In Lagos, Performance Art Exchange Connects Africa, Nordic Expressions
AS the activities on the Lagos art scene took off slowly in the middle of January, performance art – a genre not popularly in this part of the world – has recorded the first major international art event of 2015 in Nigeria’s art space. For about one week, seven artists from the Nordic countries and West Africa converged on Lagos for an exchange programme aimed at sharing knowledge about performance art in the two parts of the world separated by distinct cultures.
Tagged Performance Workshop Exchange Between Nordic Countries and West Africa -Part 1, the gathering had Petter Pettersson of Lilith Performance Studio, Malmo, Stockholm, Sweden as producer; Marianne Hultman of Oslo Kunstforening, Norway and Bisi Silva of Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos, Nigeria as curators. Participants are Bernard Akoi-Jackson (Ghana), Christian Etongo (Cameroon), Henna-Riikka Halonen (Finland), Tori Wrånes, Sandra Mujinga (Norway) and Taiwo Aiyedogbon, Odun Orimolade (Nigeria).
While critics argue that performance art is a natural part of the native African expression as installation art is to traditional religious setting of the people, contextualising it in contemporary terms as an art form is still viewed with suspicion in Nigeria. Apart from the works of a lone ranger, Jelili Atiku, which consistently reminds the community of artists in the country that art goes beyond the traditional expression, performance art is not a common form of art in Lagos. Attempting to generate audience for its mostly activism-laced themes, Atiku’s works are always done outdoors. His works, to a large extend, offer a window or template to view performance art of West African origin. Surprisingly, Atiku was missing in action at the collaborative project.
And as the workshop built its focus on what the organisers noted as performance being “an independent art form” with no historical liability in West Africa, the project offered a western window into a wider world of contemporary practice. The workshop’s schedules included, basically, video presentations in the morning and out-door in the afternoon. The works of the Nordic participants viewed via the video screens, are mostly indoor, done either in studio or sound stage. For example, on the Day-2 of the gathering, the artists had continued the presentations of individual participant’s recent works at the workshop’s base, CCA, Lagos. Among other works was a large cast of performance by Halonen, a solo performance of Wrånes as well as Mujinga’s lone act.
However, the final day of the workshop, which had the artists presented their works live, both indoor and on the streets offered a better appreciation of the works by Orimolade, Aiyedogbon, Akoi-Jackson and Etongo. Most significant – to the coming general election mood of the host country – was the work of Aiyedogbon, a depiction of ritual offering to appease the gods and avoid bloodbath elections. Her work, performed out door, at the junction of Herbert Macauley and McEwen Street, Sabo, Yaba would later become a subject of content debate by the artists and other participants during the discussion session of the workshop. Few minutes earlier, Akoi-Jackson has led participants through the streets in his work based on environment and perception.
As much as the re-presentation of some works in video seemed to blur the line between performance and video art installation, particularly for the Nordic artists, Wrånes’ high pitch vocal made the difference on the floor at CCA gallery as she attempted to make the best of the less endowed setting. But in the video projection of a work done at her New York, U.S base, the depth of her voice complements the painterly set enhanced by the textured props generated from the pattern of lighting on the sound stage. Earlier, Cameroonian, Etongo has taken a near breathless act, lying on the floor of the gallery with a burning candle between his lips. For Mujinga, her theme in the hip-hop culture, briefly enacted before the audience appeared bare without the sound stage and lighting as seen in one of her works on video screen. In Orimolade’s thoughts about the blossoming of flower as analogy in human relationship, she dragged the entire audience onto the floor in a chain of one-take-one participatory form. From the issue of copyright raised by Hultman to contextualisng of concept, the discussion session covered a wide range of issues, beyond the frame of the workshop.
Within the Nigerian context, the workshop has revealed that, gradually, performance art is making inroad where it matters most – the art academia. The inclusion of Orimolade, a lecturer at one of Nigeria’s conservative art institutions, School of Art, Design and Printing at Yaba College of Technology (Yabatech), Lagos was an indication of a possible opening up of the city’s art space for fresh ideas. More importantly, Aiyedogbon, a fresh graduate of the same school would send some positive signals to the young artists who are just coming to face the challenges of professionalism in contemporary art practice.
Silva recalled how the idea of the collaborative workshop was initiated, by Hultman, when they both met at an international art event, few years ago.
The organizers stated that the aim of the project “is to create conditions for a broader public representation of artistic cultures and traditions that have not received sufficient attention in Sweden/Scandinavia.” The major focus, they added is about creating conditions for freedom of expression for all citizens in the Nordic region as well as in West Africa. Participants, it was explained, “have as much to learn from each other, it is the only prerequisite for a productive and creative exchange.”
Listed among the project’s goals are: Provide space and a voice to the West African artists on the Nordic art scene; Learn more about performance and the art form’s potential outreach; Establish stable networks for future collaborations between artists in Scandinavia and West Africa; Increase visibility of African artists at art institutions and galleries in Sweden/Scandinavia; Offer the Lagos art scene an insight into the Nordic performance scene, through public presentations and a workshop based performance festival at CCA, Lagos; and Offer Malmö a glimpse of the West African performance art scene, through four large-scale performance art productions at Lilith Performance Studio.
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