can Restore You, Adeyemi Michael’s Entitled, Chiizii’s Research Room, Chapter 1. Nni Bu Ogwu ( Food is Medicine), 2023 and Christopher Obuh’s No City for Poor Man.
Lagos Archive Studios and Onyeka Igwe’s works highlighted Nigerians’ fraught relationship with history and documentation. In the former, the transition from analogue to digital photography has consigned negatives from exposed films to the dustbin of history while in the latter; loss, corporate memory, impermanence and the end of the colonial enterprise are writ large in the close shots of the interior of the former Nigerian Film unit. By shooting close to the objects and surroundings, Igwe manages to transform the ordinary and mundane while the shot of the clock stuck at 12 minutes past 8 highlights the colonial archives frozen in time.
Chiizzi’s focus on pre and post-colonial igbo diet melded the culinary with the artistic in exploring the place of food as not just sustenance but medicine which was at the heart of pre-colonial igbo culinary experience from the prism of subsistence-living standpoint.
The works by Ogunbiyi and Awofeso evinced a concern around pilgrimage and migration. Ogunbiyi’s installation was both interactive and yet emblematic of the flight path from Lagos to London while Awofeso’s piece contemplated the fate of the denizens of a large metropolis like London, people who can be described as ahistorical and asocial seen from the point of view of a newly arrived immigrant.
Adeyemi Michael’s Entitled was redolent with nostalgia in the blending of the past with the future in order to provide a firm handle not just on the Nigerian immigrant experience but a better understanding of the distance – physical and metaphorical- traveled from home in Nigeria to the new reality abroad. This was achieved by a reconstruction of his childhood home complete with objects and appurtenances that reflect a middle class Nigerian home.
By setting his mother on horseback and having her ride in regal elegance on horseback through the streets of Peckham, Adeyemi subverts eurocentric narratives of the conquering colonialist while privileging his mother as a true conqueror of her new environment.
Christopher Obuh’s No City for Poor Man was history being told in the gush in his documentation of the scale of the ongoing ocean reclamation and building of the new Eko Atlantic City with subtle references to the ecological and socio-economic toll the forced migration has had on people who lived and relied on Bar Beach for their sustenance.
The image of water and the ocean is explored further by Seyi Adelekun in Adire wata which presented recycled plastic bottles filled with natural dye indigo used in the making of the eponymous adire of the title. Water is life, sustenance, transformation, healing and memory as a facilitator of migration and deracination.
Temitayo Shonibare’s I’d rather not go blind is a 26 minute and 22 seconds long social experiment in the very act of “unlooking”. Her performance on a London overground train in which she fiddled with a strawberry wig that obstructed her face was a study in human interaction and the differing reactions to personal space. In Lagos, the result would have been remarkably different with fellow riders encroaching.
Her experiment anchors Folakunle Oshun’s words in his introduction that “at the heart of the exhibition is an exploration of the complexities of shifting notions of home and identity.”
The “Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage To The Lakes” was a reminder that the immigrant is often no more than a tortoise and no matter how far the journey, he or she will always bear his or her home on her back.
Photo credit: Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes, South London Gallery, 2023. Andy Stagg.