The beautiful city of Lagos was abuzz at the Tafawa Balewa Square, which hosted the much-anticipated 2024 edition of the Lagos Biennial, igniting immense excitement among global art enthusiasts. With 80 participants from 30 countries converging to explore the theme of “Refuge,” the biennial served as a unique platform for reflecting on Lagos’s cultural heritage and also the historic site of Tafawa Balewa Square, where Nigeria celebrated its independence in 1960.
Folakunle Oshun, the Biennial’s founder and co-artistic director, articulated a key focus on reimagining Lagos’s cultural richness, drawing inspiration from FESTAC’s legacy 50 years later. At the official press briefing held at AGIP Hall, Muson Centre, he underscored the event’s role in evaluating the promises, disappointments, and ongoing ramifications of the nation-state model within the global capital framework.
Co-artistic director Kathryn Weir emphasized the symbolic significance of Tafawa Balewa Square in Nigeria’s aspirations, expressing excitement about providing artists with a platform to explore and create. Emotionally overwhelmed, Folakunle, during expressions of gratitude, couldn’t hold back tears, highlighting the arduous journey to make this post-pandemic event a reality.
This marked the first physical edition since 2019. Advisory board member N’Goné Fall noted that the Lagos Biennial 2024 showcased the potent force of solidarity. She also said that it exemplified the art community’s unwavering determination amidst global challenges.
Originally scheduled for 2023, the biennial echoed the resilience and unity of the art community. It kicked off with captivating performances by Kukily Afrofeminist Arts Collective (XTRÆNCESTRAL) and Keziah Jones. This set the pace for an exhilarating week filled with gregarious architectures, CAPTCHA installations, and also Worldmade communities hosting roundtable discussions.
The transformative power of creativity was exemplified in installations like “Free Visa” by Kiluanji Kia Henda and Paulo Moreira. It invited participants to immerse themselves in the spirit of Lagos. Notable installations, including Stéphanie Brossard’s ‘Boukan,’ Olaniyi Studio’s (Yussef Agbo-Ola) ‘AIRI: BONE ALTAR 2024,’ as well as Em’kal Eyongakpa’s ‘Betok babhi, Babhi betandat bassem,’ adorned Tafawa Balewa Square, captivating visitors.
Victor Ehikamenor’s “Miracle Central 2024” stood out, with thousands of white handkerchiefs symbolizing expressions of religion and culture. It further referenced how for decades TBS has remained a ground for pentcoastal crusades and revivals.
Other remarkable exhibits included Bruce Onobrakpeya’s metal robot-like sculptures paying homage to Urhobo culture, Ibrahim Mahama’s sprawling “YAKACHANA” made from jute sacks, and also Chinenye Emelogu’s “Human Hive 3 2024,” depicting the unpredictable dynamics of social constructs in Nigeria.
Collaborating with the Lagos Biennial were Alliance Française, Nomadic Art Gallery, and GAS Foundations, among others, further adding depth to the artistic experience. Established in 2017 by artists, the Lagos Biennial, under the Àkéte Art Foundation. It is a non-profit contemporary art platform endorsed by the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism. The 2024 Lagos Biennial was sponsored by Royal Air Maroc, Terra Foundation for American Art, Guest Artists Space Foundation, and others.