VISIONS OF REALITY

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Lagos Photo festival’s eighth edition explores the quest for truth and its presentation in the contemporary society, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Glitzy openings at prime venues have been the hallmarks of LagosPhoto, which now enters its eighth edition. The annual cocktail of engaging visual offerings, which was launched in 2010 by African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), remains Nigeria’s first – and, perhaps, only – international photography festival.

This year, the fiesta was officially declared open on Friday, November 24 – more than a month later than its traditional opening dates in October – and remains open until Friday, December 15. But what it calls its “professional week” runs only until Friday, December 1.

For photography aficionados, this edition – like the ones preceding it – offer so much to look forward to. A casual peek into its programme unfurls the following highlights: an amateur photography competition, publicity photography walks, short film/ documentary screenings, family day picnics in the parks, month long indoor and outdoor exhibitions, photography development programmes for teens, workshops and panels by artists and art experts, press conferences and interviews and performance art.

Featuring are the works of a miscellany of high-profile international and locally-based photographers like Lubabetu Abubakar (Nigeria) Logor (Nigeria) Mohammed Althoum (Sudan) Bas Losekoot (Netherlands) Bruno Barbey (Morocco/France) Joel Lukhovoi (Kenya) Alun Be (Senegal) Osborne Macharia (Kenya) François Beaurain (France) Andrew Mageto (Kenya) Jody Brand (South Africa) David Magnusson (Sweden) Owanto Berger (Spain) Giya Makondo-Wills (South Africa/UK) Joana Choumali (Cote d’Ivoire) Leakey Nduati (Kenya) Cristina De Middel (Spain) Ruth Ossai (Nigeria/UK) Medina Dugger (USA) Eloghosa Osunde (Nigeria/USA) Kadara Enyeasi (Nigeria) Lorena Ros (Spain) Jan Hoek (Holland) Stephen Tayo (Nigeria) Nadine Ijewere (Nigeria/UK) Justine Tjalinks (Netherlands) Seye Isikalu (Nigeria/UK) Kadir van Lohuizen (Netherlands) Ivan Forde (USA) Dagmar Van Weeghel (Netherlands) Samuel Fosso (Cameroon) Sarah Waiswa (Kenya) Keyezua (Angola) Amina Zoubir (Algeria) Francis Kokoroko (Ghana) Nicola Lo Calzo (Italy) Raphael Leonce Agbodgelou (Benin) Wura-Natasha Ogunji (Nigeria/USA) Micheal Gouken (Nigeria) Abba Makama (Nigeria) CJ ‘Fiery’ Obasi (Nigeria) and Winston Sylvans (Nigeria).

Everything about this edition swirls around the theme, “Regimes of Truth”, which explores the quest for truth and its presentation in the contemporary society. It gleans its inspirations from the writings from some of the most influential literary realists and intellectuals of both the 19th and 20th century. “Gustave Flaubert’s L’Empire de la Bêtise (Empire of Stupidity), Orwell’s creation of ‘doublethink’ from his dystopian novel 1984 as well as the writings of Foucault, Achebe and Huxley all possessed foresight about contemporary society’s concurrent quandary, whereby access to information on [the] one hand and substantive facts on the other hand, are masked by a constructed rhetoric,” information on the LagosPhoto website elaborates.

Thumbs up to the LagosPhoto organisers for its consistent annual outings right from its inception. Also noteworthy is the fact that its grand openings at Eko Hotel and Suites in the upmarket Victoria Island neighbourhood have always attracted the crème de la crème of the Lagos culture scene.

But more importantly, the annual event have remained a platform for not only harnessing local talents but also for the cross-fertilisation of ideas with the already established professionals in the international scene.

Indeed, the dispersal of its events across several venues in Lagos has helped elicit both the public’s curiosity and interest in photography. Perhaps, the public will be more interested by the fact that this edition of the festival will explore the legacy of two major historical events that happened in Nigeria: the proclamation of the secessionist Republic of Biafra in 1967 and the second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in 1977 in Lagos.

It should also interest its habitués to know that one of the exhibitors’ commissioned work pays to the late Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (the mother of the late Afro-beat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti). The exhibitor, Cristina de Middel, specifically references the tragic military invasion of Fela’s home, Kalakuta Republic, exactly 40 years ago with her “Unknown Soldier” 2017.

The other commissioned works are Osborne Macharia’s “No Touch Am” 2017 and Leonce Raphael Agbodgelou’s “Love and Fear Woman” 2017.

The AAF’s director and the LagosPhoto artistic director, Azu Nwagbogu, disclosed at a recent press briefing that the body of works to be presented at the festival will be an entrée to the exploration of the ideas of constructed realities and the relevance of legitimacy. “We explore the various tensions between faith, reality and belief through smokescreens with ambivalence a dynamic intersection of photographic encounters featuring the most recent creative output and world premier of the work by renowned award-winning artist, Samuel Fosso, whose new series ‘Black Pope’ delves into the politics of religion in Africa and confronts its image dissimulations,” he told the gathering of art journalists at the AAF building in Victoria Island, Lagos. “We rotate from one belief system to another; from religion to science with Where Will We Go? — Rising Seas as Dutch photographer Kadir van Lohuizen’s presents his compressive photo-essay that explores the impact of human activity on global climate change with a focus on some of the world’s most challenged cities.”

Nwagbogu also linked photography with the expression of truths. Thus, the festival seeks to wring authenticity from out of the photographic narratives that mirror the cultural perspectives.

“We were looking out for the quality of works,” he later added. “We weren’t just looking at works that looked back but the ones that looked forward. We are not just interested in documenting but in creating a new vision.”

If the AAF building is hosting most of the LagosPhoto events, it is because it provides more rooms for the exhibitions. There are yet other venues like Gallery 16/16, The Studio by Polly Alakija, Quintessence, Yaba College of Technology besides the outdoor venues.

There is, of course, also Eko Hotel and Suites, which besides hosting the grand openings has been one of the event’s sponsors.

“We have always got the venue for free,” Nwagbogu said. “Without their support, we wouldn’t have had LagosPhoto festival. The space we used had never been used by anyone before for an exhibition. We then showed them the possibility of using the space as art space.”

As the curator of this edition, he will be supported by a familiar curatorial cast comprising of Maria Pia Bernadoni and Mariella Franzoni as well as the in-house AAF curatorial team with Nguveren Ahua, Uche Nwalozie, Asibi Danjuma and Karimah Ashadu.

Past editions of LagosPhoto have had international collaborations, which have further exhibited the works of its participants. Among these collaborations are those with FOAM Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Bozar, Brussels (Belgium), Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein (Germany), Rush Arts Gallery, New York (US) and Rencontres d’ Arles, Arles (France).