By Ozolua Uhakheme, Assistant Editor (Arts)
In the last few years, Lagos has continued to evolve from the city of cosmopolitan city that never sleeps into a megacity that is fast becoming the envy of other states of the federation.
Last Monday at the Wheatbaker in Ikoyi, Lagos, six young photographers: Amanda Iheme, Ayanfe Olarinde, Nelly Ating, Oluwamuyiwa Logo, Omoregie Osakpolor and Somi Nwandu presented no fewer than 58 honest, intimate and audacious photos to analyse, interrogate and expose the enigmatic duality of Lagos.
Iheme is an architecture photographer and psychotherapist living and working in Lagos. She studied at the University of Cape Coast for a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and received a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Swansea University.
Olarinde is a self-taught multimedia visual artist who obtained a BSc. in Microbiology from the University of Lagos in 2018.
Her journey into art stems from her love of scribbling, a process through which she is able to unpack her emotions in playful and intriguing ways, whilst speaking on broader issues of self-exploration as well as the stories that often are untold.
Ating is a freelance reporter doubling as a photojournalist reporting from the front lines of conflict zones in Nigeria. She is currently exploring conceptual documentary work on flouted topics in her immediate society.
Oluwamuyiwa is a photographer and filmmaker. His approach revolves around conceptual and documentary style of photography, while Osakpolor is a documentary photographer and filmmaker.
He received his BA (Hons) in English and Literature from the University of Benin, Edo State. He is presently a mentee at the Nlele Institute Mentorship Programme and was nominated for the Edwin George Prize for Photography at The Future Africa Awards in 2017.
Nwandu was enamoured with the arts from an early age. She was fascinated with photography and spent years exploring digital software alongside expressing her creativity through writing, painting, and fashion illustration.
From photos of historical buildings, to the daily struggles of transient communities, the effects of censorship on the minds of our youth, juxtaposed against the beautiful pattern and repetition of our organic and built environments, the group photo exhibition touches on the complex pressures of life in Lagos while beckoning residents to grapple more honestly with what must change.
The photo exhibition tagged Dis Lagos Life, which will run till May 17 and curated by SMO Contemporary Art is supported by The Wheatbaker and Louis Guntrum Wines.
The exhibition also highlights curated quotes from six writers and thought leaders – Wana Udobang, Jareh Das, Kovie Evi-Parker, Sheila Chukwulozie, Roli Afinotan, and Adeoluwa Oluwajoba – whose reflective sentiments and analysis of Lagos provide a deeper appreciation of the exhibited images.
SMO Founder and Artistic Director Sandra Mbanefo Obiago noted that photography is unfortunately still 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.
“As we enter a new decade, the Wheatbaker is delighted to continue providing our artists with an important platform for innovation and creativity through their powerful expressions in different media,” Director Wheatbaker Mosun Ogunbanjo said, adding that the exhibition perfectly encapsulates the contradictions and beauty of our Lagos.
According to Ilogu, “When I first received the vision for this exhibition, I struggled, as I wasn’t quite sure the nature of my emotions towards Lagos.
I found it difficult to encapsulate this enigmatic city with so much wealth, vibrancy, diversity, social engagement, chaos, injustice, and poverty.
It became apparent that the solution lay in the process of trying to document the various facets of Dis Lagos Life, with fresh ideas, images, and narratives everyone was not necessarily familiar with.
‘’One thing I was certain of was the need to find the right artists whose works would speak volumes on the theme.
Working in the creative industry for the past few years, I have been fortunate to meet a number of talented photographers, who captured and interrogated life in Lagos with audacious images.”
DisLagos Life offers a fresh perspective and interrogation of daily life in Lagos through the lens of six young dynamic artists.
To complement these powerful images, quotes from five dynamic writers have been juxtaposed against the photographs, adding a deeper dimension to the imagery, as each writer shares their sentiments and reflections of this enigmatic city.
With all of life’s challenges and chaos in Lagos, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, desensitised, and certain events go unreported.
However, the works of each of these artists cause us to pause, collectively highlighting history, transience, loss, emotions, and injustice through an honest and critical analysis of lives in this city.
Amanda explores the humanity of built spaces, and critically analyses historical buildings in the Brazilian quarters according to an organic lifecycle.
Her photos of ‘Waterhouse’ tells a story of the preservation of the legacy of Papa Esan, a repatriated slave, who used the remuneration he received after slavery, to build a well for his household and the surrounding community.
His house was called “Waterhouse”, and his legacy preserved through the establishment of the Lagos Water Corporation. Amanda’s images explore the birth, life, death and reincarnation of the built environment.
Logo’s photos document familiar everyday themes, while spotlighting the nuances. His black and white images are pure poetry, as well as historical references.
For example, his photos of the ubiquitous motorcycles, called okada which dotted the Lagos landscape just a few weeks ago, might as well be archival photographs, with the recent ban on this preferred mode of transportation for the Lagos masses.
He documents okada riders, known for their bold irreverence and the passengers, who hang on for dear life as they weave in and out of the daily traffic rush.
Ayanfe, the youngest of them, presents photo collages, which address the struggles of city youths hustling for a better life and financial security in a witty, tongue-in-cheek way. Her collage, Wakapass, shows a blocked rear-view mirror, covered with hands, while pedestrians walk past, commenting on the current challenges Lagosians are facing trekking long distances due to lack of sufficient transportation.
Omoregie’s ability to immerse himself in transient communities is evident in the raw expressions captured as he silently documented the displacement of waterfront communities since 2014.
The photograph of a woman with a bulging head load, walking through traffic into the hazy evening smog, communicates the soulful uncertainty and hopeless resolve of vulnerable citizens of this megacity.
The images created by Nelly, a documentary photographer who is used to covering conflict areas are an intimate exposé of unreported stories of those left behind by loved ones who have emigrated.
Her images of Tola in her wedding dress, provides us an unveiled glimpse of the emotional turmoil, mental unrest and heartbreak associated with deferred love and loss.
From fashion designer to documentary photographer, Somi’s work explores the different lives of waterfront communities.
Her photograph of a house on stilts cross-layered with images of shimmering waste, creates the illusion of a ramshackled hut suddenly bejeweled. Her images beckon us to look beneath the surface to discover the hidden beauty that can be found in everything.
“Dis Lagos Life takes us on a journey through the streets and occurrences in Lagos. 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,” the exhibition curator and Manager at SMO Contemporary Art Nneoma Ilogu said.