Lagos: The city as canvas and the artists who paint on it

Lagos, one of Africa’s largest cities, and arguably its most vibrant, is embedding the culture, food, history and lifestyle of its people into public spaces. Street art is becoming more commonplace as the city reclaims and revives defamed areas previously cluttered by waste, and builds abodes of rest, cultural and historical appreciation. By mapping culture onto the city structures, the authorities seem to be creating spaces of repose amidst chaos that is the identity of Lagos.

EkoTag, a project dedicated to putting up monuments around Lagos featured graffiti artist Osa Seven painting his 13ft by 108ft mural at Ozumba Mbadiwe last year. Glory To The Fatherland, a piece of collaborative art bursting with colour located at The National Museum in Onikan, was created by Ndidi Dike, Richmond Ogolo, Peju Alatise, Tony Gomez, and Jefferson Jonahson. And Angel of Light, a mural by Karo Akpokiere with the assistance of Kelani Abass that takes on a satirical form, depicting the generators that Nigerians primarily depend on for electricity.

Obalende intersection, Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: Adaku Nwakanma

The undercarriage of Obalende, Lagos, a transport hub on Lagos Island, is the latest in this development, after places like the Falomo intersection bridge were commissioned by the Lagos state government to be painted on by Polly Alakija as part of the state’s fiftieth birthday celebration.

Artists commissioned for the project at Obalende, Lagos, are part of those leaving an imprint not just in virtual spaces but on local landmarks. They are changing the cityscape with drawings including presidential portraits, police portraits, and depictions of the activities peculiar to Lagos.

Promise Peter Udoakang, a self-taught 21 year old artist, whose focus is primarily hyper realism and impressionism, went on his Instagram page to express his excitement at being involved in the project: “commissioned paintings by the government. #WeAreNigerianCreatives“. The added hashtag, which in just 3 months of trending on Twitter, has become a movement of young artists that has afforded increased visibility and appreciation of art and culture in Nigeria.

This place wasn’t actually good…it will be a very good place when there’s development, that’s why I like the fact that we are appreciating art,” Udoakang said. “The fact they are using art to decorate the environment, it speaks about one’s self, because art talks about the fundamental human value.”

Udoakang, who has participated in numerous exhibitions both in an outside Nigeria and, most recently last September at Alexis Gallery, Lagos, expressed hope that the increased appreciation of art will shine a spotlight on smaller artists doing great work so they get recognition and the platform to showcase their craft.

Artist, Promise Peter. Photo: Adaku Nwakanma

Another artist selected as part of the project is Prince Adelakun, a sculptor, painter, and maker of fashion headpieces. He also showcases regularly at the Lagos and Calabar carnival, and dabbles in performance art, drawing portraits of figures at events accompanied by music in five minutes. He has featured in October Rain, an exhibition by The Society of Nigerian Artists. And has an upcoming exhibition at the Mydrim Gallery, Lagos.

On his involvement with the Obalende project, Adelakun noted the way the appreciation of art can sometimes be elitist and how the recent city reconstructions reshape that.

“Some artists, they focus on studio galleries,” Adelakun said, referring to those who create art that cost hundred thousands of naira only to be appreciated in a gallery. “I understand the environment I am in. These people by the roadside, even though they cannot buy my art, they appreciate what I’m doing and can commission me to paint their husbands and wives.”

Promise Peter at work. Photo: Adaku Nwakanma
Prince Adelakun poses beside his paintings at Obalende. Photo: Adaku Nwakanma
Murals at Obalende. Photo: Adaku Nwakanma