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Exhibition of photographic works by ten Nigerian artists opens at Skoto Gallery
Chriss Nwobu, Sidon Look, No Hurry Series, 2013, silver gelatin print, ed. of 5, 15.25" x 23".

NEW YORK, NY.- Skoto Gallery presents a group exhibition of photographic works by ten Nigerian artists who are among a new generation of African photographers that explore unique visions, strong emotional and aesthetic perspectives to tell their own stories and challenge assumptions about the African continent. Each of the artists is widely traveled and well exposed to Western art modernism both by training and contact. Each represents a resonant voice, one that achieves it's own distinction and clarity amidst changing realities. Their creative voices are simultaneously instrumental, reconstructive if not interrogative and in some cases seek to retrieve both individual and collective memory. For many of the artists, this would be their first show in New York.

“Go-slow: Diaries of Personal and Collective Stagnation in Lagos”, as this photography exhibition is titled and focused, is a reality as well as a metaphor for the drudgery that characterizes diverse aspects of structural mobility in cosmopolitan Lagos. Fela Anikulakpo-Kuti, the veteran Afro-beat musician, satirist and social critic in 1978 put out a record track titled “Go-Slow”. The track explored the metaphoric gradations of “Go-Slow” as a reality in the day to day life of the Lagosian. The refrain of the track “go-slow, go-slow” aptly conjured the truth of the phenomenon while assuming landmark status of a resonating rhyme in the collective consciousness of Nigerians.

The diverse social and historical contexts that frame this seeming eternal characterization of Lagos have often provided photographers the contexts to invest their creative time and thoughts. The result is a corpus that keys into the testament projected by the city of Lagos as it allows for the exploration of the nuances of “go-slow” beyond a spatial identity.

The lively frames that the concept "go-slow" yields are thus presented in this exhibition from the experiences or encounters of cosmopolitan Lagos by the artists. Thus, from Aderemi Adegbite, Ade Adekola, Akintunde Akinleye, Uche James Iroha, Chriss Nwobu to Adeniyi Adeleye, Abraham Oghobase, Charles Okereke, Uche Okpa Iroha and Adeola Olagunju comes a bouquet of visual interpretations of the Lagos "go-slow" experience in representational and conceptual frames.

The exhibition plan designed to introduce to the New York audience “new directions in contemporary photography” by a crop of modern generation photographers from Nigeria is apt considering how identities are constructed. However, this objective presupposes a hierarchy that hosts these artists. Hence, I engage a brief narrative which situates the genre in Nigeria. Early uses of photography in the West Coast of Africa, from Gambia to Nigeria were documentary commissions from the English colonial authorities (Erin Harney, 2010). These include the works of J. P. Decker, a Gambian, and N. Walwin Holm, a Ghanaian who had a branch of his photography studio in Lagos. Apart from the portraitures associated with his studio, he also worked for the British as a documentary photographer. A Nigerian of note of Ijo nativity from Bonny, Jonathan Adagogo Green (1873 – 1905) was similarly engaged by the British colonial administration in Nigeria. His many choreographed portraits and group images are counted among over three hundred photographs from his atelier between 1897 and 1905. One of his very famous works that entrenches the memory of the British punitive expedition against Benin City is the apparently dehumanized Ovoramwen N’gbaisi, the Oba of Benin in the expedition year 1897.

It is interesting to note that Adagogo Green’s seal for his photographs bore his name with an added inscription; “Artist Photographer”. In spite of this claim, considering also the strong foregrounding of photography in the practice of the visual arts, it is only recently that its status as high art was acclaimed. This recognition has inspired new initiatives to track the multilayered history of the genre in Nigeria. Equally, exhibitions of photography now compete with those of other arts. However, an austere history of photography in Nigeria accommodates the following personalities; George S. A. Da Costa, J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Dotun Okubanjo, Sunmi Smart-Cole and Don Berber. Don Berber is, within this history, a mentor to many new generation photographers who have featured in this exhibition with their visual interpretation of go-slow in Lagos.

In reality, the history of photography in Nigeria is in tandem with the global history of photography. This is that photography, as an expressive mode that documents phenomena as fleeting time permits, is governed by epistemes, which are palimpsest, and allow a loose ordering of identities. The image-turn, which is on the ascent in the contemporary, bears witness to deep creative exploits with the lens and the digital interface. Invariably the production and consumption of images in the artistic-scape in Nigeria has remained strong probably because of the power of the image to determine our demands upon reality. These realities shape the metaphors of focus here their enduring vehicular and often pedestrian gridlocks. This is Lagos.

Frank Ugiomoh, 2013
Art Historian
University of Port Harcourt
Port Harcourt, Nigeria

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