The Arts

November 22, 2021

LagosPhoto21: A kaleidoscope of memories



 By Chris Onuoha

The twelfth edition of the annual Lagos Photo Festival tagged “LagosPhoto21”, an exhibition of photographic expose, held in the month of November 4 running to the month of December 14, 2021, presented fascinating works that were described by spectators as very amazing.

The body of works entitled “Memory Palace” was meant to explore human relationships with memory and the generative potential of photography and images to spark the visual intellect and restore decaying and lost memories.

This year’s edition of the festival reflected on previous editions of LagosPhoto and their prognostic potential in dealing with and addressing futures.

“Afrofuturism and Afropessimism have both dominated contemporary visual culture and art in the past few decades but as we emerge into a new global timeline catalysed by the pandemic and a renewed activism around Black Lives the curatorial team of LagosPhoto21 sees this year’s edition as an exercise on turning inwards, retrieving the memories, as well as learning and testing the fit of these various discourse for the present moment.

This retrospective presentation features both historical and contemporary photographic works of Cristina De Middel, Osborne Macharia, Hassan Hajjaj and Joseph Obanubi. Others are Iké Udé, Ibrahim Mahama, Hermes Iyele (a performance artiste), and Emmanuel Oyenuga.

“Last year, LagosPhoto launched Rapid Response Restitution—Home Museum as an online repository for memory and heritage. This year, we have evolved the conversation from Home Museum to Memory Palace,” remarked Azu Nwagbogu, president, African Arts Foundation, organiser of the LagosPhoto Festival.

In a pre-event release to the media, he noted that that the “Memory Palace” brings that familial locus of heritage and history into a sharper focus and closer to home, and that the Memory Palace technique is a memorisation strategy, based on visualisation of familiar spatial environments to recall information.

According to him, the technique involves recalling to memory a location or physical space that one is exceptionally comfortable or familiar with and in this location attempt to grasp at those visual clues and images that shape memory with an awareness of the fragility of recollection, its fragments and the radioactive decay associated with trying to grasp at the memory.

“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. LagosPhoto21 – Memory Palace is experimental and performative in its dissemination with a clear attempt to remediate, restore and re-imagine heritage and historiography as it relates to Africa and its diaspora,” Nwagbogu added.

He also explained that LagosPhoto21 delves deeper into the urgent burning and unresolved topic of restitution and the role of photography in addressing its intractability, remediating and accelerating the agency and hopes of repair whether through fantastical storytelling (pseudologia fantastic). “To spark this off, we begin by delving into our archives by representing ‘The Afronauts,’ an iconic body of work by Magnum photographer Cristina de Middel, a project that encapsulates the methodology and philosophy of LagosPhoto whereby personal narratives, critical fabulation and research trumps reportage about the lives of “others”.

It is also fitting at this time because LagosPhoto firmly believes that as we gradually emerge from the pandemic syncopated global systems, we emerge into a new timeline that takes its agency in the present moment and make all future imaginaries become present realities. Osborne Macharia, Zanele Muholi and Joseph Obanubi are exhibiting artists whose works we believe firmly emerge into this new timeline. Macharia and 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,” explained Nwagbogu.

“LagosPhoto21 also presents for the first time a new body of work by Zanele Muholi that has emerged from the decline and fall of previous pre-pandemic global systems. “Give Us this Day” a solo exhibition by Anthony Obayomi was presented in collaboration with Taurus Foundation for Arts and Sciences. It is a photographic investigation into the interlink between national lottery and religion in Lagos today,” Azu said.

Perhaps, the most exciting and formidably focused on was the exhibition of “Searching for Prince Emmanuel Oyenuga and Unpacking the Suitcase.” This particular aspect of the exhibition brought a positive engagement in a discourse about restitution through the legacy of the artist, Prince Emmanuel Adewale Oyenuga.

“In 1967, Prince Adewale Emmanuel Oyenuga enrolled as a student at the art school Escuala Massana in Barcelona.

Three years later Emmanuel and his wife Elizabeth decided to leave Barcelona for London. Prince Oyenuga left a suitcase with his archive with his close friend Luisa Guadayol in Barcelona. Luisa passed away in 2016 and her daughter Ana Briongos is resolute in her quest to return the suitcase to Emmanuel Adewale Oyenuga and or his family in Nigeria. The material found in the suitcase points to different social and cultural moments in the history of Nigeria and beyond: the Nigerian Civil War, the cultural ties between two countries, Nigeria and Spain, the legacy of the artist, the story of emigration, Nigerian studio photography of the ’70s and first and foremost, to restitution, explained Nwagbogu.

In addition, he said, “Consequently, Memory Palace articulated the significance of retrieving and preserving memories through various events such as solo exhibitions, performances, screenings, artist talks, conversations and NFTs.”

Iké Udé, an accomplished Nigerian-American photographer, author, and performance artist through his visionary perspective, explores topics such as gender, sexuality, and representation while Ibrahim Mahama, a Ghanaian artist and author known for his large-scale architectural installations using natural materials such as wood and burlap sacks, explore themes of environmental awareness and global economic structures. LagosPhoto presented Mahama’s artists talk, where he engaged in conversation about his works, processes, and influences.

Hermes Iyele, a performing artiste in his act along with Sunday Ozegbe, curator and choreographer, and Iziegbe Odigie, dance artist and content creator used speech and body language in a performative panel discussion to capture the importance of conveying emotions for comprehension of the need to incorporate and acknowledge the differences among individuals that do not pose a threat to their community as a progression towards a more inclusive society.

Also featured was a panel of a discussion moderated by Amanda Iheme that tackled the societal issue that hinged on the EndSars movement and activism. Panellists include photographers; such as Etinosa Yvonne, Stephen Tayo, Ugo Emebiriodo and Benson Ibeabuchi that engaged in a stimulating discourse, looking back on real issues, creating real impact. Also in the line of activities was the film screening of “Stills from Things Fall Apart” by Stephen Goldblatt and Film Screening: White Cube by Renzo Martens.

Azu Nwagbogu, Director and curatorial direction of the Lagosphotos21 in an interactive section with the press said, “Last year we had the theme, home museum’, then after that, we realised that we need to start coming closer to home and the success of the home museum evolved into the ‘memory palace’.

We are looking at how photography can create digital media and moving image can create a safe space for artists to create their own images, whether is through research and thematic imagination and through intuitive working.

All the work you see here has a foundation informed by deep research. And on top of that, they created their own narrative. Like you can see in the work of Mahama, he tried to draw attention to ecology and climate change. This was shot in Lagos, Lekki conservation. 

“Prince Oyenuga, in 1970, left Nigeria to the UK and between then and now, he disappeared, but he made some incredible work at that short space of time. He left his archive with a friend who contacted me 50 years later saying I want to return these incredible works which he exerted much energy to do.

We hope by exhibiting his works at this space, we would be able to find his family or relatives and return his suitcase to him. In this exhibition, we considered memories from all and even went back to the history of protests in Lagos in the 60s, including recent #EndSars protest shoots. The show runs till December 14 2021,” Nwagbogu said.

“Ibrahim Mahama in his words said,  “I have been coming to Nigeria since 2015. After my last visit which was the last edition of Lagos Photofest, I have been working on this particular edition since then.

Under Azu Nwagbogu directives, I came to give talks on the topic around restitution and institutional building to establish a conversation. My Nigerian experience is beautiful because there are a lot of expectations here.

For me, I think it is very important that we need to build alliances because Nigeria art has a lot to offer and also, Ghana equally have a lot to share with Nigeria in terms of art and one of the things we do is to excavate the memories and things that we think are dead,” said Mahama.

Vanguard News Nigeria