Orderly Chaos: South London Gallery’s ‘Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes’

Christopher Obuh, 'No City for Poor Man'
Christopher Obuh, 'No City for Poor Man', photography

Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes

To: 29 Oct 2023

South London Gallery

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South London’s Peckham is home to one of the UK’s largest Nigerian migrant communities. The first wave of migrants arrived in the 1970s and 80s, in response to Nigeria’s economic crisis following the end of the oil boom, and then again in the 90s to escape civil unrest. Many were students looking to pursue their education, and start a new life in the UK.

The harsh realities of immigration are explored in South London Gallery’s current exhibition Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes. The show focuses on the ties between Peckham and Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria and one of the most economically significant centres in Africa. In a series of works that fills the Gallery’s Main Building and adjacent Fire Station – a short walk down the street – thirteen Nigerian and Nigerian-British artists examine their own immigration experiences through a variety of genres such as film, sound installations, and sculpture.

Victor Ehikhamenor, 'Cathedral of the Mind', rosary beads, rhinestones, brass, lace fabric, wood
Victor Ehikhamenor, ‘Cathedral of the Mind’, rosary beads, rhinestones, brass, lace fabric, wood

Many different aspects of immigration are tackled in Lagos, Peckham, Repeat. Victor Ehikhamenor’s Cathedral of the Mind (2023), an especially stunning sculpture sat in the centre of the Gallery’s Main Building, explores the significance of religion for Nigerian migrant communities. A massive, rounded sculpture composed of rosary beads, brass, thread, and rhinestones is illuminated under a dramatic spotlight. A bright red door and two multicolour windows make up the façade of a pilgrimage site, and around the back are two rows of Ìbejì (meaning ‘twins’ in Yoruba) statuettes. In addition to blending aspects of Western and Nigerian religion, Ehikhamenor alludes to the common practice amongst Nigerians to pray in places of worship before starting the difficult visa application process.

Adeyemi Michael, 'Entitled'
Adeyemi Michael, ‘Entitled’

Adeyemi Michael, meanwhile, focuses on the pride felt by those who successfully immigrate in his piece Entitled (2022). In a room on the upper floor of the Fire Station, Michael has recreated the living room of his childhood home. Plush lounge chairs are set up in front of a film that shows Michael’s mother, dressed in Yoruba ceremonial attire, riding a dark horse through the streets of Peckham. Onlookers salute and stare as she parades down crowded roads. Overlaying the video is a voiceover in which Michael’s mother describes her experience of moving to the UK. It is a powerful film highlighting the achievement of mothers who navigate the challenging Western immigration system and move not just themselves but their entire family to London.

Lagos Studio Archives, 'The Archive of Becoming', 35mm film negatives
Lagos Studio Archives, ‘The Archive of Becoming’, 35mm film negatives

There are a few recurring motifs throughout the exhibition: two works – Onyeka Igwe’s film No Archive Can Restore You and Lagos Studio Archives’ The Archive of Becoming (2015) – explore how archives shape our understanding of history. Water is also referenced in many of the works, which makes sense – Lagos’ economic success is thanks in large part to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, and water also alludes to the transatlantic journey from Lagos to London. Seyi Adelekun’s sculpture Àdìre Wata, for instance, explores the sacred healing powers of water and the vital role it plays in the creation of indigo dyeing, while Christopher Obuh shines a light on the ecological damage caused by coastal developments in Lagos in his photographic series No City for Poor Man. Repeated imagery such as this ties the show together nicely and draws our attention to major issues specific to Nigerian immigration. 

Christopher Obuh, 'No City for Poor Man', photography
Christopher Obuh, ‘No City for Poor Man’, photography

In his essay on the exhibition, co-curator Folakunle Oshun writes that Lagos, a strategic international port with its own complex, informal taxation system, is ‘unique in its disorderly functionality.’ The variety of works on display in this anomalous south London gallery space makes Lagos, Peckham, Repeat complex in a way that feels true to the subject matter it tackles. 

With thanks to Nell Beck for this review.

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