I am your blindspot. from the Series: Neighbour-Hood: Bariga, Somolu, Lagos. 2016.
In 2008, I began experimenting with the idea of photographic interventions/interactions in public spaces. In Maputo, Mozambique – with the Bagamoyo Project, I carried out the first iteration of a project that would eventually resurface after a long intermission of eight years, as the Neighbour-Hood Project: Bariga/Somolu, Lagos. The project in Maputo consisted in photographing consistently for a period of ten weeks a much contested transitory space in Maputo: the passage between Maputo and Catembe situated on both sides of the Maputo Bay. Maputo city and Catembe is linked by a Ferry that journeys back and forth every 15 minutes, carrying persons and goods to and fro both sides. Maputo city represents the urban part of the city while Catembe is a rural settlement. I spent a great deal of time photographing movements of people, daily interactions and personal encounters between the two settlements while riding on the ferry almost on a daily basis. After the image-making phase of the project, I showcased the photographic outcome along the banks of Maputo Bay – on the Catembe side.
The Neighbour-Hood Project came into being following six years of constant movement across borders while exploring the idea of Trans-African exchange under the Invisible Borders Trans-African Project. In a bid to look into other forms of articulating the 'border condition' of perpetually inhabiting the interstitial, transitory space of sociocultural/sociopolitical conflations, of tensions and contested terrains, the condition of being a “border being” so to speak, I was led to Bariga/Somolu community in the mainland of Lagos. Bariga/Somolu is a much contested space. Volatile in nature, it is one of the most highly talked-about communities in Lagos in relation to crime and gun violence, often between gang members. A quick google search reveals nothing but a community in chaos and disorder where disillusioned youth “have turned the streets into a theatre of war”. Much of the stories attributed to Bariga/Somolu is not far-fetched, however, the one-sidedness of these reports become apparent as soon as one attempts to get closer. This, I have come to realise since I moved into the neighbourhood in April 2016.
For every story of danger and chaos propagated about the community, many that recount ingenious endeavours are stifled. Bariga/Somolu has had its fair share of success stories, from the likes of Olamide, Lil’ Kesh and 9ice some of today’s famous Nigerian rap and Afrobeats artistes; to Segun Adefila the key character in the documentary film “Bariga Boys”, about how Segun and his Crown Troupe of Africa uses music, dance, drama and street performance to address issues underpinning the realities of the community. Speaking to one of the indigenes, he alluded to how rapid the youth are coming to the realisation that crime is of no gratifying value but are rather being inspired by the many artistic endeavours taking place in the community which seeks to highlight the potency of the human mind and possibilities of different perception. While the community has in time past been embroiled in violence and disorder (one which could equally be attributed to the failure of the society to provide viable alternatives), a new and different mentality is feeding a much more proactive and positive temparement. The youths of Bariga and Somolu are quite imbued with the unbridled, defiant, proactive energy that foregrounds the African temperament. Unfortunately in their case, as in the case of many youth in the continent, this energy until now, has been channeled to wrong use. However, this is changing, heralded by the many artistic initiatives by equally proactive individuals.
The Neighbour-Hood Project takes the above viewpoint as its premise. It is a 'space-conscious’ photographic intervention whose aim is to set up a communal frame within which the people of Somolu/Bariga community can interact and converse with each other through images. It is a mirroring of the realities of the people back to them, thereby creating a frame for introspection. This project comes at a critical period of economic crisis and recession in Nigeria – one almost reminiscent of the American great depression of the 1930s. As such, in this project, there is a reechoing and referencing of the works of American photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks and Walker Evans who, under the Farm Security Administration (FSA) project photographed a population of Americans – those who bore the brunt of recession the most - no different from the indigenes of such communities as Bariga and Somolu, especially in the context of Lagos where the severity of the crisis is clouded by the illusion of a new middle class. While the world relish the image of a flambouyant Lagos Island, with slogans such as "local content, global market", most Lagosians, namely those of the Mainland, are continously battling under the weigth of a failed economy. Yet they thrive.
Like the Bagamoyo Project of 2008 in Maputo, there is an image-making phase of the project during which my daily encounters, interactions and experiences of the community inspire photographic reproductions. The inclination is to create images which are poetic renditions of the process of living, being, and thriving in a highly energetic space such as Somolu/Bariga. It suffices to say, that the aim is not to indulge in the portrayal of poverty or ill luck. On the contrary I am photographing the “poetry of living, being and thriving one day at time"
The second phase of the project consists of a public space photographic exhibition. This exhibition will be anchored at the point of intersection between Bariga and Somolu – a physical border represented by a sprawling canal. The canal is a symbolic divider. It is popularly known as “middle belt” by the indigenes as it serves as neutral ground and often a space of demarcation between the two most popular factions of the community’s gangs. It goes without saying that this public space exhibition will, amongst other functions, play the role of an arbiter – an object of reconciliation. The images will equally spread beyond the canal to include adjoining streets and makeshift spaces (such as rooftops and walls of buildings, surfaces of abandoned cars, etc) in the environs of the canal. The images will be printed on Flex (Poly Vinyl Chloride) material conducive for outdoor photographic printing and mounted by way of mostly metal supports.
As this is the first time such a photographic project is conceived in Bariga and Somolu, some of the questions at the forefront of this intervention are:
- What would be the perception of imagery (its power to effect change of perception) in the community after such public and large scale display?
- To what extent would it “open up” the space and its people to the receptivity of artistic interventions?
- How much will the project contribute to conversations amongst the inhabitants of the community, their leaders as well as external visitors who are looking to benefit from a non-stereotypical narrative of Bariga/Somolu?
TIME FRAME/ PHASES OF OUTCOMES
Phase 1: Image production stage
This is on-going and will be completed
Date of completion: February 2019.
Phase 2: Public Space Exhibition in Bariga/Somolu (intermission)
This will be a 4-week long event.
Date: May 31 - June 30, 2019.
Phase 3: Further Image Production
It is believed that after the exhibition, there would have been a significant change in the attitude of the people in relation to photography. A further photographic production would seek to
explore the nature of the people’s receptivity of photography and impact of the intervention.
Phase 4: Documentary Film
The entire project (from process to outcome) is currently being filmed with aims of producing a feature length documentary film.
Date of film completion: November 2019
Phase 5: Book Publication
A book publication featuring a selection of compelling images from the project will be published. This book will account for images produced in phase one, the presentation of images in public space as well as further image production in phase 4.
Date (time frame) of Completion: June 2019 - March 2020.
Organiser: Emeka Okereke Studio
Partners: Invisible Borders Trans-African Project, Alliance Français Lagos.
This project is organised and partly funded by Emeka Okereke. Partnership is open to carefully selected funders and supporters (individuals, institutions, or companies) – those who share the artist’s passion and vision for projects geared towards social change and community empowerment. Those who are willing to support the artist’s vision without making demands that will modify the concept or nature of the project. The artist is willing to discuss further ideas on how to enrich the project.
For partnership or further enquiries, write to:
Follow the progress of the project at: