Tokini Peterside launched West Africa’s first international art fair ART X Lagos in 2016 Credit: Lakin Ogunbanwo
Speaking via phone from Lagos, the founder of Art X Lagos Tokini Peterside said that while she and her team had to postpone the launch of the event in October due to challenges presented by both the pandemic and civil unrest, canceling the fair completely was never an option. “It was important to show that the momentum that has been built by Art X Lagos and other stakeholders in the African art world could be sustained even in a very challenging year like this,’ she said. “We wanted to show resilience, determination and commitment.”
In his video, which features footage taken from a prayer walk on the streets of Jos, a city in central Nigeria, thousands of protestors chant prayers and sing as they march, calling for the end of police violence, underscoring the protestors’ deliberate efforts at nonviolence and peace. “We will pray,” a voice over loudspeaker can be heard saying, “And our God will answer us. There will be a new Nigeria.”
#EndSARS protestors demonstrate in Lagos Nigeria Credit: Grace Ekpu
Some of the exhibition rooms entitled “@,” “#,” and “Like” nod to the role social media played in dispatching developments and evocative images from the protestors.
Works by both established and emerging artists are on display, including Ifebusola Shotunde, Grace Ekpu, and Etinosa Yvonne, the recipient of the Art X Lagos 2019 artist prize.
In one image taken by Yvonne, protestors are seen going head-to-head with a top-ranked female officer, as they demand to speak with the Inspector General of Police outside headquarters in Abuja on October 10.
A protester addresses a police officer in front of the Nigerian Police Force headquarters during the #EndSARs protest in Abuja Credit: Etinosa Yvonne
In another photo taken that day, Yvonne captures prominent Bring Back Our Girls activist Aisha Yesufu, with her fist raised, in front of protesters marching down the street, arms linked.
Lagos-based photographer Ifebusola Shotunde, 25, contributed seven images to the exhibition, capturing scenes from around the city, including at the Lekki Toll Gate.
One of Shotunde’s photos shows young protestors running to create barricades at the toll gate to protect themselves from approaching police forces days before the fatal events of October 20, on October 16. One man holds a sign that reads “THE POLICE IS ROBBING US #ENDSARS NOW.”
“It was important to show the energy, the unity, the action but to also show that when people come together and drop their tribe [affiliation] and economic differences and fight for one clause, we Nigerians are unstoppable,” said Shotunde in an interview by phone.
#EndSARS protestors rearrange barricades near Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria Credit: Ifebusola Shotunde
While the challenges of the past months have undoubtedly changed the feel of this year’s fair, Peterside said she hopes the last months will provide a moment of reflection and serve as a reminder for the art community and the world at large.
“I want people to be inspired, I want people to be motivated, I want people to be reminded of the beauty that exists on the African continent, and through this year’s works, look forward to a brighter, more inspired future.”