Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lagos makeover, and other matters

Drinks and food @ Bogobiri, after my lecture @ CCA, Lagos
From far left: Bisi Silva, Toyin Akinosho, Akin Adesokan, Ndidi Dike, Okwui Enwezor, Jahman Anikulapo, Addis Iroh, Awam Amkpa

I have been in Lagos for the past week, and cannot quite completely get over the incredible transformations happening allover this city. It seems like all of a sudden this most impossible, most rude city has been miraculously tamed. To the point that it is beginning to look like the really massive uniquely wonderful city that only lived in the dreams of the most romantic of Lagosophiles. The roads are getting tarred (or repaved), there are gardens and parks in place of under-overpass slums and markets, the trash mountains that were for years the most visible monuments to urban decay have disappeared, and, helloooo, there are even street lights! The most shocking of all: the Molue has disappeared from the streets. Jesus Christ!

So what happened. Was Lagos taken over by some aliens, or by some shadowy Scandinavian empire. Or did some magician overdose Lagosians on some kind of weed that make people hallucinate to the point that they start imagining a better world for themselves despite the rot called Nigeria, my fatherland?

Well, it just so happens that one lawyer decided to run for the governorship of the state, and, having won, decided to make a difference were a million other military and civilians governors failed. Governor Fashola swore to make rubbish of Rem Koolhaas theory about about Lagos. Like I suspected--and wrote about in Journal of Architectural Historians last year--Koolhaas's "emancipatory zones" exist only because the government of the city failed to do its work, not because the city residents have some wonky creative genius. But also I was just wondering this evening as I passed by Isaleko in the heart of Lagos Island, and the Marina, what many of the Lagos painters will do now that the most ubiquitous motif in Lagos paintings--the concatenated Yellow Molue buses--have disappeared from the streets. Might this problem spur a much needed change in the mawkish paintings that fill the galleries, including the one from which I am sending this post? Who knows Mr Fashola might be credited for a new phase of Lagos art. I wish I could just ask him to clean up the galleries as he did the streets. Maybe I am asking too much of this hero--and it is hard to associate this word with Nigerian leaders--of all Lagosians.

Osahenye Kainebi and Okwui Enwezor @ CCA

Tunde Kelani, Okwui Enwezor, and Toyin Akinosho @ CCA

Okwui Enwezor, Ndidi Dike, and Toyin Akinosho@CCA

So, it is in this revitalizing Lagos that I gave my lecture last Sunday on the Who Knows Tomorrow project in Berlin, at the Center for Contemporary Art (run by Bisi Silva) in Yaba. The turn out, from every indication, was unprecedented. Tunde Kelani, the filmmaker was there, as were my longtime friends Okwui Enwezor, and Toyin Akinosho, Jahman Anikulapo, Akin Adesokan, Ndidi Dike, and Osahenye Kainebi. The Q/A session was as spirited as ever. You can trust Lagos on that! Especially when it came to why exhibition projects by curators like me, and Okwui "ignore" Nigerian artists. Apart from the fact that the premise of this question is not based on any fact, I had to remind folks to take a look at my art criticism in Daily Times, The Guardian, and African Concord in the early 1990s when I lived in Nigeria. To imagine that after all these years I would want to include painters who are perpetually reinventing "impressionism", "cubism" and other highfalutin "movements" and styles in my shows!

Anyways, I look forward to my second lecture this Sunday also at the CCA. I will be speaking on the "Art and Politics of Ghada Amer."