Spirituality, History, Self Identity, End SARS, FESTAC ’77—major highlights of exhibitions at 2024 Lagos Biennial themed ‘Refuge”

The 4th Lagos Biennial which was held from the 3rd-10th of February 2024 at the historic Tafawa Balewa Square saw the assemblage of the creative works of over 80 artists from all parts of Africa and the world with the theme ‘Refuge.’ Exhibitions explored spirituality by examining traditional religious practices, enabling long-lost historic landmarks especially those with a connection to the former capital city of Nigeria (Lagos).

Lagos biennial

The 4th Lagos Biennial also presented a wide range of installations that explored various themes, such as self-identity, resource scarcity, Nigeria’s complex history, major events such as the 2020 End SARS protest, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture—FESTAC ’77, and a plethora of creative projects by both legendary and young artists.

Why it matters?

The event showcased the artworks of 80 participants from 30 countries, who captured the theme of “Refuge” through architectural pavilions, art installations, artist talks, film screenings, projections, and performances.

The co-artistic directors of the 4th Lagos Biennial, Folakunle Oshun and Kathryn Weir, also invited audiences to use the historic site—the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos—to reflect on the idea of the nation-state. The curators noted that the theme of the Biennial is a mark to bring architects and artists from different practices to discuss innovative ideas on renewable communities and promoting climate justice.

Artists and Exhibitions at the 2024 Lagos Biennial

Demas Nwoko

At the Tafawa Balewa Square entrance, guests were welcomed by an installation of closed wooden doors created by the legendary artist and architect, Demas Nwoko. It serves as an interface, inviting visitors to interact as a form of ‘Refuge’- the theme of the Biennial.

The renowned artist was recently awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Architectural Biennale in 2023, as it recognises his many years (spanning decades) of contributions to the discourse on modernity.

Bruce Onobrakpaeya

The next is masks and metal works showcased by one of Nwoko’s Zaria Art Society contemporaries, Bruce Onobrakpeya. Bruce presents giant outdoor sculptures made with recycled materials to capture the audience’s attention with its collage of fine shapes and designs.

Materials such as motherboards, used car parts, computer parts, engines, automobile spare parts, iron, pipes, and stainless steel sourced from Popular Market spaces in Lagos and other waste materials, formed the outer structure of the sculptures. This makes a strong case for recycling, reuse, environmental protection, and sustainability.

Jermay Michael Gabriel and Justin Randolph Thompson— FESTAC ’77

Gabriel and Thompson made an entry in a film and performance titled ‘Members Don’t Git Weary.’ The artists take us down memory lane to remember Tafawa Balewa Square as the site of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture held in 1977— “FESTAC ’77.”

    Randolph Thompson played a guitar solo accompanied by Michael Gabriel’s Amharic prayers and incantations. The incantations were enlivened by a historic moving-image work that revisited pan-African memories through texts from W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey.

    Temitayo Shobanire- 2020 End SARS Protests

    Shobanire used a three-channel video installation to re-awaken the audience to revisit the saddening and traumatic happenings from the End SARS protest which was staged by youths all over Nigeria.

      Placed at the centre of the structure, the installation combines animation, raw footage recorded on mobile phones, and found visuals and audio to explore a delightful sound mix which awakens the revolutionary spirit of the deadly protests.

      Victor Ehikhamenor- Spirituality

      To show the in-depth message of faith that the 2024 Lagos Biennal preaches, Victor Ehikhamenor in the latest evolution of his chapel series, titled ‘Miracle Central’, portrays a simple church structure with a frontage covered in thousands of white handkerchiefs, symbolising Pentecostal Christianity in the country.

        Whilst imitating a chapel and capturing the voice of Pentecostal pastors projected to an audience of hanging chairs, instruments, microphones, and a pulpit, Ehikhamenor teaches us the omnipresence of religion in Nigeria which intersects with politics and history.

        Other notable works at the 2024 Lagos Biennial were:

        • “Traces of Ecstasy,” a collaborative pavilion curated by K.J. Abudu and designed by Nolan Oswald Dennis.
        • French artist Deniz Bedir’s exploration of self and collective identity titled “Taşlık Kahvesi.”
        • “Human Hive 3” by Nigerian artist Chinenye Emelogu and “Yakachana” by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama which explores the subject of Resource as Socio-political refuge.
        • Also on the subject of Religion, we have: Xtracenstral curated by Kukily Afrofeminist Arts Collective, Airi: Bone Altar by artist Yussef Agbo-Ola, and Omi Elu by French artist Tabita Rezaire.
        • “Levitate” by Iván Argote.
        • “Disassembling the Cloud” by Data Centered Collective.
        • “El Salto” by German artist Jimmie Durha.
        • “Jimmie Durham, Island” by Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira.