The Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency in Action
Oh, well, I can’t help it.
As somebody who derives visual pleasure from the accidental collages of different kinds of posters and graffiti (at their best, they do liven up otherwise drab urban spaces) I have mixed emotions about this. Yes, when I was in Nigeria, the part of me that grew up on moral tales about taking responsibility for your local environment grieved at the sight of Pure Water bags in the streets. This part of me appreciates the value of what these guys are doing. But, it also makes me sad, somewhat. The colourful collages of these posters in the background of photographs documenting the recent elections (and, sadly, the violence that followed) have become an integral and iconic part of my memories of (the reporting of) these events. – Imagine our ancestors had approached the graffiti at the walls of the caves of Lascaux with the same zeal for stainlessness! …
You got to admit they add colour, no? (source: 2SpaceNet, ultimately poss. Reuters)
Yes, I do acknowledge that this are not the caves of Lascaux and that this act of ‘iconoclasm,’ I am sure, is informed by an earnest concern with public hygiene (which is why I put the ‘…’ around ‘iconoclasm’). But, that doesn’t mean that policies about the management of public spaces aren’t informed by ideologies that favour some forms of (public) expression above others and that these distinctions do not reflect broader discourses about (cultural) citizenship. I believe they do. One (wo)man’s act of vandalism is another one’s expression of a disadvantaged minority or a piece of street art. One (wo)man’s act of reconstructing a public space is another one’s act of erasing artefacts of local history or even an act of ‘iconoclasm,’ … and to this art historian the Lagos State authorities removal of election posters is also the destruction of a visual artefact of the 2011 elections and an exercise of control over a local visual culture which, to my mind, is always also a form of expression and reflection of relations and identities within a local culture.
Again, I do understand the criticism of some that election posters were pasted upon almost all available surfaces and, significantly, obscured vital signage. But, to my mind this is also evidence of an ingenious use of limited resources (here, space) and symptomatic of my experience of Nigeria: never subtle, always … well, as somebody ones put it: Nigeria is live in Technicolor. (image source: France 24)
For the record, I do not mean to criticise Lagos authorities for the removal of election posters in their state. This is not my call (even less so since I am currently still writing from London). Nevertheless, the mixed emotions with which I responded to the video got me thinking again about the contexts in which we label some objects as pieces of art and their destruction as acts of iconoclasm while we deny others this label and routinely discard and destroy them … and, yes, a reminder that at one point I will have to dig further into the use of terms such as ‘sanitation’ in policing local cultures, for the record: not only or even primarily in Nigeria.
But for now I leave it at this.