“As We Recede” is a project about Nigeria, one of the most populous and ethnically diverse countries in Africa. It is a ritual of remembrance that looks at periods and events ranging from the founding and naming of the country in 1914 by the British Colonial Governor General Lord Frederick Lugard and his fiancée Flora Shaw, to the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1967 – seven years after her independence – a war that was inevitable considering the fictitious foundation of colonial agenda upon which the country was conceived.
This project departs from the premise that 49 years after the civil war, much of the void between ethnic groups and persons still remain, mainly due to the deliberate attempts by governments and leaders to induce amnesia. This void, over the years, have become sites of tension between peoples trapped in this act of naming of an area which took place a century ago. The dust of dissolution thought to have settled after the war, has resurfaced – giving credence to the premonition of the late poet Christopher Okigbo (who died in the line of duty, during the civil war) when, in Come Thunder, he proclaimed: “The smell of blood already floats in the lavender-mist of the afternoon… and a great fearful thing already tugs at the cables of open air”. This project seeks to revisit history and its unfolding and by so doing, propose a cartography which explores the tensions and disruptions in the space between past and present.
It has a nostalgic quality to it, in that it is predicated on recollection, on lived memories. As an image maker, my approach is to look at the personal archives (a private museum so to speak) of survivors or their relatives, consisting of objects that serve as memorabilia from the days of the war. This could be in the form of documents, currency notes, photographs, jewelleries, clothes or any other significant personal possession. I shall make photographic reproductions of these memorabilia, which I consider relics of a conflict. They carry within them strands of stories preserved in their existence, in each and every dent of usage over the years.
So far, I have travelled (during the Borders Within Trans-Nigerian Road Trip) across 14 States in Nigeria photographing and collecting “residues of memories” from veterans and survivors of the civil war. I equally visited numerous sites of historical occurrences upon which Nigeria was founded. Works such as Ruptured Rapture (Hope Waddell Training Institution/ Calabar River, 2016), “Here We Think Only of The Beginning of Things” (River Benue Bridge, Makurdi, 2016), Tapestry of Time (War Museum Umuahia, 2016) are photographic re-enactments on historical sites, infrastructures and monuments that propose reengagement with the past from one’s foothold in the present. The collected memories, as well as photographic re-enactments are mediated by voices of poets and writers whose works at the time, and more so now, served as premonitions and hints of what future is being woven.