15 October 2012

Nigeria: No Man's Land Lagos

Olayinka Sanogotoye, one of 29 participants in the 'Seven Days in the Life of Lagos' exhibition, documented the traditions and customs of the various ethnic groups who have flocked to his country's most populous city. Why, then, is he calling it a no man's land?

Lagos - Think mind-blowing masquerade costumes. Think facial tribal marks. Think street names. These are the three cardinal themes that Sanogotoye focused on to document the city. His exhibition is part of the annual LagosPhoto 2012 festival, whose aim is "to capture the energy and vibrancy that make the city of Lagos such a unique cultural environment", as stated by one of the curators on the festival website.

Yet, according to the native of Kwara State in northern Nigeria, Lagos – being the country's economic hub with an estimated population of 19 million – is a place where no one can lay any personal claims. "Lagos, to me, appears as a no man's land, no matter what history might tell me," he says.

Speaking about his photos, he says: "This body of work in its capacity intends to establish the fact that, in a way, Lagos can be considered as a no man's land due to the over-dominating, diverse cultures that exist in it."

Dancing skyscrapers

As his images endeavour to show, people's states of origin play such a critical factor in politics and everyday life in Nigeria.

Sanogotoye visited an Igunuko shrine of the Tapa, a people from Niger State in northern Nigeria who are now resettled in Lagos State though clearly brought their culture with them. His photos here feature an Igunuko masquerade parade, in which participants dance around in costumes that are much taller than they themselves are, making them look like moving skyscrapers.

"It was very interesting for me to discover that despite the influence of modernity, the families still […] carry out the traditional rituals. It's a culture passed down from one generation to the other," says Sanogotoye.

Facial scarification

Sangotoye's pictures also depict the diversity of people in Lagos, as shown via tribal marks that some bear on their faces. In Nigeria, these marks were traditionally a means of identification in pre-colonial times and merchants also applied them to identify where their slaves were from.

"I see tribal marks as a proof of cultural identity," says Sangotoye. "If we do not document them, the next generation might not know they ever existed."

The tradition is disappearing at a high rate. People find it increasingly cruel to mark their babies in this way.

Cacophonous city

Sangotoye explains how he strategically selects visual elements to enhance his message. His photo of Ondo Street is a case in point.

"The excessive wires are to tell how diverse people come and connect in Lagos from different parts of Nigeria and the West African sub-region" he says.

According to the photographer, the megaphone shown in the picture indicates that "everyone in Lagos wants to have a say", referring to the cacophony of noise that prevails across the city.

Photography now en vogue

Sangotoye's first foray into photography was a course in his second year as an undergraduate studying industrial design at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria.

"Photography is a profession I never wanted to be involved in because of its perception in Nigeria," he says. "Before now, if you [told] someone you are a photographer, they [would] look at you as someone who doesn't have a future like bankers, lawyers and engineers."

But Sangtoye's career picked up when he won first prize in the 2009 national art competition organized by the African Art Foundation. In 2011, he came in third. His pictures are on display at the various exhibition centres of LagosPhoto 2012.

LagosPhoto 2012

The third edition of the annual LagosPhoto festival takes place from 13 October to 11 November. It features the exhibition 'Seven Days in the Life of Lagos', with images of everyday life in Lagos by Nigerian and international photographers, documenting aspects of city life like religion, architecture, nightlife, economy, music and lifestyle. Multiple World Press Photo award winner Stanley Greene (USA) serves as the artistic director of the festival.

Also on display are pictures that document the ongoing demolition of the lagoon settlement of Makoko by the Lagos State government and Dutchman Anton Corbijn's 1980s photographs of Fela Kuti.

AllAfrice Editors' note: This report has been edited for language style and flow by the publisher since first posted.

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