A sequel of its last year’s theme, the LagosPhoto explores human relationships with memory as well as the generative potential of photography and images as the means of igniting visual perceptions and restoring receding and lost memories. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
When it comes to mainstream cultural agenda-setting, the LagosPhoto Festival arguably remains a cut above the rest. This year’s coming on board of the creative revolutionary platform Voice, as a collaborator, has further burnished its innovation-conscious credentials. Through Voice’s platform, digital creations in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) can not only be minted but also bought and sold. Similarly, as unique digital conceptions, NFTs can be verified and validated through blockchain technology, which makes them irreplaceable.
It makes sense, therefore, that this year’s edition – which is the 12th – leverages the fact that NFTs can be used to represent digital files in the form of photos, videos and audio, among others. And this is in addition to holding such information as the creator of the work, its time of creation and more.
Talking about this edition’s swoon-worthiness, it is a natural spin-off of the last year’s Rapid Response Restitution rallying cry, which proclaims the Home Museum as an online repository for memory and heritage. This explains why the organisers (African Artists’ Foundation) seem to hark back, with its current theme “Memory Palace”, at “human relationships with memory and the generative potential of photography and images to spark the visual intellect and restore decaying and lost memories.”
Indeed, with a sequence of exhibitions, interspersed with meet and greets, which are sizzling in their freshness, it is living up to its reputation as one of the cultural scene’s elite events. And talking about the local cultural scene, there is not one of the many events that can hold a candle to its dazzling narrative arc.
Thus, the LagosPhoto Festival, which was launched in October 2010, has remained the foundation’s flagship event and has contributed to the host city Lagos’ recognition as one of the world’s cultural destinations. As for Voice’s exhibition, which features the digital creations by artists Ken Nwadiogbu and Ayanfe Olarinde as well as their respective team of collaborators, it chimes in effortlessly with its intention to empower the NFT community and is, by the way, curated by Azu Nwagbogu, the founder and head curator of the African Artists’ Foundation.
A few words about Nwagbogu. A recipient of the 2021 Royal Photographic Society (RPS) curator of the year award, he is also the director and editor-in-chief of the online journal Art Base Africa as well as the Curator-at-Large for photography at the Zeitz MOCAA Museum in Cape Town, South Africa. He has curated several international exhibitions and contributed to reputable publications and served as a juror in many art- and photography-related prizes.
His brainchild, the African Artists’ Foundation – which is often abbreviated as AAF – has, since its inception in 2007, been the one-stop talent incubator, through which several young artists have clawed their way to prominence. Among these artists, some of which were exposed through its annual National Art Competition, are Gerald Chukwuma, Emeka Oboh, Erasmus Onyishi, Emmanuel Dudu, Ike Francis, Folakunle Oshun, Sesu Tiley Gyado and Sebastian Ugwuoke, among others.
Back to the LagosPhoto’s theme “Memory Palace”, it beams the spotlight on what the organisers described as those “familial loci of heritage and history”. Here, it is a question of a strategy that favours memorisation. And this is based on visualising familiar spatial environments as a means of recalling receding information.
Thus, the festival, whose grand opening was on Saturday, November 6, rides on the crest of an experimental and performative technique that reenacts the memories of a cosy and familiar physical space. “As we build our cosmology and familial safe spaces, we begin to restore, restitute, repair lost memories and archives that are stashed away in our individual and collective consciousness,” an official statement from the AAF further explains.
As a key event of the festival’s grand opening programmes, the Artist Talk with the Ghanaian artist and author Ibrahim Mahama, the Dutch artist Renzo Martens and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art’s director Ngaire Blankenberg was a hit with the Lagos art audience. This event, which was held at the AAF’s premises at Isiola Oyekan Close in Victoria Island on Saturday, November 6, was moderated by Sotheby’s head of Modern African Art Hannah O’ Leary.
Among the events, held the same day, were a performance exhibition by the creative artist and basketballer Hermes Iyele, titled Emotional Intelligence, alongside a performance from the YECA – acronym for Youth Empowerment through Contemporary Art – children and panel of discussion with Izzy Odigie, which was moderated by Chris Udoh as well as The LagosPhoto Retrospective Exhibition.
Earlier, on Thursday, November 4, the opening of Anthony Obayomi’s solo exhibition –supported by the Taurus Foundation for Arts and Sciences and titled Give Us This Day – was held at the Mike Adenuga Centre/ Alliance Française along Osborne Road in the Ikoyi neighbourhood.
Following closely on the heels of this event was the Art of Portraiture Photography Workshop facilitated by the Nigerian-American photographer Iké Udé in collaboration with The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on Friday, November 5 at Nok by Alara Gallery in Victoria Island.
Meanwhile, as part of the Festival of Forgotten Films in collaboration with LagosPhoto, this year’s edition also included the screening of Jason Pohland’s Things Fall Apart under the Falomo Bridge in Ikoyi on Wednesday, November 10. This screening, which adheres to the “Rapid Response Restitution” theme, brings the film, which was part of an archival cache of over 2000 unpublished film stills, various production papers, correspondences, and the film print of the production, to the public’s consciousness.
This was followed by the screening, the next day at the AAF, of Renzo Martens’ White Cube at the AAF’s Victoria Island premises. The feature-length documentary film, which is about a Congolese plantation workers’ cooperative – Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC) – explores the history of neo-colonialism, its impact, and the success of increasing decolonisation movements.
To underline its restitution mantra, the festival scours into its archives and brings back an iconic body of work by the Magnum photographer Cristina de Middel’s iconic body of work, titled The Afronauts, to the public’s consciousness. This, according to the organisers, is “a project that encapsulates the methodology and philosophy of LagosPhoto whereby personal narratives, critical fabulation and research trumps reportage about the lives of ‘others.”
Also featured prominently are works by Osborne Macharia, Zanele Muholi and Joseph Obanubi. “Osborne Macharia and Joseph Obanubi represent the very sharp end of the exhibition around futures and we want to bring these futures into the present timeline by assessing the fitness for purpose,” according to the festival’s explainer.
As for the South African visual artist Zanele Muholi, her new body of works – presented for the first time at the festival – is based on the decline of previous pre-pandemic global systems.
Still on the festival’s theme of restitution, Searching for Prince Emmanuel Oyenuga/Unpacking the Suitcase makes a case for the legacy of one Prince Emmanuel Adewale Adenuga, who in 1967 was said to have enrolled as a student at Escuala Massana Art and Design Centre in Barcelona, Spain. Oyenuga, the story goes, had left behind a suitcase containing his archives with his close friend Luisa Guadayol in Barcelona. This was after his relocation to London with his wife Elizabeth. With Luisa’s passing in 2016, her daughter Ana Briongos resolved to return the suitcase to his family in Nigeria. To the many cultural aficionados, this suitcase is a treasure trove of different social and cultural moments, bordering on documentations of the Nigerian Civil War, the cultural ties between Nigeria and Spain, the artist’s legacy, the story of emigration and Nigerian studio photography of the ’70s, among others.
Meanwhile, the festival’s many offerings of novelties will continue to reverberate in the art public’s collective consciousness even after the curtains fall on it on Saturday, December 4. And for artists like Nwadiogbu and Olarinde, doors to a promising future with the NFTs would have been opened. While Nwadiogbu enthuses about the fact it extends the regular platform and makes art experiential, Olarinde warms up to its idea of building communities.