THEO LAWSON: The Master Art Space Creator at 60

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THEO LAWSON

Yinka Olatunbosun

The story of unconventional spaces for art in Lagos is incomplete without the mention of Theo Lawson, an architect and long time partner to Yeni Anikulapo Kuti, the first child of the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Lawson became a household name in the art world when he began creating the extraordinary from the ordinary. He reconstructed the Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s former residence at Gbemisola Street, Ikeja to a museum and a former colonial prison on Broad Street Lagos to a recreational cum creative hub known as the Freedom Park.

At the just concluded IREP International Documentary Film Festival in Lagos , Lawson was honoured for the legacy that he lives and the ones he would leave. Interestingly, Lawson had a strong pedigree. His great-grand uncle was said to have been an Assistant Colonial Surveyor. Furnished with Togolese ancestry, Lawson grew up as a Lagos boy. He was educated at the Igbobi College after which he went to study architecture in London.

London life was a sharp contrast to his Lagos life. He seemed bored with the methodology at school and wanted to explore his natural drawing skills. He found solace in Fela’s music and later returned to Nigeria after which he served in Jos. Jos provided him with the rich visual depth he needed to whet his creativity. He lived there for five years, married with two children. The worrisome ethnic cleansing in Jos forced him to return to Lagos.
“You can’t help but be creative in Nigeria. You have to create your own opportunities. We had conceived Freedom Park since 1999. Someone just helped me mention it to Fashola about ten years later,” he said.

Lawson had also designed the tomb of Fela at his former residence with a touch of mosaic appeal. He also built Motherlan’, a creative hub that was famous for the shows of the afro-centric music sensation, Lagbaja which was his first major work in Lagos for the arts community.