Back in the 1980s and the early 1990s, cities of southwest Nigeria had a brimming portfolio of buildings of exotic architectures erected, especially, by Nigerians of Brazilian origin.
Today, most of these buildings are either dilapidated or already pulled down and new ones standing in their place. Unlike in other climes, they are not renovated to preserve their original structure, a worrisome trend that is leading to the vanishing of architectural monuments and ancient landmarks.
To bring back some of these memories, the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) exhibited photographs and video works of notable artists at No. 9 McEwen Street, Yaba, Lagos.
Entitled “Local Space, Transnational Connections” the exhibition showcased documentary photographs and videos of Nigerian photographers, the late Johnson Donatus Aihumekeokhai Ojeikere (popularly known as J. D. Okhai Ojeikere) and Ayo Akinwande, as well as Tatewaki Nio and Mario Pfeifer, from Brazil and Germany respectively.
Goethe Institut, Nigeria and Instituto Moreira Salles, Sao Paulo, supported the exhibition, which ended on February 28.
According to Bisi Silva, curator of “Local Space, Transnational Connections” the focal point is the oft-overlooked aspect of the history of Lagos city––its architectural formation and development, of which the Brazilian quarters was one of the earliest built environment.
J. D. Okhai Ojeikere was commissioned by Mandillas Company in the late 1980s to document the Brazilian architectures in Central Lagos as well as on the mainland. The endeavour turned out a fortuitous documentary preservation of a history and architecture that was rapidly being obliterated by a rapacious urban development that has now become a contemporary Lagos, a megacity of 20-million plus population. This act of systemic erasure was documented by artist and photographer Ayo Akinwande, particularly the destruction of the Olaiya House, one of the oldest Brazilian structures pulled down on September 10, 2016.
Tatewaki Nio and Mario Pfeifer engaged with the history of the transnational connection. Nio documented the multidimensional relationship between Brazil and western Nigeria through his focus on the history as well as the contemporary displacement of people from both locations.
His project visualized the history of Brazilian returnees to West Africa and traced family links of current West African residents of Sao Paulo.
Pfeifer documented some of the last premises of the Brazilian community, its memories and the physical manifestations of the Brazilian Quarter. This was done with drone footages framed with conversations from some of the last remaining direct descendants of returnees from Brazil.
Director, Goethe-Institut, Nigeria, Friederike Moschel said: “The exhibition on architecture and culture is very important because my predecessor shocked people when they had a programme which talked about the challenges faced by architecture and heritage. This is a topic which will continue in our programmes for this year and we hope to participate in various areas in culture in terms of collaboration.”
Ayo Akinwande lamented: “It is very sad that these buildings are pulled down instead of renovating them for preservations. The building is like a child who dies and there are a lot of things, which cannot be seen again.
“Most of these buildings are found on the Island and when they are pulled down, they are lost for future generations to see.”
He pointed out: “When you look at the images around, you will see some of the architectural designs which were detailed and there was a similarity between the Yoruba system and the Brazilian masons at that time. Their works were similar with houses in Brazil at that time.”
Some of J.D. Okhai Ojeikere’s works exhibited include Maja’s House, Oluwole House (Kaduna Lodge), The Shitta Mosque, Holy Cross Catholic Cathedral, Aderibigbe’s Villa, 91 Apapa Road, Ebute Metta, Railway Compound, Ojora’s Palace and Vaughan’s House.