IntroductionIn 2011 I travelled to Nigeria for the first time since 1993. I was five when I left. Without a greater depth and understanding of Nigeria as it is, this is a personal account of the journey I took, views I encountered and ideas that developed.
This is not a manifesto. I write with young eyes, fractured memories and a yearning for better times ahead.
Part I · RhythmsWe are bathed in an air so thick with heat that our melted shadows are stretched across the sand in the hardest of afternoon suns. Beads of sweat pour hopelessly attempting a regulation of my soaring body temperature. The waves of the Atlantic crash onto the beach with the roar of a thousand men as the people of Lagos litter the air with a cacophony of Pidgin in the same loudness and vigour that they live by. A contest of sorts. Lagosians don’t like being outdone, not even by Mother Nature.
Men challenge the waves, throwing their bodies into a surge of blue and white, tangling and burying themselves in its underbelly only to emerge as the waters recede. A contest of sorts. Lagosians don’t like being outdone, not even by Mother Nature.
A mother watches with excitement as her children laugh dizzyingly in high pitched voices, teasing the shallows to engulf their tiny torsos. The water is not their dominion and she is wary of its costs. Her shrill voice carries in the ocean breeze with the words “Oya be careful o! Don’t let it catch you!”. Their father, a solidly built man, no doubt having consumed much eba in his lifetime utters few words though his laughter carries with a slight depth and raspiness. In this very moment his family is free, their joy a view to be held.
A father lowers his daughter’s feet to the gleaming wet sand, introducing her to the natural rhythm of the world. All that comes, must eventually go. Her feet recoil at this strange, cold new sensation. She will learn that time is a wonderful thing, the ultimate revealer. It cannot be controlled, it cannot be chained nor bound. In this part of the world, it is hardly kept or defined by the march of a clock.
With the waters at his back and a makeshift staff in his hands, a man rises to assume his role as Moses. Spreading his arms like a preacher to the congregation and proclaiming with a strained voice “I command thee to divide”, he reenacts the parting of the Red Sea. The waters do nothing but continue their natural movements of course, unperturbed by the commands of the young Nigerian. However clearly enthralled by the theatre performance, his younger brothers join him with intense smiles and assist him across the parted seas. An award is due for this scene.
In observing my people you see expression, you see art. Art not constrained by buildings or distilled and segregated into designated spaces, but an art that is truly expressive of the people's characters. More meaningfully you see art borne not of individuals, but of friends, families and communities, where no one person claims ownership but where a collective rhythm is forged. They are the artists, and on that day the beach was their stage.
ThanksThank you to the anonymous people in these photos. They made light in the shadows. Thank you to my Mother for introducing me to the natural rhythms of the world.