There is something new in the Abuja skyline! It is different from the monochromatic wall coatings and the shimmering glasses of the city’s high-rise concrete buildings. The object of fascination is the iconic headquarters’ building of the Ministry of Women Affairs, currently under construction, on Ralph Shodeinde Street in Abuja’s Central Business District. The building is the venue as well as subject of a site specific installation art which was unveiled recently.
It is one of the projects undertaken by British contemporary artist, Laura Aldridge which involved wrapping up the building in a display that even before its official opening ceremony had started eliciting questions and reactions. The installation is a part of a project by the British Council’s UK/Nigeria 2015-2016 season, which aims to build new audiences, create new collaborations and strengthen relationships between the two countries.
The building wrap was created following a visit by Laura to the Nike Arts Centre in Abuja and a textile workshop she had with 35 women based in the city as part of the “Go Woman Go” project. The building wrap project also enjoyed the support of Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Abuja. Earlier in September, a similar public art project, an exhibition of wind sculptures by a UK based artist of Nigerian origin, Yinka Shonibare (MBE) was exhibited at Ndubuisi Kanu Park, Ikeja, Lagos.
On the invitation of the British Council, Laura Aldridge’s first visit to Nigeria’s capital was in March, 2015. The visit was an immersive experience that enabled her to negotiate the nuances of the city of Abuja.
Through the visit, she was led organically, by the rhythms of the city to the right channels through which the collaborations for her project would be established. Prior to the installation of the public art at the Federal Ministry of women affairs building, Laura first had collaborations with the Nike Arts Centre-where she had the feel of the adire tie and dye fabrics (this would inspire the material for her installation). Second she had sessions with pottery makers in Giri, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory. She spent time working on these significant projects which are two art initiatives well known in Abuja and run basically by women.
Laura’s art project underscores two art traditions (Adire/Tie Dye and Pottery) of Nigeria that have been in practice in many Nigerian towns and cities as a method of fabric decoration, and an art form that has made home utensils for several decades, as well as a source of employment for many. Laura found the Abuja cityscape an exciting environment, “On my first visit to Abuja, I was struck by how sculptural, large buildings could look around the city. In the UK, we tend to build densely-this often means that architecture goes unnoticed…But in Abuja there seemed to be much space around each building and this meant that you could see a building in its entirety-the front, side and back” One of such buildings happened to be the women Affairs Ministry building-iconic, solid and cylindrical.
For about two weeks, Abuja residents will enjoy the building draped in the rich colours of the Adire/tie dye as they pass through the Abuja Central Business District. The colourful Adire patterns will surely be seen on some people’s dressings, including passers-by, as it is a common fabric pattern worn by many in Nigeria. This will translate to another form of interaction with the work. The colourful dressings of women generally reveal their colourful essences as a gender that adds a lot of colour to society and life. At the base of the wrapped building, women from the Nike Art Centre were ready with their dye baths.
Interested guests went over, took a white Pashmina fabric which was instantly dyed in the guest’s preferred colours. Pashmina veils are common women dress accessory in Nigeria. Pots made from Laura and the Giri women pottery collaboration were also on display. The wrapped six-storey uncompleted building with a standing crane towering over it, is suggestive of the suspended work on the building, which one may allude to something about the openness of thoughts and the continuity nof Aldridge’s creativity. “This work has my name on it, but it is the work of many hands. The nature of working at such a large scale means you have to open out yourself and your practice to others to enable a project such as this come to fruition. I see all those who are part of this project in the work” she said.
Laura Aldridge was excited about the possibilities of working in different contexts, which “Go Woman Go” project represents, “coming to a different country, responding to what is on ground and creating a new body of work. It is beyond just coming to Nigeria to wrap a building and make some pots; but more about the organic process involved in doing all of these and all the things that happen around it.”
-Enekwachi writes from Abuja.