Revealing hidden beauty in Makoko slum

Revealing hidden beauty in Makoko slum

In recent years, densely-populated slum, Makoko has become a destination for artists and philanthropists inspired by the people’s audacious determination to make ends meet against the odds. In this write-up, Ozolua Uhakheme, Assistant Editor Arts, writes on how art is giving a voice to people in that community.

Makoko community in Yaba area of Lagos remains a quintessential habitat that is always in the news.

For years, its residents defied all odds to make themselves happy and comfortable in the midst of many battles to survive.

Despite the harsh living conditions, Makoko residents still live to thrive, to love and survive. Just as in other well-off communities, children still play joyfully, men still laugh heartily amongst themselves and women trade with lively determination. Welcome to a typical day in Makoko as shown by debutant multidisciplinary artist Orry Shenjobi.

Shenjobi, a UK-trained product designer, has chosen to give a voice to this group of unheard Nigerians living in the slum via her first solo art exhibition “Beauty within the struggle”.

Shenjobi’s exhibition, which held recently at Angels and Muse, Ikoyi, Lagos, highlights the beauty found within diverse challenging circumstances experienced by people living there; while exploring stories and perspectives of the “unheard”.

She uses photography as her medium of expression which blended into mixed media for the exhibition.

Featuring 13 art works, Shenjobi took viewers on a journey of exploring this unpopular environment capturing natural settings and people in their true state of mind despite the overwhelming hardship everywhere. The collection boasts of works, such as Washer man, Oja Lori omi (Market on water), Cross Roads, Aduke Beloved, Fin fin, Bring Back Our Girls, Baba Mutun ‘Cool Guy’ and Boys who play.

Though not formally trained as visual artist, Shenjobi’s passion for art early in life prepared her for the current hobby. More importantly, her process of working directly on photographs makes her mixed media a near reality work. She ‘conveys a sense of vibrancy and photorealism through her distinct layering and texturing of surface, which aid in emphasising human complexity and vulnerability.’

However, few additions to the photographs as mixed media are likely to be susceptible to drop off after a long while. Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) is one example where the mask (beauty) is an attachment to a photograph).  Another artwork in this category is Aduke Beloved, which has a blue nylon attachment at the far corner. However, neither of these is a distraction to the message of the works.

Generally, the collection is a strong statement on the need to appreciate the resilience and tenacity of Nigerians to survive irrespective of situations. Also, it tells of the flipside of every situation in life.

Interestingly, before the show was pulled down, no fewer than nine of the 13 works were already tagged red, that is, bought by collectors. That performance, to a large extent, is a feat for a first timer in a COVID-19 era towards the close of the year when attention is on shopping for the season is high.

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For Shenjobi, who studied at the University of Leeds, photography is not her first love but her passion for it is fast growing.

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