By Prisca Sam-Duru
A MOLUE with unusual accessories which parked outside the Lagos City Hall on Catholic Mission Street, Lagos, penultimate week, attracted a lot of passersby who at first could not understand what it was there for.
This molue is in town! Do not marvel when you see it with a flat screen television, standing fan, light refreshments, art works and a book stand as well as Caucasians, eminent Nigerians , healthy children who ordinarily, have no business boarding a Molue.
The mystery molue kick-started Witness, a touring exhibition which is part of the Molue Mobile Museum of Contemporary Art (MMMoCA) that opened 3rd of May and will run till July 26. The MMMoCA presents a potpourri of interesting art forms comprising the visual, the multi-media and the literary.
The touring exhibition which will be taken to different parts of the country and other African countries was a concept by Freiburg German based Nigerian artist, Emeka Udemba.
With this mobile museum, Emeka unveils a new vista on art aimed at harnessing the opportunities of social mobility within the urban space. The initiative also aims at making contemporary art more accessible to the public, as a means of addressing the many travails of the masses.
Udemba’s amazing creativity was supported by Goethe Institut and Mercedes Benz, the makers of the remodelled buses made of iron sheets called Molue. Through the exhinition, Emeka relives memories of days when molue was the major means of transportation for the people.
The opening of Witness brought back memories of the Molue transit which offered cheaper fares than most other mass transit buses, and was often overloaded with more passengers standing than sitting. All kinds of people including beggars, drug peddlers, preachers and passengerswho usually engage in fights and arguments while in transit, are its major customers. There is always an interesting tale to tell after each ride.
The mobile museum also sets genda by creating a space for debates and conversations. An instance is seen in one of the stunnig pieces on display- “Where Are the girls?” This work elicited heated debates on the state of insecurity in the country. On the faceless images on some of the works, Udemba explained that they represent the ‘’faceless” citizens who are at the receiving end of bad policies, poor governance and corruption.
According to the aritist, “During the rush hours, there are usually more people squeezed standing than sitting, a situation often exploited by pickpockets and petty thieves. In one of his numerous songs attacking the social and economic inequality in Nigeria, the Afro beat icon Fela Anikulapo Kuti immortalised the ambivalence of the situation in the Molue in the lyric ‘44 sitting 99 standing…suffering and smiling’.”
Beyond these peripheral observations, Emeka explains the symbolic nature of Molue which he uses as a metaphor on the Nigerian state.
“The questionable technical condition of most of these Molue buses and the recklessness of Molue drivers are constant threat to other road users. When Molues breakdown, as they often do, the drivers and conductors often abscond, leaving the passengers to their own devices. Like bullies on the road, Molue drivers epitomise the broad culture of impunity in the wider Nigerian society. They are always impatient, they frequently flout traffic rules and they stop to pick or drop off passengers outside designated bus stops.”
“While the overall transformation of the Lagos city public transportation system makes the gradual proscription of the Molue buses inevitable and desirable, the Molue bus as a form and phenomenon within the Lagos urban landscape captures the spirit of optimism, resilience and adaptation to the daily challenge of survival of the ordinary citizen in Nigeria most of whom live on the fringes,” he said
Capacity to reach target
The Director, Goethe Institut, Marc-Andre Schmachtel, scored the project high on its capacity to reach target audience and interact with them directly.
According to Schmachtel, “After witnessing the fact that art exhibitions in traditional art spaces had its very own logic of interaction with their respective audiences and that the majority of the people of a given place would not interact at all with this specific art space, the artist started to work on an idea that could be summarised under the slogan: if the audience doesn’t go to the art space, the art space will go to the audience.”
“The MMMoCA stands for an approach to art that goes well beyond the elitist character that some of the traditional art spaces have developed,” he noted.