Purple Travel

[January 26 2014]

Living in Lagos, Nigeria

I arrived in Lagos one week ago for a three-month curatorial fellowship at The African Artists’ Foundation. I’m here looking for contemporary African artists to include in an exhibition going from Lagos to Paris, Los Angeles and New York.

I’ve spent my first week absorbing the scenery and customs. Lagos is a far cry from New York and Los Angeles. But that was the point. Leave behind the cities I know by heart submerging myself in a place I know little about. My main expectation came from people recounting Nigerians’ love affair with parle. And the first thing I noticed was the hustle. Everybody’s got it. It makes sense in a city where infrastructure is haphazard, the economic divide vast and government corrupt. Something like 65% of Lagosians are impoverished, living off $90 a month.

Traces of destitution are splattered across the cityscape. Its inhabitants exist against a backdrop of dust and grime, structures half-erected, half crumbling. The derelict environments coupled with constant blackouts foreshadow post-apocalyptic life in a metropolis. But inside every surface is a vibrantly patterned, multicolored piece-meal. An educated, upper-middle class lives comfortably behind walls topped with shattered glass or barbed wire. Social and nightlife are like most other cities. People congregate at galleries, restaurants, hotel lounges and clubs; a great deal of socializing revolves around music and fashion.

Instead of 7 Eleven, vendors flower from tin shacks and cracks in cement walls. You’ll see woman offering baskets and men manning fruit stands roadside. They roam traffic lanes and outside gates to nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels offering everything from flip flops to tic tacs.

The wealthy are sequestered in compounds, but in transit social divisions collide. The traffic clusters and police check points are constantly interrupting flow. Police smile and suggest you gift them whatever cash you have, a nuisance usually waved off with the promise of “next time, my friend.” Street vendors and police aren’t the only ones with a hustle. Everyone is willing to offer assistance: holding the door, carrying luggage, and helping you complete a three-point turn. All with the expectation of a meager 100 Naira thank you.

Lagos slows you down. Not because the city is slow, it’s chaotic, but because wifi drops constantly and power fails five-plus times a day leaving you disconnected and feeling your way in the dark. But this pace is refreshing, thanks to the city’s warm rhythms and inviting people. Text and photo Cecelia Stucker


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