Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, Curator of Anthropology at the Horniman Museum & Gardens in London travelled to Lagos, Nigeria with a WIRP Travel Grant in November 2016. This is the report from her visit.
The initial plan for the visit was to develop a partnership with LagosPhoto, working with photographers linked to the festival to document market life in urban south-western Nigeria. This project was planned to generate content for a major anthropology gallery redisplay at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, reflecting our department’s desire to work collaboratively with international artists and communities. This project planned to develop photographs and film footage to bring an exhibit on Nigerian markets to life, focusing on three markets in Lagos, Ikeja and Benin City. It was also hoped that the collaboration would establish stronger links with the thriving artistic community in Lagos, resulting in further collaborations in the future. In particular, we hoped to develop a co-curated exhibition working with the festival’s artistic director to support the international profile of photographers who contribute to LagosPhoto.
During planning for the trip the festival’s artistic director and my main contact, Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman, resigned from her post to pursue her own artistic career. This meant that the project plans shifted to working with two smaller studios formerly linked to LagosPhoto, in particular Jide Odukoya Studios (based in Lagos) and Sikoki-Studios (based in Leamington Spa and Lagos).
Two distinct projects emerged out of planning for the trip: working with photographer Jide Odukoya to document market life in Lagos, and with Sikoki-Studios to create a couture piece that drew on art and design to reflect on contemporary Ijaw heritage, memory, and identity. The latter was initially planned to include a field trip to Angiama in Bayelse District. However, in the lead up to fieldwork the central-southern region of Nigeria was party to a number of kidnappings of foreign nationals, so plans for the trip changed and became focused on Lagos. I am continuing to work with Sikoki-Studios who will be documenting the trip to Angiama in 2017.
The project with Jide Odukoya went very well. Working in markets with expensive equipment can be risky as well as challenging, and would not have been possible without Jide’s extensive knowledge and experience. The output was a series of excellent images and AV that will be invaluable to the new gallery. We also met to discuss future collaboration. Plans have emerged concerning the photographic documentation of transport in Lagos, including heavily decorated mini-buses, three-wheeled scooters and motor bikes.
In addition to working with Jide I contacted and visited colleagues at the National Museum of Nigeria in Lagos to run through plans for the new gallery and take advice from them. This was also an opportunity to see collections held there and to explore avenues for future collaboration.
The trip was enormously beneficial to both my own knowledge and experience, and to the organisation as a whole. Although the Horniman has a long tradition of supporting fieldwork, this has been focused on collecting and field research rather than the production of collaborative artistic content. Going out and working directly with artists has enabled the co-production of content that provides a fascinating contemporary insight into our collections as well as being specifically created to support their display in the new gallery. The connections established as a result of both the trip itself, and the preparatory planning for it, will support future plans for the anthropology department as it moves forward over the next few years with a focus on collaboration with artists.
I gained very useful experience in how to plan for fieldwork when relying on collaborations with other partners, in particular the need to remain flexible when working in a context that can be quite unpredictable. Working with a photographer in this way has also widened my knowledge of conducting documentary filming and photography in African cities, and the ways in which it can be used to bring contemporary reflections on historical museum collections.
When undertaking an international visit, flexibility is very important, particularly when working in a context where things like transport, electricity, internet connection and phone signal can be unpredictable. For me, this meant that plans had to change on the day as in some instances people were unable to make scheduled meetings. Contacting people can be difficult, so it is worth buying a cheap top-up SIM card on arrival so that you can make local calls easily and cheaply. This also means people are able to call you back. I found that relying on email was not the best way to keep in touch. It is also important to consider how FCO travel advice might affect your plans when traveling to regions that have safety concerns.
If working on collaborative projects it is important to think in advance about what might be expected of you financially, particularly if working in a context where wages in the arts and heritage sector are unreliable. There is often an expectation that colleagues will be able to give their time for free when working internationally, and it is important to bear in mind that they may not be paid for their time internally.
With regards to the collaboration with Jide Odukoya the next steps will include editing film footage from Lagos to create an immersive film transporting visitors into the markets of Lagos Island. I will also be working with Jide to select three images from the shoot to use in the gallery and to develop an online profile that will showcase a wider selection of work. I am in discussion with colleagues at the Horniman about how we might use this material further for educational purposes, possibly as a film to use with schools during organised visits. I am in the process of proposing a photographic exhibition, and this will depend on wider programing and funds to print. As part of the collaboration Jide suggested working together further in the future to develop an exhibition taking an ethnographic photographic approach to documenting Lagos public transport, including interviews with drivers and documentation of their heavily decorated vehicles. This will also depend on securing further project funding.
The collaboration with Sikoki Studios is underway, and I have been working with Alafuro Sikoki-Coleman here in the UK to commission a design piece based on Ijaw mythology in response to plans for the new gallery. We would like to work on a more focused temporary exhibition, bringing together archival film from 1960s Nigeria I have been working on as part of a separate research project, and her own work on heritage and memory. To make this happen we need to secure a space to exhibit, and I am working on a proposal for a space at the Horniman.
“The opportunity to work internationally with artists has enabled the co-production of content that provides a fascinating contemporary insight into our collections.”
Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, Curator of Anthropology, Horniman Museum & Gardens
“The WIRP funding is an excellent example of strategic deployment of scarce funding that builds on the existing strengths of the sector for maximum impact. The ability to work internationally is critical to the Horniman’s mission and this is greatly enhanced by the support of ICOM as a network and its disbursement of this fund. The support, which enabled us to work with contemporary artists based in Nigeria, has not only brought new and invaluable insights into our collections, but has also supported the development of an exciting future for anthropology at the Horniman.”
Tim Corum, Director of Curatorial and Public Engagement, Horniman Museum & Gardens