1. Bonham’s does very good champagne – This exhibition of Contemporary Nigerian Photography was launched in style with support from the Kola Aluko Foundation.
2. Bonham’s is very interested in the booming contemporary African art maket, and this exhibition is a nice big statement of that. Curated by Ayo Adeyinka, founder and principal consultant at TAFETA, alongside Charles Gore, a Senior Lecturer in the History of African Art at SOAS, the exhibition puts contemporary African photographers centre-stage – with a nod to its most famous representative, the late J.D. Okhai Ojeikere. The exhibition is dedicated to him, and features some of his work.
3. Much of the early photography in Nigeria focused on the elite – In particular, important African members of Lagos society, including portraits of Mohammed Shitta Bey, the foremost palm oil trader of the Delta and head of the Muslim community; Prince Oyekan, the Oba of Lagos; and Otunba Payne, first Lagos High Court registrar and a member of the ljebu Ode royal family. It also features images of fashionable Lagos at the end of the end of the 19th century; one image shows, young Lagos men promenading across Five Cowrie Creek Bridge between Victoria Island and Ikoyi. The exhibition offers us often beautiful images, but on display some of the pictures could do with a bit more context.
4. However glossy the images, colonialism was still a cruel system – Lagos was plagued by fires in the late 19th century, but the single fire engine was only available for use for colonial emergencies; otherwise it was locked up and not available to the community at large. In 1880, a campaign to train a crew of Lagosian firemen to operate the engine for the benefit of the entire city was run by the Lagos newspapers and the exploits of this crew became a focus of local pride and photography.
5. Nigerian photographers have been at their most vibrant and innovative in the period since independence – The exhibition offers a wealth of work from contemporary African photographers worth seeing – perhaps though our favourite image is the witty, imagined photo of a Lagos metro looking very much like underground Paris, juxtaposed against other images of unique Lagos landmarks that excited us the most; not because it hankers after being European, but because it evokes the ability to imagine a functioning, cosmopolitan future for this most raucous of cities.