Azu Nwagbogu reflects on 2020

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The founder of African Artists’ Foundation and LagosPhoto shares his reflections on 2020

In the past 20 years, Azu Nwagbogu has made a solid mark in the art world. Recently described by the Guardian’s Sean O’Hagan as a “visionary curator”, Nwagbogu is responsible for founding the African Artists’ Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of contemporary African arts, and LagosPhoto, a celebrated annual festival that brings leading photographers into dialogue with the multifaceted stories of Africa. 

Here, Nwagbogu reflects on his experience of 2020 — the pandemic, the protests, and the podcasts that got him through it.

The start of the pandemic in Lagos was calm. However, the peaceful civic movement to end police brutality, EndSARS, was brutally halted by the military killing of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on 20 October.  

In Lagos, during the lockdown, I quickly learnt the value of routine and it really helped me mentally and physically. This involved early morning walks at 5am in the neighbourhood, while listening to podcasts, mostly on BBC Radio 4.  

Podcasts are now a thing for me. I never made time for them before the lockdown. I would recommend listening to In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, and Arts and Ideas.

The lockdown made us all into witnesses, and therefore complicit with, the murder of George Floyd. To hear a grown man cry for his mother, and get killed so needlessly was a tipping point. I don’t think it would have been as significant had we all been engaged in our normal daily routines, flying around and being busy. 

LagosPhoto20 moved online this year. The lockdown really energised the Home Museum, an idea developed with my colleague Clémentine Deliss. We focused on our homes as a source of history, heritage and memory, and invited citizens from all over the world to photograph objects in their home that hold memories. The images were presented in a digital museum for the rest of the world to enjoy.

There are a lot of great photographers whose work has come to my attention this year. Nonzuzo Gxekwa, Sipho Gongxeka, Uzoma Orji, and Julia Fullerton Batten all made great work in relation to the lockdown. Also Eva Stenram, Marina Caneve, Camilla Ferrari and Max Ernst Stockburger.

Wolfgang Tillmans at Galerie Buchholz.

I haven’t seen much this year due to the lockdown. I was fortunate to see Wolfgang Tillmans’s show at Galerie Buchholz in Berlin recently. I haven’t yet seen Zanele Muholi at the Tate but still hoping.

After the restrictions are lifted, I am most looking forward to travelling to Congo. I am keen to see how Renzo Martens’ White Cube project is evolving. 

I don’t miss anything about normality. It is too much of a luxury to be wistful and longing. I miss people, but not situations. I try to channel my mind and energy on the context at hand, and make the most of it. 

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Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. 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, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.