Lagos Biennial 2, 2019, Àkéte Art Foundation, Lagos, Nigeria
Collaborative Series entitled: Fly-overs and Drive-bys
By South African Artists Karen Stewart and Ed Suter

South African artists Karen Stewart and Ed Suter were among the 38 selected artists chosen from 350 applications received for the second iteration of the Lagos Biennial entitled: “How to Build a Lagoon with Just a Bottle of Wine?” The Lagos Biennial 2 was touted by the New York Times as one of two international Biennials worth travelling for.[1] The title was adapted from the poem, “A Song For Lagos” by the Nigerian writer Akeem Lasisi. The curators framed the title as a provocation for artists and the public to meditate on the history and present construction of a city’s built environment. According to the curators, the title conjures the impossible and speaks to the city’s “can-do” spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable social, political, and economic obstacles.

The curatorial panel consists of Antawan I. Byrd, Tosin Oshinowo and Oyinda Fakeye whom come from diverse art backgrounds and have made significant contributions to the popularity and rise of contemporary African art internationally.

The forthcoming biennial will take the city of Lagos as its epicentre and point of departure for a broader investigation on how contemporary artists, designers, and other creatives are responding to the challenges and possibilities of environments today. [2]

Stewart (a collage artist) and Suter (a photographer) are presenting a collaborative project for the Biennial. The work entitled “Fly-overs and Drive-bys” incorporates images taken of the everyday functional but overlooked spaces around Cape Town, South Africa that carry both foot and vehicular commuters to and from their places of work, worship and home. These images have a sense of infinity and seem to ask the audience: “Where is this going, and is this how we get there?” There is a surprising grace and harmony the artists see in the use of harsh concrete forms, places of function and unexpected beauty amidst the non-stop roar of traffic noise.

Functionally these spaces connect people with the city but they also have an elegance and odd potential for contemplation. We ask viewers to connect with how the people walking through the spaces feel – what do they see, what are they thinking? Although they are not visible in the images their presence is implied. The images challenge those fortunate enough to drive, to connect with the experience of a daily commuter moving through these apparently inhospitable spaces on foot. The images raise questions relating to the topic of economic disparity in an African city with a huge wealth gap. In this body of work, the artists’ intention is to create the feeling of an ideal state, and provide a reflective space for the audience to contemplate their own position in relation to our radically changing cities, both physically and emotionally.

The works answer to the Biennial theme, by expressing the artist’s different yet emotive responses to their built environment. Stewart juxtaposes Suter’s photographic images with the paper collage works. There is a tension and a conversation created between the A1-sized works that hang side by side. The series was custom made in response to the Biennial theme and have never been shown anywhere else in the world.

During October and November Lagos becomes an epicentre of cultural activity, Art X, the Lagos Photo Festival, the Lagos Book Arts festival and music festivals all take place. According to the website, the Biennial positions the city of Lagos as a hub that supports and promotes contemporary art through exhibitions, public programs, publications, research, and residencies. The Biennial privileges adventurous approaches to art-making, presentation, and critical discourse and it aspires to broach complex social and political problems.[3]

Lagos is fast becoming a space that is attracting some of the most exciting and challenging cultural makers not only in Africa but the world. The exhibition will certainly cultivate new audiences and establish fresh modes of engagement within the city, the country and internationally. The artists are both very excited about being included in an exhibition that focuses on an African city and gives artists a platform from which to express divergent views.

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