Ogunfuyi(2nd right) in a discussion with people during the exhibition
Solomon Elusoji writes about how a celebrated documentary photographer, Kunle Ogunfuyi, reminds Nigerians of the lessons of the past
A masterful representation of the outcry of Nigerians over the removal of fuel subsidy in January last year is one of Kunle Ogunfunyi’s grand works which continue to attract attention and generate debate across art corners around the country. Recently, the exhibition was taken to the Yaba College of Technology where Kunle graduated from, several years ago.
The exhibition took place at the Yusuf Grilo Gallery situated inside the college and it was an evening of nostalgia as the set of photographs on display brought back vivid memories of the united solidarity of Nigerians against the mindlessness of constituted authority.
The body of work, entitled ‘Flashback on Nigeria’s Protest: A Lagos Account,’ is a series of photographs telling the story of the protests in Lagos. Ogunfuyi documented each day of the protests as captured by the lens of his camera, the largest demonstration to date in Nigerian history, which grounded the whole nation for about a week.
The photo series included scenes of massive crowd blocking major roads and a miniscule amplification of the sorrows and pains of the poor in the face of harsh policies.
According to the celebrated photographer, the work “takes a critical view of the spontaneous outburst of Nigerians towards a federal government policy on removal of subsidy in January 2012. Having engaged in documenting series of protests, the work reproduces the very moments, without bias in anyway. It’s an attempt to explore the historical moments as a reference point in the future.
“As a documentary photographer, the works I produce reflect the state of my environment. I hope with this body of work, that our society may reflect on issues surrounding policy making and how it affects the people.”
In a lively chat with THISDAY during the exhibition, Ogunfuyi whose works commands respect in the country and West Africa took time to explain the real reason for the exhibition. “It is to give a reminder of the events that took place. A moment that Nigerians came together for a common purpose, putting aside their differences, faith and politics to speak truth to power, saying enough is enough. It was like a movement and I was opportune to be around and be a part of it. I did the documentary from the first day of the protests, which was on the 3rd of January, 2012 to very last day,” he said.
He also commented on how the Yabatech exhibition was arranged and his ultimate dream for the work. According to Ogunfuyi, “this exhibition was first held at the National Museum exactly one year after the protests. Some of the lecturers from Yaba College of Technology’s School of Art were there and they said this cannot go away without coming to Yabatech. So It was a great honour for me to be invited to exhibit my work in the school where I actually graduated from, especially because of the inspiration it will give to the undergraduates.
“I would love to take the exhibition to the National Assembly, so that they can see the effects of what policy can do to citizens either bad or good and it can impact on the process of their work when formulating policy for the country. I would truly love to take it to the lawmakers, especially at this critical time when our nation’s constitution is undergoing a review.”
Speaking to THISDAY at the exhibition, one of the major promoters of the works at Yabatech, Mr. Olu Amoda, believed that the most important thing about exhibition in a school is the opportunity it offers and lessons to be learnt from the works. He said: “His work is a reminder of what happened. If you drive a car today and you don’t know that so many people laid down their lives to make sure that fuel is affordable then this would remind you that some people struggled. Beyond that, it was an event that took place in our lives and someone has documented it and that goes on forever.”
Amoda, who is a lecturer at the college, also added that bringing the work to Yabatech was an avenue to inspire the upcoming students of photography at the college. “He (Ogunfuyi) was part of our system and he showed his work somewhere, and the school is interested in showcasing the works from an ex-student, so that at least the current students can learn from it. I saw his work when he exhibited it at the Muson centre and I felt that students here do not even take their works to that level and it is important for them to see what it takes to go out there and produce.
He continued: “If we have a photography department and the students cannot use the power of photography to critique the system, then they are not strong enough. If you look around, you have a lot of people taking photographs, and yet none of them studied photography, so we want to whip up the sentiments that if outsiders can pick up the camera and take photographs, what stops them from shooting better and quality pictures that can command change. And those so-called amateurs are not as good as when they first started. But it is a matter of consistent practice and you will be better. “
The curator of the Yusuf Grilo Gallery, Odun Orimolade, also spoke to THISDAY. She said: “It is documentary, it is archival, and there is a lot to be learned by artists concerning the use of archives in their practice. He is an alumnus of the school of art, and his practice is impacting our society. So, we are bringing him back to the school to see how our students can learn from the things he has done.
For Ogunfuyi, who combines creativity with his work as a photographer with THISDAY newspapers, his work is earning him respect and bringing him fame. “I’m particularly happy that my works stand out. Photography is not just about the clicking of a camera, it’s about what you seek to achieve. It’s more than the lens, it’s the application of required skills,” he enthused.