By Japhet Alakam
The memories and times of veteran portrait and documentary photographer , Pa J.D. Okhai Ojeikere came alife last weekend as some of his stunning images of Brazilian qaurters took the centre stage at Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos first exhibition tagged Local Space, Transnational Connections.
The exhibition which opened on Saturday, 10th of February and will run till 17th, also featured the lens based works of Mario Pfeifer, Ayo Akinwande, and Tatewaki Nio was organised as part of activities marking the year long 10th anniversary celebration of the centre.
The hall was filled with varied images that talked about the Lagos Brazilian connection, for example the images by J. D. Okhai Ojeikere who was commissioned by Mandillas company in the late 1980s to document the Brazilian architectures in central Lagos as well as on the mainland. A fortuitous foresight of documentary preservation of a history and architecture that was rapidly being destroyed to make way for the rapidly urban development that has now become the 20million strong mega city of Lagos. They include images of Maja House, Oluwole House(Kaduna lodge), The Shita mosque, The Holy Cross Catholic Cathedral and The Christ Church Catheral. Others are the Aderibigbe’s Villa, Apapa Road Ebute Metta, Railway compound, Ojora’s compound.
There is the works by artist and photographer Ayo Akinwande which documents the systemic erasure as encapsulated through one of the most recent acts – the destruction of the Olaiya house, one of the oldest Brazilian structures in 2016.
Tatewaki Nio and Mario Pfeifer, artists from Brazil and Germany respectively have also recently engaged with the history of this transnational connection. Nio documents the multidimensional relationship between Brazil and western Nigeria through his focus on the historic as well as the contemporary displacement of people from both locations. His project visualizes the history of Brazilian returnees to West Africa and traces family links of current west African residents of Sao Paulo. Pfeifer documents some of the last premises of the Brazilian community, its memories and the physical manifestations of the Brazilian Quarter. With drone footages framed with conversations from some of the last remaining direct descendants of returnees from Brazil.
The works of the photographers and video artist can be seen as an appropriate way to talk about the role of the archive and the image and the ways in which it can not only activate memory but also engage our collective histories.
According to the curator, Bisi Silva,the exhibition which was billed to hold last year as part of Lagos at 50 celebration was put together because a lot has not been done for the Nigerian Brazilian quarters. “Local Space, Transnational Connections takes as its point of department the oft overlooked aspect of the history of Lagos city – its architectural formation and development, of which the Brazilian quarters was one of the earliest built environment creating a dynamic, modern city imbued with a late 19th Century and early 20th century cosmopolitanism.”
On his part, Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, Associate Curator with CCA, “the exhibition is all about the heritage we have in Lagos in terms of architecture and the space and its connection to Sao Paulo and other parts of Brazil. There has always been this connection between Brazil and Lagos for over 500 years , for example we have the Brazilian foods in Lagos. Apart from the architecture in Lagos, people also bear Brazilian names, so this is an attempt to re-engage that history of Lagos and make connection with this transnational space.
“The images will open the eyes of many to know that the buildings are not just old structures or colonial buildings , but that they have a connection with Brazil.”