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Lagos Photo Festival: remaking the future of Africa

The theme of the 2015 Lagos Photo Festival is ‘Designing Futures’ and photographers at the festival are stepping up to the challenge.



It is the Lagos Photo Festival. In a picture by the photographer, Karine Versluis, a lady in skimpy white gown sits on a narrow bed in a shack plastered with posters of Rihanna and Chris Brown and a wallpaper with the words, ‘love, love’ italicised in red font followed by ellipsis. The subject has a demure look suggestive of her desire for a better life than her shack provides. She wants love, she dreams of it, perhaps unaware how badly Brown and Rihanna’s relationship ended. There is another picture with similar setting but the subject appears to be more brazen, one not given to daydreaming but scheming for the future she wants, in charge of her destiny. With pictures of none other than herself on the wall, with her hair shaven, head askew, this woman in purple singlet and yellow miniskirt looks like she’s got a plan.

The photos are part of the collection, ‘One Day I’m Gonna Make It, comprising pictures Versluis, a Netherlander, took a few years ago when she visited Lagos and interviewed some young women who had come to Lagos from Eastern Nigeria to start a new life for themselves. Her presentation fits well into the theme of the 2015 Lagos Photo Festival, ‘Designing Futures’: people, possibly dissatisfied with the past and/or present, conscientiously or inadvertently creating their futures.

Karine Versluis, lag fest

The Head Curator of the festival, Cristina de Middel, has an interesting thought on the theme. Making a plan, praying, crossing your fingers, she said in the festival brochure, is design.

“You find design in a fabric with the pattern of a palm tree, or the face of Queen Elizabeth, but it is also present when you decide to stay single or to get married, when you decide to study abroad or to take over the family business. You actually design when you flip a coin, play roulette and even when you watch TV. In fact, any action that results in a strategy or a decision (and that means almost all the possible action) is nothing but design,” she said.


The festival thus hopes to examine the relationship between photography and design; the pictorial representation of cultures, identity, desire, personality. As the festival brochure noted, it also hopes to query the relationships between “African design, the design of Africa and our understanding of how we may design Africa, as the platform to discuss our past, present and future intentions, the festival Director, Azu Nwagbogu, said.

Using history, situation and imagination as fodder for the works on display, the festival “highlights crucial aspects of ‘making’ that come into play in African signs and design dialogues” he added.

Interestingly, a recent exhibition of African arts at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, U.S also dealt in part with the idea of rebuilding Africa. “The last theme of the exhibition deals with the future, or ‘futures’, as they have been conceived, and as people try to create them,” the exhibition page said.

Picture at the festival. Photo: Omar Victor Diop and French-American Antoine Tempé/Lagos Photo Festival

Picture at the festival. Photo: Omar Victor Diop and French-American Antoine Tempé/Lagos Photo Festival

One of the photographers exhibiting at the Lagos festival, South Africa’s Nobukho Nqaba, works primarily with the plastic mesh bag known in Nigeria as ‘Ghana Must Go’ and in South Africa as ‘Zimbabwe Bag’. To those familiar with the bag, the works immediately conveys a message of movement, of migration (the theme of Ngaba’s presentation is ‘Unomgcana’, which means ‘Traveller’). For the artist, the bag is a “symbol of migration not only across borders but also within countries.” It may be added that it represents hope, ambition, plan, design.


Nobukho Nqaba, works primarily with the plastic mesh bag known in Nigeria as ‘Ghana Must Go’ and in South Africa as ‘Zimbabwe Bag’.

Owise Abuzaid, Egypt; Alice Smeets, Belgium; Chris Saunders, South Africa; Navin Kala, India; Patrick Selemani, Democratic Republic of Congo; Joana Choumali, Ivory Coast; Daniel Donnelly, UK and Kadara Enyeasi, Nigeria, are some of the photographers (there are 35 in all) on ground to tackle the theme of the festival. A truly international festival, but all the photographers are either of African descent or are exhibiting work centred on the continent.

The Lagos Photo Festival, was launched in 2010 by the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF). With a different theme each year, the festival features exhibitions, workshops, artist presentations, discussions, screenings, and large-scale outdoor prints displayed throughout the city. The purpose of the festival, Nwagbogu has said, is “to learn, to observe, to explore, and to build a community around contemporary photography as it relates to Africa.”

The festival started on 24 October and will run till 27 November.


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