ARTS & REVIEW
Bolaji Alonge, a Nigerian artist, and Ottograph, a Dutch artist, are collaborating on a bi-cultural project called 6 Hours that is motivated by their shared passion for street art. Yinka Olatunbosun reports
Two artists from different cultural backgrounds are, even with their unique artistic expressions, collaborating in an area of common interest. It all began when the duo, the Nigerian photographer, journalist, and storyteller Bolaji Alonge, who also goes by the moniker ‘Eyes of a Lagos Boy’, and the renowned Dutch muralist Ottograph had a conversation earlier this year in Berlin in a taxi. Alonge was thinking about his next collaborative project to continue his pattern of annual exhibitions at the Didi Museum in Victoria Island, Lagos.
Last Thursday at Freedom Park in Lagos Island, the two artists began a massive mural work on a select part of the former colonial prison on Broad Street—the big stage.
“The look of Freedom Park is about to change forever,” Alonge said as he took a break from the beautiful mural project that Ottograph was creating. “We can finish in a few hours. I love telling stories from the African perspective.”
6 HOURS interrogates the contrasts and similarities of life in the home cities of the duo, Amsterdam and Lagos—two cities with a six-hour flight time between them—to deliver a narrative that is thought-provoking, engaging, and inspiring. Expectedly, the exhibition explores themes such as life in a megapolis on the seashore, dance, music, masquerades, and freedom of expression, among others. The exhibition is organised with the support of the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Lagos.
“We are closer than we think. We are celebrating what brings us together not what divides us,” Alonge resumed. “There are similarities and differences and we are still the same cultures only divided by 6HOURS.”
Alonge, who is also a Nigerian journalist, artist, photographer and actor has two decades of experience in documenting history, always looking for beauty in the least expected place. He captures Lagos life from unexpected angles and sometimes, underwater.
Since 2016, his website has changed from a personal blog to a news portal with an emphasis on African culture and lifestyle. He has shown his work in a number of acclaimed solo and group exhibits in 2017 in Lagos, New York City, and Brighton (UK), including Greener Pastures in 2021 and Iconic Lagos in 2022 at the Didi Museum.
Through the non-commercial art project, he sends a strong message to Nigerian artists on how to create statement works that can outlive them in public spaces. “This is one of the things we are doing to encourage young Nigerians to make use of the spaces that we have around us. There is so much story to tell, and there is so much art to do. We have the space. There are so many concrete walls around Lagos, especially where nothing happens. They build bridges, and they remain bland—just concrete. This is a call to our artists to pay attention to this.”
Ottograph, for one, relished the experience of visiting Lagos and Nigeria for the first time. This residency will allow the Lagos audience to see the incredible work he has done in other big cities across the world. Ottograph, one of Europe’s most ambitious muralists, began painting murals on Amsterdam subways at the age of ten and went on to create massive floor and mural paintings. Otto created murals in Moscow, Berlin, Paris, New York, and San Francisco, among other places. He is recognised with establishing Amsterdam’s first true 24/7 outdoor street art gallery at the Wijdesteeg, which became a huge popularity on Instagram under the hashtag #wijdesteeg.
With support from friends, Ottograph has also set up several successful projects, such as the CIA (Central Illustration Agency) and the KMDG, a group of artists with a background in illustration, graffiti, and street art from around the world. The Modern Art Museum of Antwerp (Belgium) houses a giant Ottograph mural, and the artist has also painted murals in major cities around the world, such as Moscow, Tokyo, Berlin, New York, and San Francisco. He recently took part in the celebration of 50 years of hip-hop in New York City.
Alonge, who is excited to work with this large-scale muralist who has worked on four continents in the last two months, believes that Ottograph’s visit to Nigeria is part of the ways that artists are contributing towards changing the negative narratives about Nigeria. “This project is also created to address the fear of coming into Nigeria because of various reasons, like prejudices,” Alonge explained. “We are good people. We are showing the world that you can actually come to Nigeria and that it is possible to counter the negative narratives about Nigeria. I hope this will encourage other artists to come and share their talents with us.”
Although this show is Alonge’s third collaborative exhibition in the last three years, his energy is infectious as ever. Ottograph’s expectations were simple: to have a good time and do a lot of work. Although he didn’t confess to trying some Lagos-made peppersoup or asun with some ‘effervescent’ beverage when quizzed about his favourite aspect of Nigerian culture, it’s only reasonable to expect a visiting street artist to experience some street food in Lagos.
In terms of the depth of research that birthed the project, Ottograph admitted that the conversations were detailed.
Ottograph noticed the city is vibrant and the people are attractive after visiting the beach, restaurant, and market. “Nigeria offers so much to see. It fascinates me greatly. It nearly feels like you are in a movie. The incomplete project has drawn admirers, and I believe they adore it.
The exhibition, which opened yesterday (September 16), is on until Sunday, September 24.