In conversation with the winner of the ART X Prize about the opportunities of being an emerging artist in Nigeria
“I remember me and my younger sister used to dance in the rain, and my mum would put shower caps on our heads,” responds Bolatito Aderemi-Ibitola when asked about her fondest early memories of growing up in Lagos. It’s formative moments such as this one that have shaped some of the multi disciplinary artist’s most significant works. This includes the one that impressed the judges of this year’s ART X Prize with Access, the art fair’s initiative that aims to support emerging artists in Nigeria.
Entitled Scraps From Mama’s Floor, her winning entry is an interactive installation incorporating filmed documentary footage from around Lagos (from Balogun Market to the city’s beaches) with live motion detection technology that she uses to digitally echo the unpredictable assembly techniques her mother used to employ to sew outfits for Aderemi-Ibitola and her sibling. Visitors to the recently concluded ART X Lagos were riveted by the installation as they discovered that their own movements were being recorded and then delivered back to them on a large screen, manipulated in response to Aderemi-Ibitola’s algorithms and intermingled with seemingly distant visual memories.
“The piece talks about my mum and how she clothed us by taking scraps and making dresses out of them. How we wore them influenced how we operated in the world, but it was also a teaching. She was showing us that we can create things,” the artist explains. “Through motion capture, what you see are images from the past, and how they become part of you. And when there’s silence and stillness, you see my video collage of Lagos. So it’s when you’re in a place of introspection that you can start thinking about if the past is forming you.”
“Mothering, bathing, washing, being clean. These are the kinds of things I like to examine”
Aderemi-Ibitola was born in Lagos but moved to the US with her family before she turned 10. She developed a love of art and theatre, gaining a BA in Communication Arts from Allegheny College and a Masters in Performances Studies from NYU. “I started with theatre and through that devised theatre, which is where hierarchies are abandoned and everyone has a say in what the performance is. You take a source material and start playing, discussing, moving. Eventually you come up with an iteration that you then solidify toward the end. I like it when there’s a source of discovery alongside a source material and you move in tandem, in interpolation I like to say. From there I started doing solo shows and that became my performance art practice.”
Since moving back to Lagos in 2014, she’s branched more into video and digital art to further explore discourses around identity and culture. Using this confluence of tools, she’s become interested in drilling down into the minute of life and being of the moment. “In the past I was more clear cut. I’m thinking about gender, I’m thinking about race, I’m thinking about ethnicity. But more and more, I’ve been more nuanced and specific and allowing that to be speak to some of these larger themes. I think about everyday practices – mothering, bathing, washing, being clean. These are the kinds of things I like to examine.”
This is in part a reflection of her current surroundings and the lives she observes in this frenetic and contradictory city. “Particularly in Lagos, I’m thinking about non formal, informal and formal forms of governance, how spaces are policed and how those aspects come together. What’s happening in the every day and how are you being read? As a woman, there is also a rendering that takes place of how you become, a fixing in so far as how you are postured and how you interact. That’s why I am moving toward using digital capture because I feel that metaphorically, or even metonymically, the medium makes stronger illusions to the things I want to be talking about.”
Aderemi-Ibitola is helping to forge a new wave of digital and performance artists in Lagos, which thanks to ART X Lagos and other events including LagosPhoto, Art Summit Nigeria and Lagos Biennale, as well as spaces ranging from the established (Omenka, Bloom) to the new and edgy (16/16, hFactor), has become the energetic epicentre for Nigerian artists and the West African art market more broadly. “It’s an exciting time to be an emerging artist and have these spaces to show, many of which weren’t even around even three years ago,” she says. So what makes what’s happening here so special? “I don’t know if it’s inherently unique but I see a lot of collage - artists who bring disparate elements together. This is an aesthetic that I think reflects the city. In Lagos you don’t even know how things are fitting together and nothing makes sense but somehow it works. That collaging is something I lean on and other artists do to.”
Her work resonates far beyond Nigeria’s borders too of course. Last year she collaborated with Aziz Hazara at the Khirkee Festival in Delhi on No Box, another time based digital piece examining the impermanence of borders, and the year before she took part in the Openhaus residency at ZK/U in Berlin, which involved the devised theatre workshop Colonial Neighbours. Currently she’s developing the ongoing project Black Tears, a series of short TV videos confronting the human capacity to handle high emotional volatility. Next she’s planning a concept around fast food outlets, and looking into PHD programmes, through which she’ll further explore her performance practice.
It’s this medium - her first love - that gives her most clarity. “A lot of my performances are repetitive acts that are trying to induce a state of being individual. I’m in the zone and I’m concentrating on breathing and movements in order to induce flow and get into a space where it’s almost like having an outer body experience,” she reveals. “Other times I’m not thinking so much and I have an objective that I continue until there’s nothing but action and a primary trance, and then you snap out of it.” Such focussed purpose and quiet determination resonates throughout Aderemi-Ibitola’s work and is why this smart young artist is making waves.
Nataal would like to thank the British Council’s West Africa Arts programme for its support of our Nigeria editorial focus