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Lagos: A City of Contrasts

October 6, 2015
new construction

New construction is everywhere throughout Lagos, including this project in Lekki

From Liz Bird:

Before heading back to Asaba for the first time in a year, we spent a few days in Lagos, connecting with some of our Nigerian friends and making other connections that we hope will build future initiatives.

We also found time for a little exploring, realizing once again what a vibrant, fascinating, and infuriating city Lagos is for visitors. There are striking contrasts – luxurious new buildings sprouting everywhere, coupled with sights of desperate poverty. Near the comfortable guest house where we have stayed several times, there’s a street pitted with flooded potholes that remain unrepaired year after year – right in the middle of ambitious new construction projects.

Fraser has no luck getting into the museum history gallery

Fraser has no luck getting into the museum history gallery

And in the space of a day we were reminded about the contrasts in the nation’s nurturing of culture and history. On the one hand, there is the sadly neglected National Museum. It houses some breath-taking artifacts – exquisite bronzes from Benin, intricate carvings, and beautiful textiles, beadwork, and ceremonial objects, representing many of the hundreds of unique cultures that came together as Nigeria. And yet the displays are tired and old – labels askew or fallen off altogether, inadequate lighting, and damaging humidity levels. Staff seem bored and uninterested, appearing to care more about ensuring visitors don’t take pictures than about the heritage with which they’re entrusted. Historical photo displays are so faded they are almost indecipherable. A staff member referred us to a special gallery on 20th century political history, reached from the outside. It was padlocked shut when we arrived.

Rom isichei Yet by contrast, another gallery in the museum is currently hosting an exhibition of new work by Rom Isichei, an innovative artist who has made a name for himself across the country. We admired his multi-media collages, blending traditional techniques with the use of found objects like plastic spoons, tin cans, and other recyclables. His work addresses the impact of technology like cell phones on family and community life, and offers commentary on the tyranny of fashion and image. Isichei, who happens to hail from Asaba, is just one of many artists who have created an international boom in Nigerian art, producing some of the most exciting work in the world.

Nike and Liz Bird

Nike and Liz Bird

We learned a little more about that with a visit to Nike Gallery, the largest gallery in West Africa, which houses more than 7,000 pieces, from traditional crafts to contemporary canvases and collages. It’s run by artist Nike Davies-Okundaye, known widely for her work with Nigerian traditional textiles, which she learned from her great-grandmother. Adire is an indigo dyed cloth, traditionally produced by Yoruba women; Nike is noted for her contemporary revival and reinterpretation of a once fading art. Today, she not only exhibits and speaks about her work around the world, but also trains disadvantaged women in creative arts as a way to lift them from poverty. She has been honored by the Italian government for her work with Nigerian sex workers in Italy, and when we met her, she was about to begin a program with widows and young women in Lagos.

She was an inspiration, and by a nice twist of fate, it turned out that she had visited USF in 2007 as a guest artist – she welcomed us like old friends, and reminisced about some of our mutual USF acquaintances. A memorable day!

One Comment leave one →
  1. drpamela26@yahoo.com permalink
    October 7, 2015 6:19 am

    Dear Liz,‎ So glad to see that you are back to Asaba‎ with Fraser. This is good news and I am so glad about it.Do send me a telephone number in Nigeria that I can call to say hello to you and Fraser‎. You are welcome back.Warm regards,Pamela Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone. From: AsabaMemorial BlogSent: Tuesday, 6 October 2015 16:59To: drpamela26@yahoo.comReply To: AsabaMemorial BlogSubject: [New post] Lagos: A City of Contrasts

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    asabamemorial posted: “From Liz Bird:

    Before heading back to Asaba for the first time in a year, we spent a few days in Lagos, connecting with some of our Nigerian friends and making other connections that we hope will build future initiatives.

    We also found time for a little”

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