Life in Lagos imitates art as squatters evicted for biennial exhibit

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Exhibition theme, Living on the Edge, takes on brand-new meaning as masters and squats at disused railway shed turfed out by state-owned railway company

When the organisers of Nigeria’s first biennial art exhibition called it Living on the Edge, they could not have known how painfully apt the topic would be.

It was inspired by the squats living in the carriages and structures of a disused railway molted, and their equivalents across Lagos, where housing is in short supply, and immense money and abject privation exist side by side. Masters were invited” to probe the realities of the losers in societies around the world- the unseen majority who are now pushed to the brink of their existence “.

The pedigrees living in the old railway molted were surprised that anyone would want to host an exhibition in their run-down, leaky residence, but got involved, mining excavations it was therefore has not been able to deluge, eying lumber for the installations and helping to clean up.

Artists
Artists and squatters worked together to transform an age-old railway molted into the place of Nigeria’s first biennial prowes expo, announced Living on the Edge. Image: Tom Saater for the Guardian

But in a bitter incongruity that shows the murderous gentrification taking place across the complex megacity, just as the display opened last weekend the Nigerian Railway Corporation- the state-owned runway conglomerate- began to turf out many of the families.

The biennial’s organisers said they were dismayed.

” It’s called Living on the Edge, and then you precisely push them off the cliff ,” alleged Folakunle Oshun, the biennial’s founder and artistic head, who tried in vain to stop the evictions.

As artists and squatters hauled potty plants and strung up lightbulbs between rusting old-fashioned study carriages at one discontinue of the shed, at the other an age-old duo stood bewildered among their strewn belongings, trying to jam-pack but with nowhere to move to.

Squatters
Squatters remove all their belongings from the members of the rail molted the selection board had called residence for several years. Photograph: Tom Saater for the Guardian

Abdul Raouf Akinwoye, a retired police officer who works with the Nigerian Railway Corporation and an architectural heritage organisation, Legacy, arrived with two” expanse sons”- Lagos parlance for goons- whom he had employed to enforce the eviction.

” They came from somewhere and they have to go back to where they came from ,” he enunciated, contributing with no self-evident incongruity:” We are asking them to go- in tandem with the theme of the exhibition .”

Akinwoye used to say after “states parties ” organised by the whisky corporation Jameson’s in the shed 2 week before, some cables had been stolen, and the community failed to return them when asked. They were living there illegally, and this is only the last straw, he said.

Evictions are taking place all over the two countries, but particularly in Lagos, where tens of millions ofpeople ought to have chased out of their homes in the past year, purportedly for environmental and safety reasonableness. Critics say the real ground is to make way for luxury housing developments. In Otodo Gbame, where thousands of fishermen’s residences that stood on stilts above the sea were razed, tonnes of sand ought to have dropped on top of the bulldozed ruins, creating more ground ripe for development.

Space is at a premium in upmarket the sectors of the city. A landlord can charge $50,000( PS38, 000) a year for a flat- and can ask that two years’ payment be paid upfront. And cavity will only become more of such issues: Lagos is likely to be the world’s biggest metropoli by 2100, experts predict, with a population of 88 million.

It is not just the fact of forced eviction, but the brutal way in which they are often carried out.

Akinwoye caught one of the squatters, a 14 -year-old boy who was going past him, and coerced him to kneel in front of him.” If I ever see you here again, I will snap you apart ,” he shouted.

Abdul
Abdul Raouf Akinwoye, a retired police officer who works with the Nigerian Railway Corporation, pushes a squatter to kneel in front of him. Meanwhile, on the other side of the qualify cab, artists were putting up their works. Photograph: Tom Saater for the Guardian

” We are working to sanitise this residence ,” Akinwoye added, downing the litre of strawberry milk he had with him and then hurling the carton on the floor. He had given the families two days to get out.

” Most of the status of women are irresponsible people. They harbour felons. You don’t know them; we know them. Many of them exchange dopes- cocaine and brew. You have sympathy for those people; they don’t deserve it. Those ladies are so devilish in their thinking and acting .”

After the Guardian obliged investigations, the Nigerian Railway Corporation used to say those who had not yet been pushed out could stay for another two months- though the requirements of the affected class will not have changed in that time.

Sitting by a piling of lumber that used to serve as his furniture, Idowu Akin Pelu, a retired head for the Nigerian Railway Corporation, read none of the families had money for rent or people who would take them in.

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A visitor questions Fati Abubakar’s photography from north-east Nigeria, on display at the country’s firstly biennial prowes exhibit Photograph: Tom Saater for the Guardian

” They told whoever failed to remove whatever belonged to him or her would be arrested and carted away to prison ,” he pronounced.” They did beings of the world are coming and they want to transform this target to their own touchstone. We don’t know where to go. We are in disarray .”

” They are coarse. We are poor people. There is nothing like pity at all .”

Forcing parties out is not a strategy that will work in the long run, is in accordance with OluTimehin Adegbeye, a Nigerian columnist and activist.

” Poor beings don’t generally tend to disappear just because they’ve been stripped of everything the government had ,” she said in a recent Ted talk.

Folakunle
Folakunle Oshun, the aesthetic head of the biennial. Image: Tom Saater for the Guardian

Visitors to the biennial who learned what was happening on the other side of the molted were appalled. However, most were unaware of the evictions taking place. Oshun tried to stop them, but as Legacy was not charging him to use the infinite, he had little power.

Setting up a biennial in traffic-choked, expensive Lagos has not been easy. With no fund, creators were asked to pay their own path and Oshun, an artist and curator known for his meditations on jollof rice, did not know until weeks before the launch whether he would pull it off.

Wooden boxers with footballs for tops fought, representing the Nigerian people and their government battling dishonesty; the artist, Ayo Akinwande roped them off from a stockpile of decomposing refuse. Puppies that had walked in from all levels of society living next door slumber between the lines as David Palacios checked up on his dissected echo binders, full of statistics on violence.

Sunlight shone through pictures of women impounding candles was put forward in the empty spaces of a wall, eerily lighting them. Chickens pecked at the floor, hopping into a bottom of banana leaves below a clutch of light framed portraits, all of which boasted an orange peel. At the end of the running shed, young men played football.

” It truly takes bowels to do this without money ,” did Rahima Gambo, a visual journalist and documentary photographer who crowded a study cab with greenery and school desks as part of a long-term programme looking at the impact of the Boko Haram insurgency in Maiduguri.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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