Exhibition in London’s Little Lagos shines light on UK-Nigeria links

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When Peckham’s South London Gallery (SLG) first attempted to host the Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh more than a decade ago, the institution (to the surprise of very few people carrying a green passport) ran into visa problems. Ogboh was denied entry into the UK and in 2014 went on to do an artist’s residency with the German Academic Exchange Service in Berlin instead. This summer, however, Ogboh will join other Nigerian and British-Nigerian artists at the SLG—including the Turner Prize-nominated Yinka Shonibare, the installation artist Temitayo Ogunbiyi, the multi-disciplinary artist Victor Ehikhamenor and the sculptor Ndidi Dike—for the show Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes.

The exhibition explores the relationship between the UK and Nigeria, in particular the cultural exchange between continental Nigerians and British Nigerians. It also marks the launch of a residency exchange between Shonibare’s Guest Artists Space (GAS) Foundation in Lagos and the SLG, in a partnership the gallery’s director Margot Heller hopes will lead to a long-term relationship.

The show’s curator, Folakunle Oshun, who is also the founder of the Lagos Biennial, says that Lagos and Peckham (sometimes called Little Lagos thanks to its Nigerian population) should be thought of as reference points for the immigrant experience. “I think it’s more about migration, the embodiment of place and how migrants from any culture and society will go to another part of the world and pitch their tent… and re-enact rituals that remind them of home,” he says.

Yinka Shonibare’s Diary of a Victorian Dandy 14:00 hours (1998)

Courtesy of the artist

Crucially, the show explores the flow of people and culture in all directions. Ndidi Dike, Oshun says, is a metonym for this exchange. Born in London, she moved back to Nigeria before returning to the UK for her secondary education. She completed her degrees at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and is now based in Owerri. She will be showing a work on the ground floor of the SLG, with the doors flung open to the local primary school opposite. Oshun is excited for audiences to see the contrasts between how different generations of immigrants relate to their British and Nigerian identities. There is Shonibare, who is 60, and his niece Temitayo Shonibare, who is in her 20s, he says.

However, “immigrant” is a loaded term, and audiences may be keen to see how the show grapples with this alongside more joyful expressions of identity. When he arrived in the UK, Oshun noted that his visa referred to him as a “creative migrant” (not an expat, like a Brit in Nigeria would be referred to). Indeed, ten years later, curators at the SLG are still grappling with visa issues. The GAS partnership has seen the London-based artist Chiizii complete and return from her residency in Lagos. However, the Nigeria-based Christopher Obuh is yet to even begin his. It is a testament to the necessity of the exhibition—an overdue recognition of this historical link and its impact in both countries—that its curators remain undeterred.

Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes, South London Gallery, 5 July-29 October

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