The Afro-future of Art and Photography:
an interview with Lorenzo Vitturi at Lagos Photo Festival 2016

by Teresa Sartore
December 19, 2016
Teresa Sartore
Vitturi Lorenzo

The seventh edition of the Lagos Photo Festival ended on the 21st of November proving itself once again to be a high quality, international art festival of photography. LagosPhoto promotes photography through a month-long programme of exhibitions, events, the exploration of social issues and the sharing of cultural practices. This year’s theme was dedicated to Rituals and Performance: Inherent Risk: the aim was to capture “the act of posing as a repetitive act that constructs an image or images, which morph into an idea or identity, as an act of courage for both the subject and the photographer.”

During LagosPhoto gender, image, identity, social agency, power and social constructs are investigated through the eyes of national and international photographers. The Festival provides a platform for the development of contemporary photography in Africa by establishing mentorships and cross-cultural collaborations with talented local and international artists. Among them, this year, was Lorenzo Vitturi.

Teresa Sartore: How did your experience with LagosPhoto start and what project did you present at this year’s edition?

Lorenzo Vitturi: Two years ago I was invited by Azu Nwagbogu* to exhibit my work Dalston Anatomy during the Festival and in 2015 I spent three weeks in Lagos for a residency. It was a great experience because I participated in the entire festival and I started working on my new project, the one I was invited to present at this year’s edition. My new project, entitled the Balogun Particle, was shown as part of a collective exhibition at the fantastic, brand new location of the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF). The opening was very impressive, given the wonderful venue, the vast gardens, and the powerful performance by Alfie Nze.

The main exhibition was held at the EKO Hotel and  focused on photography as a tool of performance, while the collective exhibit at the AAF, entitled “Telling It As It Is” was more hinged on historical and contemporary perspectives.

T.S.: Who are the artists that struck you the most?

L.V.: I was very impressed by Adad Hannah’s work, who presented a video and an image on a poster inspired by the  stranding of the frigate  Medusa in1816. The set for the photography  was built locally and is beautiful. I also very much liked the work by Siwa Mgoboza, who used objects and various materials, incorporating bright and densely patterned Ishweshwe cloth into his photographic, sculptural and textile work, going beyond traditional photography. Another interesting artist was Kudzanai Chiurai who presented a photographic series and some videos.Through his powerful work he gathers and stages confessions highlighting themes related to colonialism and the African man. I also loved the work by Benedicte Vanderreydt, who, through dark cinematic effects, explores the status of women.

T.S.: Tell me more about your project, the Balogun Particle, what is it about?

L.V.: The Balogun Particle is the project I started during my residency at the AAF last year and is focused on the Balogun Market in Lagos. Actually, after Dalston Anatomy I was far from thinking of photographing another market, but I found such an interesting story behind the Balogun Market, somehow symmetrical but reverse to the Dalston story. Dalston is a district of the London Borough of Hackney in North East London, a symbol of multiculturalism, diversity and cohabitation of different cultures. I lived there for 6 years , witnessing the rapid transformation and gentrification of the borough, caused in large part by the increasing number of big developers moving into the area. My book Dalston Anatomy grew out of the idea of celebrating Dalston’s cultural mix, at the same time showing how things were rapidly changing.

In Lagos I had a totally different project in mind: documenting the Chinese enclave in the periphery, I was fascinated by this subject. But it didn’t work. Instead, I discovered, totally by chance, another extremely interesting story while exploring the city centre: Lagos Island. This is the historic centre of Lagos,  the cultural and economic core until the ’90s, where you can find one of the largest markets in West Africa. Balogun is a sprawling market that is popular among women as  you can find lots of products for women there. At the very geographical centre of the market there is a a skyscraper – the Financial Trust House – that used to be the financial heart of Lagos Island. Nowadays, the companies based in this huge building are gradually being taken over by the street market resulting in a sort of inverted gentrification process. In the past fifteen years, the local street market has gradually destroyed this symbol of  financial power in Lagos.

I met the owner of the building, the only one with his office still based inside the skyscraper. It was very interesting talking to him while exploring the place.

In my work I wanted to capture the abandoned and lifeless spaces inside the building, in contrast to the  chaotic world of  street-market life outside. From my research work and a number of interviews I conducted, it emerged that a vast majority of the products for sale at the market come from China. This is an aspect that I am particularly interested in. On the one hand, Chinese products are destroying the local economy, and on the other hand, they are creating jobs, especially for migrants coming from the north of the country. Chinese products are everywhere but Chinese people are invisible.

T.S.: I myself lived in West Africa for a few months, in Cameroon, and I was really surprised by the fact that I knew there were a huge number of Chinese immigrant workers there, but I could not see them, they were living in the shadows…

L.V.: They are invisible. That is one aspect I initially wanted to tackle through my work, I only wanted to photograph Chinese people in Africa. But it turned out to be a very difficult task as they live in these kind of enclaves, micro-cities inhabited only by them, they do not interact with locals. 

Some of these aspects will emerge through my work. The Balogun Particle is still a work in progress and I will probably be back in Lagos in January to finish it.

(*Azu Nwagbogu is the founder and director of the African Artists’ Foundation and director of the LagosPhoto Festival)

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