On Sunday November 1st, “Hacking Conflict: Indonesia Meets Nigeria” opened to an unexpected large crowd at Jogja National Museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The privately funded biennial in its 13th year has gathered an applaudable following in Indonesia and other Asian countries. It continues to expand to other continents through its international collaboration project “The Equator”.
The equator series which started in 2011 was collaboration between forty Indonesian and Indian artists, titled Shadow Lines, with the general theme “The Equator: An Indonesian and Indian Encounter”. In the second phase of the series, they worked with three countries from the Arab region – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirate, and titled the biennial that year Mobility, a symbolic representation of contemporary art practice in its modes of production, distribution, and consumption.
In continuance of this vision to work with countries within the geographic channel of the equator from Indonesia to the West, Indonesia selected Nigeria as their country of choice for an African collaboration. Decisions were based on a number of factors including a consideration for the existing diplomatic relationship between both countries, similar histories of colonization and military rule, and the dynamics of their current political rule. There was also the desire to understand the culture of another country far away from the Asian continent.
Finally, a journey of many visits to Nigeria which started in 2014 reaches a climax at the opening event on November 1st. Before then, some of the Nigerian artists selected for Equator III project had arrived for a residency program a month earlier. Exhibitions at the biennial are divided into four parts – the main exhibition, equator festival, parallel event, and collateral event. The main exhibition is mostly interactive, participatory and activity-based with lots of collaborative presentation between artists from both countries.
In the first report of a series celebrating this Indonesia-Nigeria cultural connection, we present the eleven Nigerian artists participating at the ongoing biennial in Jogja. Their works exploit different art forms from painting, photography, audio and video art, to collage and performance art.
Ndidi Dike, Trace: Transactional Aesthetics
Ndidi Dike presents a collage installation titled Trace: Transactional Aesthetics to bring us closer to the activities of trade and commodities in Nigeria and in Indonesia. She extracts market wares presentation aesthetics in Lagos to compare with the market system in Indonesia. While the market scene from Lagos generally appears chaotic, a closer look shows a pattern of order that is consistent with the market model. Indonesia shows a different but regular aesthetic feature.
Bringing a twist to the presentation, Ndidi Dike points at the colonial pasts of both countries referencing the symbolic tea tray of the English. Printed monies spent in Great Britain and Kingdoms of The Netherlands are wrapped around Nigeria’s flag and Indonesia flag respectively. She brings to fore political underpinnings of food production and consumption. This installation is a major part of the collaboration between Ndidi Dike, Elia Nurvista and Temitayo Ogunbiyi on food and consumption.
Victor Ehikhamenor, The Wealth of Nations
Oloibiri, the small community oil was first discovered and drilled in Nigeria in 1956 rests at the centre of Victor Ehikhamenor’s “The Wealth of Nations” installation. Ehikhamenor demonstrates the process of pollution in communities where oil is produced and government’s attitude to such places in Nigeria. Oloibiri in present day Bayelsa is like other oil producing communities in the Niger Delta region. They have lost their land and water to pollution caused by oil spillage and gas flaring. Instead of benefitting from the abundance of wealth generated from oil wells around them, they remain poor villages and wastelands, with no evidence of modern infrastructure or basic facilities for health care. There is little to show they are compensated by the government or the foreign companies who subject their lands to waste. He uses drums already marked with “Gold, Oil, Jakarta” to connect the shared experience of Nigeria with Indonesia, another oil producing nation with its burden of corruption traceable to oil.
In an outdoor installation connected to The Wealth of Nations titled Sweet Crude Black Gold, Ehikhamenor together with Indonesian artist Maryanto illustrates the danger and environmental damages that comes with the distribution of crude oil through pipelines. “In the presence of oil politics, a nation’s independence becomes crude, humanity becomes increasingly cheap and common welfare sounds like luxury”. Sweet Crude Black Gold underlines the irony that has emerged since man found oil.
Emeka Udemba, Street Slam
Emeka Udemba’s exhibition lies in hacking the new understanding of hierarchy and supremacy. His presentations at the biennial’s main exhibition are in three parts. There is a performance based photography installation where he points at the new faces of supremacy with embedded symbolic features from today’s culturally diverse society. He also questions matters of identity and racial differences. The second part of his exhibition titled Street Slam
questions the hierarchy between art, art institutions and public space. It is a continuation of the project “Molue Mobile Museum of Contemporary Art” popular in Lagos. This time, he uses a mobile cart with an integrated media of video, photos and sound to cut the gap between Lagos and Yogyakarta. The cart operates in the exhibition arena and public space around it. At the opening of the biennial, Udemba’s choreographed performance fused symbols from different culture and ethnic group to communicate cultural differences and advocate an understanding to live together. With this, he moves conflicts existing at racial levels to its most primary form, tribal conflicts.
Uche Okpa Iroha, To Whom Shall We Give it To
In a combined media of video, photography and drawing, Uche Okpa-Iroha reflects on the artist’s existence in the society. He reveals his private life in the midst of social existence connected to his artistic life. In doing this, he involves several people including members of his own family as collaborators. The process of this collaboration, from discussions to negotiation and even arguments are a vehicle or method to understand, evaluate or question one’s identity.
Olanrewaju Tejuosho, Black Market Museum
Olanrewaju Tejuoso’s project Black Market Museum is an offsite exhibition space and a collaborative presentation with individuals, and art collectives, notably members of the Prison Art Programs in Jogja. It is another big project breaking into the politics of natural resources and addressing environmental issues. Every day, human activities generate waste. This is not only through production and consumption of goods and commodities, but also a reference to waste from
application of social norms, values and choices that are discarded by humans. The world trade mission at the centre of the museum parodies the global waste which comes from international trade summits and conferences. Not left out in the waste gathering process is the illegal drug trade and black market system. In this ambitious project, Tejuoso seeks to bring life to the found objects used in setting up the museum space. He places new values on the wastes to jolt the minds of visitors to remember repurposed materials differently.
Aderemi Adegbite, Al-Ikhas: The Purity/The Refining
Furthering a new project titled Time Out which started in Lagos; Aderemi Adegbite continues to explore the importance of family as the bedrock of any society. In the words of Adegbite, he is interested in how past experiences of being part of a family reshapes the individual’s present conditions, and serve as catalysts for “the” surrealistic future. Connecting different aspects of life together, he focuses on issues of religion and military rule experiences in the images of everyday people. Using a technique of superimposition, he inserts himself and persons of similar histories in Yogyakarta into existing images from their family archives to share one connected human story.
He alternates between past and present to create future narratives. Through this series, he realizes a constant in human relationships and how that knowledge can be useful for development. The title of this Jogja project Al-Ikhas: The Purity/The Refining is a chapter in the Holy Quran that emphasizes the sincerity of intention and acceptance of monotheism – the Almighty Allah. Adegbite being a conscious practising Muslim believes that if members of Boko Haram, ISIS, and other Islamic extremists understand this one chapter of the Holy Quran, the world will be at peace.
Temitayo Ogunbiyi, Created Just For You
In collaboration with Ndidi Dike and Indonesian artist Elia Nurvista, Ogunbiyi extends the subject of food resources and consumption beyond trade and politics to a social existence. Her work is placed in the same exhibition space with the other artists to illustrate the flow of food from market to consumption in contemporary times. She connects food to social behaviours of a cultural space and visualizes her narrative through texts obtained from SMS advertisement in Nigeria and romantic films from Indonesia. The texts along with pictures are inscriptions on the fast food packages displayed on the table. Being a participatory exhibition, she invites visitors to rearrange the objects she has created.
Emeka Ogboh, LOS – JOGJA
Emeka Ogboh’s audio installation drives attention to issues surrounding migration and globalization through a peculiar sound recording from Lagos. it is projected in the same exhibition arena as kainebi Osahenye. LOS – JOGJA is a remix of Ogboh’s popular work titled Lagos Soundscapes. Sounds from the audio installation intercept the sounds of the exhibition location and the sound identity of the Jogja.
Amarachi Okafor, I learnt This!
In a highly interactive and continuous exchange leading to this painting installation, Amarachi Okafor went to different academic centres from primary to tertiary asking one major question – “What have we learnt as at 2015?” This question springs from asking several other questions bordering on our experiences as a people and society. “With Nigeria and Indonesia for example, colonial domination changed us but as a people, what is original or indigenous about us?” What have we learnt? Are we fair in our dealings? Do we have respect for each other and constituted authorities? Do we extend care? Do we render help? Are we a developed society?
Before the exhibition (and throughout the biennial), Okafor invites interested people to write what they have learnt on the painting. As at the end of the biennial’s opening day, texts on the canvas cuts across different social issues, including tolerance for other’s sexual orientation and preference, complications from long distance relationship, addiction to mobile devices and social media, gender equality, beauty standards and skin bleaching issues, racial tolerance, language supremacy, and so on.
Kainebi Osahenye, People to People
Kainebi Osahenye continues to explore the collage technique of ‘eyes’ clippings first shown at Shifting Currents exhibition in Lagos, Nigeria. In place of previous materials connected to this concept, he uses burnt and flattened cans as base for the collage. Addressing subjects different from technology and information intelligence, Osahenye in People to People digs into issues of identity, consumerism, environmental damages, relationships and spirituality. The collage consists of several hundred aluminium cans which comes from the consumer society and has further been subjected to burning, altering its identity. On the flattened cans are photographic cut-out of eyes from Indonesians and Nigerians, and cut-out fabrics replicating the flags of both countries. In between are visible brand names connecting the people with different forms of trade. Tying this interaction between people, materials and objects as spiritual, Osahenye brings in the growing relationship between the government of Nigeria and Indonesia as one that continues to extend to the people. The cloth – Dutch wax, commonly known as African print or Batik, which is originally from Indonesia – has become a historical tie bigger than diplomatic relationships between both governments. People to People reminds both countries that in the face of global economic and trade powers, the stance of Nigeria and Indonesia people should be more involved and engaged than just stealing glances.
Segun Adefila, Strategic Multilogue
Segun Adefila performs solely in a single screen video installation as a masked Egungun. He imitates the dialogue or in this case series of dialogues of such a spiritual being. According to traditions in Yoruba communities in the Southwest region of Nigeria, (from which he borrows his performance) the dance is a ritual cleansing of the environment from things seen as negative, a ceremony celebrating births and deaths, and a medium to bring messages of hope. In itself, it is a festival. His words could be lost to an unfamiliar ear, but the ritualistic ceremony in the entire video is a universal language even the Indonesians understand.
In one of the supporting exhibitions of the biennial themed ‘Collateral event’, video art groups from Lagos and Jogja known as VAN Lagos and Mes 56 respectively presents video installations titled Jogja – Lagos: Changing Cities-Shifting Spaces. The installation explores the dynamics of urban spaces at video art workshops led by Jude Anogwih and Wok the Rock, both curators of Hacking Conflicts: Indonesia Meets Nigeria. The performance based videos explored the similarities in sound, behaviour, the cityscape and flexibility of humans in different spaces.
Biennale Jogja XIII runs for forty days from the opening day. Participatory activities and artist’s talk are scheduled through the month of November.