Along the Ozumba Mbadiwe road in Victoria Island, Lagos, a striking mural stands out. Painted on the wall of the Lagos Law School, the 13ft by 108ft artwork incorporates iconic images of Lagos in different shapes, sizes and colours. Yellow –the colour most associated with the city due to its taxis and minibuses– dominates.
The mission: to beautify the environs, tell Lagos’ stories and recount its history through the medium of graffiti, an art form that has steadily progressed from being described as “illegal” and “vandalism”, to a much-appreciated expression that now draws tourists to cities famous for their street art; New York, London, Lisbon, Sao Paulo, Cape Town, Rio…
For example, the Berlin Wall that divided Germany into West and East was a major tourist attraction, not only because of its political significance but also because of the narrative captured in its graffiti.
However, unlike other cities that have had to transition into accepting the outrageous talent exhibited by street artists, Lagos – through its state government – has consciously decided to encourage this art form by commissioning Nigeria’s leading graffiti artist, Osa Okunkpolor, popularly known as Osa Seven, to not only beautify parts of the city but also tell the Lagos story through his depictions.
Armed with his stencils, spray paint, varnish, paper and boards, Okunkpolor disrupts spaces that allow him express his creativity, with his works ranging from portraits of iconic characters to scenic images, brand designs, abstract art and more.
Apart from being the only African artist to be featured in a Microsoft global advert campaign earlier this year, he has worked with numerous global brands and has been featured on CNN African Voices, BBC Afrique and ARISE News. The Eko Tag site has also been visited by Anthony Bordain and will be featured on his show, Parts Unknown.
Already, the Eko Tag site has become an attraction, with many – including a host of A-list celebrities – stopping by to take pictures and selfies against the backdrop which features images of the National Theatre, the statues of the three capped chiefs that welcome commuters to Lagos via the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the graffiti tag that says “LAGOS” and the installation of yellow auto rickshaws (locally known as Keke Napep).
The attendant exposure on social media has helped project these images of Lagos to different parts of the globe.
Speaking with THISDAY, Okunkpolor threw further light on the Eko Tag project. “The Eko Tag artwork is a story within a story, to remind us as a people to never forget our heritage and the great moments that shaped Lagos. It creates a platform where the old does not only intersect with the new, but provides base narratives from which the future will emerge from,” he said.
“The very colorful pattern is descriptive of Lagos as a thriving city. As you know, the National Theatre and the Three Wise Chiefs are very popular elements of Lagos state.
“It’s been a very humbling experience having an opportunity to make history. People have fallen in love with Eko Tag, and the interaction with the artwork has been overwhelming. It’s also aesthetically pleasing, and can be used for brand messaging in the advertising world.”
Okunkpolor further stated his desire to continue on the path of projecting Lagos through his rare talents. “Graffiti has previously been viewed as vandalism, but I am focused on using it as a tool to drive positive impact and promote social causes. We are looking to the government to give us more public spaces to work with so we can further help project Lagos and tell its stories to a global audience.”