Akinbode Akinbiyi: Six Songs, Swirling Gracefully in the Taut Air

Akinbode Akinbiyi is known as a wanderer. Whether it be Berlin, Lagos, Athens, or Chicago, the city is his studio, and the daily rituals of its citizens are his main fascination. The photographer’s latest exhibition, Six Songs, Swirling Gracefully in the Taut Air, now on show at Gropius Bau, Berlin, presents a selection of work from various long-term projects, composed over four decades.

Bar Beach, Victoria Island, Lagos, 2006. From the series Sea Never Dry. © Akinbode Akinbiyi.
Lagos Island, Lagos, 1988. From the series Lagos: All Roads. © Akinbode Akinbiyi.

Born in Oxford in 1946, Akinbiyi went to university in Ibadan, Nigeria, in the 1960s, and in Heidelberg, Germany in the 1970s. While initially training  literature as an avid reader of fiction and poetry, he later took up photography during his time living in West Berlin, where he mastered the darkroom process. 

Since then, Akinbode has documented cities such as Lagos and Kano (Nigeria), Dakar (Senegal), Bamako (Mali) and Khartoum (Sudan). In 1993, Akinbiyi co-founded the UMZANZSI, a cultural center in Clermont Township in Durban, South Africa, and has taught and mentored emerging photographers in Africa and beyond.

Victoria Island, Lagos, 2006. From the series Lagos: All Roads. © Akinbode Akinbiyi.
Bamako, 2005. From the series Photography, Tobacco, Sweets, Condoms and other Configurations. © Akinbode Akinbiyi.

In contrast to media outlets that are obsessed with continuous streams of live coverage, Akinbiyi favours a slower process, assembling series that take inspiration from the rhythms of a city and the social fabric of its population. “What I’m doing is observing, taking part in this urban phenomenon and trying to record documents. It is a kind of fine sensibility of understanding the passageways within the city,” said Akinbiyi in a statement provided by the gallery.

Notable series on show include Lagos: All Roads (1980s–ongoing), which plots the many moods and faces of Akinbiyi’s home city and Africa’s largest metropolis; and African Quarter (1990s–ongoing), documentation of Afro-German communities in Berlin. 

A concluding element to the exhibition is a short film by visual artist and writer Emeka Okereke I wonder as I wander, which provides a deeper insight into Akinbiyi’s methodology, anecdotal records and working principles.

Akinbode Akinbiyi: Six Songs, Swirling Gracefully in the Taut Air is on display at Gropius Bau in Berlin from 07 February until 17 May 2020.

Images courtesy of the gallery.

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner worked as an editor at BJP between 2018 and 2023. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.