Saturday 8 October 2011


Artists document Oko Baba as Lagos goes mega
By Tajudeen Sowole 
(First published in March 2008)
WHENEVER posterity finds its past missing in the archive, historians are usually held responsible.

 And to enrich the archive for tomorrow's sake, a research team of artists have come up with an initiative in support of the ongoing urban rehabilitation project of the Lagos State Government.

Artist, Rukeme Noserime (right) speaking with a section of the timber community

   Unavoidably, redevelopment in most urban cities across the world comes with loss of some identities while new ones are ushered in. Also, whenever the proposed mega city project of the government  comes to fruition, the history of Lagos has to be re-written, as more structures would have to give way to this urban rehabilitation.
   Such loss of physical identities as experienced in the past with the defunct shanty settlements of Maroko, Victoria Island and Ilubinrin, Ikoyi, both in Lagos were, most likely, not properly documented before the bulldozers rolled over them. Remember that Maroko was leveled under the administration of the then military Governor of Lagos State, Colonel Raji Rasaki. In place of the demolished structures is a are choice residential and commercial estates.
  To avoid such loss of history, the artists, 27 in number, took off with what is expected to be a series under the theme, Documenting Eko. The first of the series, Documenting Eko-1, Oko Baba, a group art exhibition of works of the artists, from their research on extinction-bound timber land, Oko Baba, in Ebute Metta, mainland of Lagos State, is scheduled to open at the Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, on Sunday, March 23 through 30, 2008. The works, during a preview revealed that the show is an opportunity for people to see the other side of habitation that is so uniquely cut off from the urban structure, yet a major feeder to the constructions of high rise buildings on the islands and the city in general.
Timber workers of Oko Baba, Lagos Mainland, Nigeria
   Among the exhibiting artists are Rukeme Noserime, Kolade Oshinowo, Raqib Bashoroun, Emma Idiong, Adeola Balogun, Grace Soyinka, Odun Orimolade, Kema Mordi, Shade Thompson Aladegbongbe Aderinsonye, Toni Ogunde, Sheba Onabanjo and Mary Onote Kasim. These artists who are teachers from the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos State did not stop at using the art as a major outlet to justify the responsibility society expects of them. They have also taken upon themselves the role of activists to ensure that the proposed timberland, Agbowa, meets the required standard.
   Oko Baba, a sub settlement of Lagos Mainland local government council is a very well known timber industrial area that takes a chunk of the coastline stretching close to Iddo, near Lagos Island. Having existed for over 50 years without recognition by successive government of the state, the Lagos State government, under the immediate past governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu started the negotiation to relocate the 'industrial estate' to a new site in Agbowa, Badagry local government council. Set to execute the outcome of that negotiation is the new administration of Lagos State under Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola.
Artists during a visit to Oko Baba

   It would amount to a disservice to posterity if the bulldozers roll over the place without proper documentation through art, the artists explained. The show, which is expected to be of benefit to a cross section of professionals, mostly those in the creative business, including architects and others, have a multi purpose value for technocrats and policy makers in the business of urban development. The coordinator of the exhibition, Noserime, stated that the the exhibition is to complement the project of the state government in relocating the timber community.

  From Oshinowo's representational piece, Man Alone (oil and acrylic on canvas), Bashorun's Shield (wood), to the clay and rubber works of Kema Mordi, Thompson's dress work Couture Kaftan and Jewellery, Orimolade's mixed media, What If, and Soyinka's ceramic, posterity has a thumb-up for these artists-cum-historians.

 Bashorun's Shield, a semblance of Victorian art piece may not be able to stop the bulldozers from rolling over the timber land very soon, but this work is a tribute to the natural colours of wood. Between seven to ten artists used colours of gift of nature to mankind, as each colour further offer different shades to demonstrate that nature couldn't have been better to mankind.

  Oshinowo's brush strokes must have come at the right time to rescue another loss of history in what looked like a mountain of wood offcuts, waiting for another round of recycling. Even as a heap, those natural colours of wood could not escape that bold stroke Oshinowo is known for.
One of the artists, Odun Orimolade

  In addition to the artists' social responsibility, this project also meant a lot to the creative sector, given the significant place of wood in art.

  This much, the curator of the show, Balogun explained noting that artists, framers and every other persons who have something to do with art should show concern for the future of the timber people.

  For Orimolade, her mixed media, What If.., suggested a disastrous occurrence in case of a fire outbreak. "What if there is a fire. Just as in other communities that cooking is done, machines are in use, electricity and so forth. The recent news of fire then gives credence to these fears and brings up the need to evaluate the possible effects of an outburst of fire in such an environment."

  Fears like this and others that may inhibit adequate development of the people in their new location are part of the concerns of the artists.

  They had a presentation for the Lagos State government on the future of the timber workers, who, perhaps, have known no other jobs in their lives, but wood.
   Factors crucial to this redevelopment, Noserime, Head of Department, Fine Art, Yabatech said are being addressed. The sudden culture shock for a people that have lived and worked in a place for over 50 years could be easily corrected only if the proposed abode, Agbowa, Badagry, as promised by the state government meets the standard required of modern timber industries, Rukeme warned.
One of the artists, Grace Soyinka

This much, he said is part of the concerns of the research group as presented to the state government: "At Oko Baba, wood does not have a waste product. This is the whole essence of this research documentation. It is also to highlight the effective role of the government in trying to enhance the whole timber market phenomena in respect to current global trends. This is a very laudable and bold attempt by the Lagos State government."
  In her ceramic works, Soyinka revisited motherhood from the point of view of Oko Baba and concluded that it remains the same anywhere. "In the city or the village settlement of Oko-Baba, motherhood is a creative challenge. No matter where a mother is located, household hi-tech gadgets are not what make a good mother. Basic household equipment and strength of character is what make good mothering strength to identify what is good and right; strength to encourage, strength of today for tomorrow. Strength to keep on when others long to quit motherhood calls for strength."

  The team's presentation to government, Noserime explained include findings on the health implication for the timber workers as a result of constant exposure to woods, a Lagos State owned cyber cafe among others.

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