As the Lagos State Government bulldozers descended on the Makoko community, a team LagosPhoto 2012 Project documented this historic event. Its co-ordinator, Joseph Gergel , revisits the group’s experience
It was a busy Friday afternoon driving through the crowded and bustling streets of mainland Lagos. We were en route to Makoko, a group of eleven photographers, videographers, and journalists heading to document the current demolition of the historic fishing village constructed on stilts in the water. The Makoko trip is the first of a series of projects of LagosPhoto 2012 created to react to urgent social events that are changing the cultural landscape in Nigeria.
LagosPhoto Project has as its motto “Documenting and Inspiring Change” and consists of excursions with emerging and established photographers and journalists to document as a group the very essence and life blood that make the city such a unique place. After the current events of Makoko over the last weeks and the profound effects experienced by the neighbourhood’s ongoing demolition, the LagosPhoto team determined it was necessary to capture the experience of a fading community that has long been a wonder to tourists and other Lagosians. As we approached our stop at a side entrance into the neighbourhood of Makoko, we did not know how far we would make it to see the destruction of the village firsthand and up close.
We walked through the land-borne section of Makoko and boarded canoes, heading to the heart of the makeshift town. The wooden canoes are carved directly from pieces of broken wood and lie low in the water. Because of the narrow pathways of the canals, there is constant traffic in the water, with canoes coming from many directions and often bumping into each other. As we passed through, we saw a thriving community that has adapted despite the scarce resources available to them. While there was trash covering the waterways and inherently poor sanitary conditions, the village was very much a cohesive social environment. There is a church and a school, there are small stores and even hair salon and music shop. Some canoes serve as makeshift commercial enterprises that sell food and clothes. We passed children playing a game of football, others in the midst of their daily chores. The community ranges from infants to the very old. The culture of childhood survives even though the children are forced to grow up at a very young age. Most of the canoe paddlers navigating through the village were in fact young children, perhaps not even ten years of age.
As we continued through the canals, we eventually ended at our destination: the outskirts of the community closest to the Third Mainland Bridge, where the demolition of huts has begun to take place. We saw a scene of ruins, wooden posts sticking up from the water as remnants of their former structures. Residents passed through the demolition in their canoes, some staring into a distance at the vast changes in their landscape that have occurred over the past days. Groups of people harboured on parts of broken huts that were still intact, others have made their canoes their impromptu home.
The Makoko Project Team travelled through the torn village to document the demolition and its effect on the community. Photographers and videographers documented huts that were already torn down as well as the destruction that is continuing to take place, while others tweeted live the visual descriptions of their experience. We even passed a hut that was in the midst of being torn down, where a group of men with machetes hacked down the house as other residents formed a group to watch. At times the residents were hostile to our presence. As a large group of photographers, it perhaps came across as though we were tourists that were voyeuristically peering into their newfound hardship. Many yelled at us not to take their photograph, while our guides would yell back that we were there to tell the world their story. It is of course understandable that the residents were sceptical of our intentions. Makoko attracts international photojournalists on a daily basis and the locals are used to the persistent presence of the camera. Yet, as a team we were determined that documenting such an historic event is important and vital. It is inherently important as artists to reflect on the social and political issues surrounding the cultural landscape, and we were certain that our presence would have lasting consequences on how this story will be told. There is life, joy, and a thriving community in Makoko and we can only hope that the new vision for the community is able to capture the same purity and social cohesion.
The Makoko Project Team included Franklin Israel, Nneka Iwunna, Iyaomolere Morayo, Chidinma Nnorom, Sangotoye S. Olayinka, Bayo Omoboriowo, Temitope Adegboye, Tunde Adeboye, Rebecca Gebler, Joseph Gergel, and Medina Dugger. The documentation of the Makoko Project will be available for public access on the LagosPhoto Facebook page and an exhibition will take place in the coming months in Lagos. As part of LagosPhoto 2012’s theme “Seven Days in the Life of Lagos,” LagosPhoto Projects hits the heart and soul of the festival’s mission in engaging the public with multifaceted stories of Africa. As the first and only international art festival of photography in Nigeria, LagosPhoto presents a contemporary and historical visual essay of the continent to both a local and global audience.
LagosPhoto 2012 opens with an official exhibition and Grand Opening Ceremony on October 13 at the Eko Hotels & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos. Other exhibition venues around the city include the African Artists’ Foundation, the Wheatbaker Hotel, Goethe Institut, the Falomo Roundabout, Muri Okunola Park, University of Lagos and the Oworonshoki- Alapere Median.
While this trip had a profound effect on all of the participants of the LagosPhoto Projects team, this will not be the last of our experiences in Makoko. Team members are planning to return to Makoko in the coming months to continue to document the changes that are taking place in the village and to provide a comprehensive and nuanced view, one of the tenants of successful photojournalism.
• Gergel is the Project Coordinator/Co-Curator, LagosPhoto