ART X Lagos Responds to #EndSARS
As Nigeria celebrates 60 years of independence, ART X Lagos presents its fifth edition online this year (2–9 December 2020), after its November show was postponed in solidarity with the #EndSARS social justice movement calling for police reform and better governance.
Uzo Egonu, Music Machine (1980). Screenprint on woven paper. Courtesy kó.
Amid the fallout surrounding the state's brutal response to the movement, with peaceful protesters losing their lives and calls for accountability and accountable governance unresolved, ten galleries have curated inter-generational group presentations of African and diaspora artists.
Participating spaces in the scaled-back event include Lagos' Bloom Art and SMO Contemporary Art, Accra-based Nubuke Foundation, London's Ed Cross Fine Art, and Galerie Cécile Fakhoury in Abidjan.
Parts of ART X Lagos's programme have been modified to respond to upheavals on the ground, with socially engaged themes becoming a key focus in ART X Talks, featuring artists and activists including Lemi Ghariokwu, Opal Tometi (one of the founders of Black Lives Matter), musician Folarin 'Falz' Falana, and photographers Yagazie Emezi and Kelechi Amadi-Obi.
Conversations such as 'Sir, the evolution has begun', which looks at creative expression as a catalyst for social transformation, and 'What we saw in October 2020', with leading artists who documented the recent protests, seek to contextualise the present moment in Nigerian history in a year that has seen citizens rise against oppression globally in Hong Kong, the United States, Thailand, Kenya, and most recently, France.
As ART X Collective CEO and Founder Tokini Peterside stated in an email: 'As an organisation, we felt the need to respond and speak to the outcry for change that had become overwhelmingly present in this moment, and think more globally about collective efforts to confront iniquity through storytelling—especially as the conversations happening within Nigeria became focal points for members of the international community and the Diaspora.'
With works by 100 artists, filmmakers, protesters, and photographers who were at the forefront documenting #EndSARS, the curated exhibition New Nigeria Studios is a visual archive of recent nationwide protests in Nigeria.
A series of 21 virtual rooms are organised around themes such as Soro and Soke, which combine to form a Yoruba expression that translates to 'speak up', an #EndSARS rallying cry, and Power, showing portraits of Nigerian youths as a powerful emerging political force.
New Nigeria Studios signals a new dawn for a country coming to terms with what democracy and change means for the present moment.
The presentation is an important repository documenting how the #EndSARS movement was galvanised across class lines, ethnicities, and state borders through the dissemination of images and information via social media channels by young people across Nigeria in Lagos, Kaduna, Abuja, Benue, Delta, Edo, and Enugu.
Images by photographers Etinosa Yvonne in the country's capital, Abuja, Lucky Unu in Delta, Nyancho NwaNri and Obayomi Anthony in Lagos's two protest sites Alausa and Lekki Toll Gate capture gestures of defiance, placards, vigils, and moments of intimacy and togetherness that were shared during the days of reckoning that brought people to the streets.
In the main galleries section, themes of political struggle, death, renewal, and rebirth emerge.
'As an organisation, we felt the need to respond and speak to the outcry for change...'
At kó, politically charged drawings from the 1980s by Uzo Ego, Tears of Sorrow, and Strangers in Their Own Land (both 1987), are a personal reflection on his preoccupations with his home country's political struggles as a Nigerian who migrated to the U.K. in the 1940s where he lived until his death in 1996.
Showing works by an older generation of modernist artists feels particularly poignant now, as artists in Nigeria today live through the continuing struggles of the post-independence era.
At Nike Art Gallery, a detailed line drawing titled Strength of the Youth (2017) by the collaborative art practice of Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye and Tola Wewe, draws on themes and motifs from the artists' Yoruba heritage, including patterns drawn from the indigo-dyed adire cloth, reworked with a formalist eye.
A stand-out from Nubuke Foundation's presentation is a series of paintings by Kofi Setordji, an artist known for socially engaged work and explorations of the everyday realities living in Ghana that align with Pan-African modernist traditions.
In Head No.5 (2020), for example, a carved bust, perhaps a nod to nsodie—Akan memorial heads made from terracotta as commemoration objects into which the spirit of the deceased might be invoked—is abstracted and reimagined in blue and orange hues against a purple background and red plinth.
Others works presented by the Foundation include watercolours depicting coastal life by Jonathan Kwegyir Aggrey that celebrate everyday Ghanaian life, while Rufai Zakari's bold collages made from trash, including Doffi washing powder sachets in The Girl in Yellow Swimming Costume (2020), highlight plastic waste as one of the most persistent pollutants amid an ongoing climate crisis.
More contemporary offerings include Chioma Ebinama's ethereal watercolours exploring self-liberating practices, queerness, animism, mythology, and pre-colonial philosophies at kó, and Abe Odedina's community of painted portraits at Ed Cross Fine Art that draw on magic realism and African oral traditions, including Balancing Act (2020), showing a woman dressed in a white bodysuit and white thigh-high boots bending backwards.
A notable absence from the revised art fair programme is the public art exhibition, The Garden of Tomorrow, which was organised to mark the 60th anniversary of Nigeria's independence from British colonial rule, now rescheduled to 2021.
Featuring works by 30 artists living and working in Nigeria and its diaspora, curators Tayo Ogunbiyi and Papa Omotayo planned an immersive outdoor experience contemplating futures in contemporary African art and public art as a catalyst for change. Even still, ART X Lagos' adapted online version echoes an enduring call for change that ripples across generations and temporalities.—[O]