Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria's call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom, peace and
Nigeria National Anthem (1978)
The exhibition Before, Before & Now, Now results from an collaboration maintained between Tafeta gallery (London) and Mira Forum (Porto), organized by the curator Inês Valle and Dr. Charles Gore, professor of African art and culture at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies).
There are a plenty of photography’s, which allows us to reconstitute key-historical narratives about Nigeria, from the British colonial occupation in the late 19the century and the Amalgamation, until the proclamation of its national independence in 1960, as well as, perceptions from the contemporary period.
It is an extensive visual travelling that combines the past (before) and the present (now), a reflection about the memory, identical to a photobiography which registers the birth and the complex evolution of the Nigerian’s nation, including an individual vision of the traditional and the modern society that is juxtaposed in dialog with architecture, the rural and the urban landscapes and also cinematographic pictures.
The photo of Aisha Augie-Kuta showing three little girls wearing a wrapper and a t-shirt leaning against a cabin contrasts with the typical African costumes worn by women in the beginning of the 20the century. We can enhance the attentive expression of these girls that makes us wonder what are they thinking about, specially the intelligent look of the youngest that lays on the shadow of the door.
The self-portrait of Adeola Olagunju’s in which the artist is holding and reading Victor Ehikhamenor’s Excuse me or Emeka Okereke’s photographs of traveler heading to Lagos in an metro station, finds a great difference at the ceremony that celebrated Nigeria’s Amalgamation, captured by Alfred Carew, opposing the individual figures and their silence to the magnificence of the collective formation.
The vessel stranded in the Atlantic sea, photographed by Adolphus Opara, seems to respond to the construction of a small boat by the colonial administration in a recent past. The idea of civilization based on the technique and in the industrial progress lays down at the depth of the ocean.
In this exhibition we can also see the shining face of the Nigerian’s singer Nneka, registered by Andrew Esiebo, differing from the austerity and circumspection, which involves the mythical presence of the Oba seated in a tricycle, obtained in 1931 by J. A. Green.
In the contemporary age, the courage and the braveness of the Nigerian firemen, shown in a photo which has echoes from the photojournalistic aesthetics shoot by N. W. Holm, keeps alive the memory that, just until the second half of the last century, the only vehicle available to fight against fire in Lagos belonged to the colonial authorities that, just in rare situations, used to provide it to the local populations. The main technical sources were controlled and dominated by the colonial elites that, keeping the power to act, could explore more effectively the fragilities of the Nigerian people. This image, in the present of this century, represents a claim against an historical injustice: the denial of the necessary self-determination.
The main title of this exhibition does not constitute an inconsequent repetition. It also reveals that the historical time of Nigeria through the photography created by the ancient and the modern authors is none the less a dialectical discourse crossing the past in the reality of the present. One can ask: what image will fix Nigeria’s future?
By Pedro Marques Pinto