‘We should all be thinking of scenarios that bring us together’: What to expect from LagosPhoto 2023

From the series Shine Heroes © Federico Estol

Co-curator Azu Nwagbogu explains how this year’s festival will resurface hidden histories – and why, for the first time, it’s expanded into Benin

LagosPhoto returns this winter, and this time with a twist – it’s not just in Lagos. For the first time in 14 editions the festival is expanding outside of Nigeria, with exhibitions in the cities of Lagos and Abuja but also in Cotonou in neighbouring Benin. “We want to de-centre, so instead of drawing everything to us we also have a logic of collaboration,” says Azu Nwagbogu, the founder and director of the African Artists’ Foundation, who has co-curated this year’s edition. 

“The future and the present is really about breaking out of these hierarchies,” continues Nwagbogu, who has worked alongside Peggy Sue Amison, artistic director of East Wing, Dubai, UAE, to curate the festival. “In the past, people always collaborated but there wasn’t always a lot of transparency. I think that’s something we need to promote. We need to allow people to see that it’s non-threatening to collaborate, that actually it elevates because everything is better together.”

From the series Connaissance-Renaissannce © Eliane Aïsso
From the series White Gold © Amina Kadous

On show from 25 October until 31 December, the exhibitions in LagosPhoto are themed Ground State – Fellowship within the Uncanny, and aim to “explore the present moment in a bid to restore, repair and restitute hidden histories crucial for our survival.” As in previous years, the selected works come from artists and photographers from all over the world. This edition includes established image-makers such as Zanele Muholi, Zora J Murff, Poulomi Basu + CJ Clarke, Arko Datto, and M’hammed Kilito, as well as emerging names such as Chris Iduma, Fikayo Adebajo, Rehab Eldalil, and Amina Kadous.

“One of the big things I’m tapping into this year is the fact that Africa is so divided along languages,” says Nwagbogu, who is also curating Benin’s first ever pavilion for the 2024 Venice Biennale. “We need to be connected to people that have similar narratives. We need to forge new connections. These are constructs in our minds that we need to break down together.”

First held in 2010, LagosPhoto highlights contemporary artists working with photography who reflect experiences and identities from the African continent and beyond. In 2022, the festival was themed Remember Me – Liberated Bodies; Charged Objects and considered the photographer’s role in shaping, archiving and ordering narratives about communities and individuals. In 2021, under the theme Searching for Prince Adewale Oyenuga, it presented a project about a missing suitcase stuffed with a historic archive of paintings and photographs, which was left in Barcelona then repatriated to Nigeria.

Tara Mutata, from the series Shunyo Raja (Kings of a Bereft Land) © Arko Datto

“In the past, people always collaborated but there wasn’t always a lot of transparency. We need to allow people to see that it’s non-threatening to collaborate, that actually it elevates because everything is better together”

In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the festival was themed Rapid Response Restitution – The Home Museum, and audiences were invited to present something from their personal and family cultural heritage that could be shown in a digital exhibition. For Nwagbogu, the Covid years were interesting. In part, because the virus showed how interconnected the world now is, and in part because the response showed the power of digital technology – including digital images and their circulation. 

“Youngsters now get so much [information] on-screen that they question what they see much more than we did in my generation,” he points out. “I love that. It’s a matter of how we think about photography – we don’t have to abandon it, but we do have to be more conscious about how it makes us see. We have to be hyper-vigilant.”

From the series Before it’s Gone © M’hammed Kilito

LagosPhoto includes exhibitions, workshops, artist presentations, discussions, a portfolio review, and large-scale outdoor prints, which are displayed with the aim of reclaiming shared spaces and engaging the general public with multifaceted stories of Africa. Against a backdrop which is now post-Covid restrictions, but is plunging into ever-worsening wars and climate breakdown, Nwagbogu argues that people will turn to artists to make sense of the “catastrophic era”.

“We should all be thinking of scenarios that bring us together,” he says. “Storytelling is important because we can point to compassion, and it can create change. We can shift perspectives in these spaces.”

LagosPhoto Festival is at various venues in Nigeria and Benin from 25 October until 31 December

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is the editor of BJP, returning for a second stint on staff in 2023 - after 15 years on the team until 2019. As a freelancer, she has written for The Guardian, FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, Aperture, FOAM, Aesthetica and Apollo. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy