Six young photographers are telling the Lagos story from an insider’s perspective in this new exhibition, titled Dis Lagos Life. The show, which opened on Monday February 24 at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, is a fusion of the works of Amanda Iheme, Ayanfe Olarinde, Nelly Ating, Oluwamuyiwa Logo, Omoregie Osakpolor and Soni Nwandu who tapped into their visual artistry to make conscious messages about the spirit of Lagos.
These visual narrators have gone beyond the surface portrayal to reveal historical perspectives, beauty and the energy in this dynamic city that is renowned as the most populous African city. Curated by Nneoma Ilogu, a manager at SMO Contemporary Art, the show is the first exhibition of the year, setting a tone for how the art enthusiasts will engage with the city of contradictions.
“Dis Lagos Life takes us on a journey through the streets and occurrences in Lagos,” said Nneoma who further revealed that the idea started in the previous year. While some of the artists already had works based on Lagos, some were in the process of documenting Lagos with an interrogative mind when the project started.
“It pushes us out of our curated bubbles into the raw beauty and harsh realities of the city, forcing us to engage, discuss, speak out and make change, even if just in our little corners.”
One of the artists, Omoregie Osakpolor who was a creative writing teacher at the private school in Lekki is a socially-conscious photographer, who ventured into photography during his national youth service year. At the National Youth Service Corps camp, he participated in the Skills Acquisition and Entrepreneurial Development programme and has remained unstoppable since 2016. His works assess the state of demolition in economically disadvantaged communities in Lagos and raises questions about cultural dislocation.
Logo Olumuyiwa is an emerging artist, who is famed for his Monochrome Lagos series. Inspired by other international photographers, who have documented vibrant cities such as New York and Berlin, he documents the beauty in the chaotic city by stripping it of its usual colours to create an intimate engagement with the subject matter of humanity.
“He decided to document that alternative visual vocabulary for how people perceive Lagos. What we see here started in 2010. Over the years, he has created an archive of what Lagos looks like,” said the curator.
Images of children at play, crowded but functional bus parks and other daily scenarios jostle for viewers’ attention as they are lined along the walls of The Wheatbaker Hotel. What’s also interesting in Logo’s pieces is the creative titles and the sense of humour behind each one. His works include “Man and a Mannequin” which captures the essence of street trading in Lagos while “Danfo Driver” highlights the commuter life in the boisterous city. In the work, titled “Put Your Back into It”, which parades a water cart pusher, Logo tells a visual story of resilience and daily struggles of the Lagosian.
Through the lens of Amanda, the viewer can travel down memory lane on the colonial heritage of Lagos with the title “The Way of Life”. This psychotherapist took up her passion for photography to build a portfolio of works that document the lifecycle of the city’s historical architectural pieces.
“She documented these buildings in Brazilian Quarters by giving it soul and life,” the curator explained. In the collection, she demonstrated how some of these buildings had been preserved, renovated, transitioned and even destroyed. One of the works titled “Water House” was owned by Papa Esang, a former slave who returned to Lagos after the abolition of the slave trade.
“He was given a plot of land in Lagos, built the house and started selling water. Later, his son expanded it to Lagos Water Corporation. So, Water House represents a preservation of people’s legacy,.”
In the piece titled, “Glover Hall”, Amanda communicates the idea of reincarnation as the new Glover Hall has been moved from the original site to somewhere within the same area.
Somi may have started her career in fashion but has since transitioned into photography to make globally relevant statements. Born in Lagos, she was raised in the US. One of her photographs shows the Third Mainland Bridge, which is quite symbolic in the way she has bridged humanity across social status and cultural differences. In the series titled “Makoko: Life on the Water”, Somi unearthes the harsh realities of living along the coastal lines, which is one of the burning issues on the global climate change discourse.
Nelly has spent less than a year in Lagos having lived most of her life in Northern Nigeria. However, one encounter with Tola Shittu, a migrant changed the way she saw Lagos. Though Lagos is the economic capital of Nigeria, attracting people of different backgrounds daily, Nelly discovered that a lot of Lagosians want to leave the city for a better life elsewhere. During the mentoring programme called Ted X, she met Tola who had been denied the UK immigration visa twice. Tola’s husband is a medical doctor who had secured employment in the UK and left Nigeria shortly after their wedding in 2018. In the photographs taken by Nelly, Tola is the sole subject, lying helplessly in the fabric of her self-made wedding dress with the pain of rejection. The power of light and emotions were profound in this collection that is deeply provocative. Nelly’s technique of inverted images, shades and shadows is in itself a visual bombardment of relatable sentiments.
With Ayanfe, collage is a way of life and expression. The multi-disciplinary artist makes a collection titled “Lagos Hustle Diary”, which addresses the theme of survival in a city where most residents share a love-hate relationship. For her, the people of Lagos are its priceless jewel. She articulates her view using digital collage and photography built from scraps.
The Founder and Artistic Director, SMO, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago described photography as “an under-represented medium in Nigerian art collections.”
“Dis Lagos Life showcases powerful narratives which will heighten our socio-cultural awareness, while providing us with unforgettable images of a city which draws us into a whirlwind of energy, colour and vibe at a critical time in our ever-changing history,” she said.
The show, which runs till May 17, is supported by Wheatbaker and Louis Guntrum Wines.