My Phantom Africa

I left for the airport from the apartment after three days without power or water. In the neighbourhood diesel generators work round-the-clock and each morning Olufela and Taiwo bucket water from an adjoining street and up two flights.


Members of the festival team and resident artists met the previous night at ‘the wall’, venue for Kris’s installation. A huddle of benches under a yellow circle inviting discussion between community figures opposing the blockade of a longstanding thoroughfare that restricts essential service from several thousand inhabitants.


At a point on the boardwalk between house walls is a deep space where Benin children’s voices echo ja wohl (white person) in a rising chant that stays with me till I reach the workstation on the shore of the lagoon.

Marshal is there with Farouk, Taiwo, Simiat and Olufela, team members assembled by Aderemi to work the festival. It’s very humid, most are in the doorway catching the breeze off the water. Marshal, shirtless is up a ladder securing windows after the recent break-in.


Olufela led me through the mud alleys to a school in the Iwaya ghetto to deliver drawing lessons. The processes developed there evolved into a collaborative installation with the children in a building above the Iwaya market, an open space reverberating with the noise below, twenty square columns occupy the space; blank figures, children traced each other’s profiles concealed and revealed across the angled planes and reflective of existence within the ghetto. In view of the Kings Palace across the divide.


I’ve spent almost three months reading, drawing, writing into my copy of Phantom Africa, Michel Leiris’ account of 1932 Pan-African expedition. The text provides a kind of dreamlike content to the drawings; these posts are initially handwritten notes between the text lines. Stuck for ways to express my experience I begin to transcribe, loosely glancing between pencil and print looking for a form reflective of my search for memory here in Lagos as well as a valency that might measure better to the complex energies flowing in the situations encountered.

I left the apartment this morning, set up camp in the consulate ground, no power or water, more rain, dinner. The other resident artists and I, the consul and the wireless telegrapher last night (and right away there is news) met at the wall. A trader blockade separating ordinary people and elected politics (a bullet in the abdomen).


At night the wall, constructed across an unknown person who raised the side of his tent, through a long standing thoroughfare. The body was taken. The only access to (Roux’s camp a community of 2,000 people) essential services. In touch with the Consul to report as I left for the airport. He had given it as “an apartment” which for several days (is definitely the rumour) no power or water as dignified a burial as possible. The man killed is a member of our diminishing presence, a mission of diesel generators, the aviator attests.
This quality perished with those who took part in the battle. Olufela, self-styled Shakara is a mocking friend and was himself an airman in the time of unrest and with the story of the bullet in the abdomen.


Olufela (rumour did not spread), a sound performance under house arrest on Lagos Island in a state of semi dress grace (black polythene), condemned to solitary confinement, using various hooters he stood as the traffic flow replaced him as its horns and movement. There is heavy noise in the slave traffic of Lagos, his subject if we need convincing is the Lagos diesel generator (what Griaule intends to do) when electric power is off. His work is a homage (2nd July) to his late mother who operated a pepper grinder.


First close contact with the ruins of one in the market below saw three churches as I worked on the installation each, entangled in the machinery, is a constant rhythmic accompaniment to the remains of the forest people whose voices reach what is left of the royal palace on a regular basis.

Tree shelters indicating a miraculous spring, subtle shifts from the normal banter of (the second and third churches) St John, stall holders, the occasional fighter that takes the rhythm to a different graze: the random (church surrounded by a huge ditch) timing a sunken esplanade once a baptismal pool (now dried-up) in Lagos noise for the ritual immersion of street energy (raised up from the waters) via diesel generators these places of worship are dunghills or vocal rhythms – worse than the Dogon echo Chambers.


A gorgeous stage set of silhouettes or a shirt white on blue, small motifs of drowned trees with mules harnessed. A theoretical timelessness punctuated by the beat of drums, we come upon the ruins, a vast area bristling with walls, old palaces with dungeons, time, moments wrap things in events, the key to their original purpose lost. Crumbling staircases rising up to the ruins inseparable from the flow of time .
There’s an ordering, something goes before something else, to the future from the present. Figures with one face, two profiles and three horns reminiscent of Janus, time is fundamental – not emergent.

Somewhere in this is a basis, we will offer it to the church and try to get a fresco in exchange. The history of the colonizing and the colonized and of native intuition… Great alarm this evening: gunshots and Italian horns.
In Iwaya in chains, many churches with only the chief of police to keep an eye on an improvised theatre. Discovered in the church ceremony: two speakers, Griaule and Roux are continuing with microphones to act out, to remove the paintings in the church – a relationship, devious and slowly sharpening this work into relayed questions removing responsibility from the head of the church.


Aderemi, the daughter of the patronne came to life as a public figure – to art as a pastor is to his church. With a sooty complexion, constantly lodged in our camp revolving questions of social responsibility ( …I feel a certain sympathy for the….) repeatedly dissapointed because of her crinkly, short team intitiative and the unkempt hair of community leaders to see his project with round-eyed value.


Yesterday Suraia and Rafaelle, Abba Jerome was admiring a round metal placemat hunting for material to fill the story line of film about food among our tableware, living cultural rituals pierced with holes to create a decorative rosette. Today he asks Roux to draw him Sabo at a street bar so that he can meet a couple, inscribe on it , he works for UNICEF. He is preoccupied with the logistics of supply chain, very stressed, a container forever present – of original sin , the whole container of mosquito nets vanished between ship and shore.


I feel increasingly as if i am dead. I don’t care at all about the representations, which once would have gotten me so excited…. the children in the school crowd into their pews. These are meagre ruses, the head, the emptiness within me, teacher Zachary has a quiet but effective way, only one, of developing La Croix copies of drawing and pattern. Among other things he wears plastic slip-ons like some bishop or arch-bishop, one anticipating with three letters HUN , a slide to the right TER ‘to pray for the elections’.


Sunday. Headache. Aderemi’s friend lies – no mass, fortunately! little sleep – on the floor in the dormitory hallway, haunted by succubi, with a dripbag attached to his arm. He struggles painfully to rise, an impromptu visit from the zar lady. Aderemi starts in like some old honorable gentleman on the woman administering the drip, she is wearing a toga with a wide red band – the man is suffering: the princess with the pure – a bout of malaria and deepening typhoid.


As sullen as ever Lagos works its way in looking more and more like some worthless little … , its diesel generators, hair well braided and oiled, burning plastic, voices raised in quick agitated emotion, perhaps because of her humble position, mood that presses, she gives herself fewer airs. Manic rhythms, doesn’t act the sibyl and try to show off her flashy family connections.

Despite my occasional bouts I am fond of these precarious timber boardwalks, the old zarine rules me like a mother over the lagoon waters whether they know it or not at the Iwaya shanty like the falseness of their possessions and these dear girls, we enter a boarding house, a little tinsel fantasy under a doorway sign “no smoking of Indian hemp here” , a plane of unreality that makes them forget the crushing weight of customary stupidities… The narrow hallway has a floor of black plastic, Aderemi stops yesterday’s interrogation over a man prostrate in a suit. A woman, (her former husband left her because she slept away from home) trying unsuccessfully to secure a bag of orange liquid to a nail that bends under its weight, at present she is the “bed-servant” of the camp orderly, she is Christian, he Muslim, he’s dressed in a nigerian patterned suit of orange and purple cloth, the old healer tries to look respectable while it is she who is obviously in pain. Free of charge Aderemi speaks brusquely to the woman after checking the dance meetings to cure the possessed. We leave the old woman’s house, ‘did you notice he was crying?’ to prepare the coffee, the woman, she doesnt understand the timing for the infusion, he says the man is suffering from malaria and typhoid, it must be given constantly for a couple of days, Aderemi himself was infused yesterday for his condition.


Ibadan, she is too busy, the Yoruba king’s palace in addition to her job, a household of griots, her own troubadours start up but it works out in the end, a seeded calabash, talking drum, iron castanets and a trumpet (camp of her own accord). First three develop a rhythm that’s intermittently, though in all liklihood instructed to do so arrested (renders her incapable of being of service) by a two or three note trumpet blast. Counting in time and shaping space to make her testimony purer and more vivid – then its complete fragmentation. Please, a sign of appreciation.

Iwaya, an unpleasant scene with the lame informant, the suburb fringed by a lagoon and settled on the amount due by Benin fisher people, tidal flats a manuscript of mud tracks and timber walkways at the end of my tether, shopkeepers, so I spell it out for him, net menders, boat builders, hemp smokers. and (He can stop quibbling over the agreed price or he can leave) Aderemi’s Vernacular Art Laboratory calms down and ends up perhaps waiting for a unicorn on the shores of the lagoon. In fact he casts some substantial light on the brotherhood , children’s drawing lessons, the guenda is a sort of altar as well as a measurement of proportions the sign of commandment conferred by a muslim hermit.


Nearby Makoko, possessed by several spirits who went on a pilgrimage , between stilt houses with his blessing. On the boat we were sung by Daio and Olufela through the waterways made famous as an example of self-organization by Rem Koolhas, he gives them the right to keep the coffee tray and, in turn to cure the possessed.

Photo Credits:

> Kris Russo

* Yusuf Durodola

# Rafaele Fortunati


About nameerdavis

I'm drawn to the crowd and the culture it foments.
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2 Responses to My Phantom Africa

  1. painter12 says:

    Thank you Nameer, I enjoyed the crashing intensity of your experience, that you should choose to suffer so in search of truth, here in your writing is truth. Hope you are not dead yet and you can tell some stories to us one day. Great posts with figures. David

    Liked by 1 person

  2. james rogers says:

    I feel I should rephrase my observation that you had an adventure. Excitement wasn’t winning through, seemed a very existentially raw confrontation while reflecting on your childhood recollections. A bit too Conrad and the Heart of Darkness creeping in. Though the works on the columns sing a bright enough tune. I will re-read and see if I misconstrued, hope things are busy enough over Christmas to carry you along for a perspective. Cheers for now, J


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