Lagos Biennial 2023
////The 4th edition of the Lagos Biennial will take place in the heart of Lagos on the historic grounds of Tafawa Balewa Square, a site named in honor of the first Nigerian Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The biennial will move the cursor away from a eurocentric history of ‘universal’ exhibitions and biennials in order to create the premises for discussing political alliances, territory, sovereignty, regionality, notions of belonging, encounter, and allegiance.
Lagos Biennial 2023 will encompass experiments in non-conventional models of exhibition making, moving from the idea of the work as an end in itself to generative models and prototypes that will continue to activate possibilities in the world. By situating Lagos as an international geopolitical nerve point and an international hub for artistic expression, the biennial opens a speculative space for the fabrication of alternate realities.////
In the turmoil of an ongoing global crisis with unevenly distributed impacts – coming as the catastrophic culmination of a global system that systematically skews access to human rights, health care, and freedom of movement – it becomes all the more urgent to critically assess our accepted modes of governance and to speculate on what may constitute refuge.
The joint Third and Fourth editions of the Lagos Biennial will open a space for the critical analysis of the nation-state as a locus of political action and vector of belonging, allegiance, and identity, linking this to the imperative to create an operative notion of refuge that may offer alternate paths towards constructing renewable communities and work towards climate justice in this historical moment of systemic crisis.
The Biennial offers an opportunity to reassess the promises, disappointments, and ongoing ramifications of the dominant nation-state model, with its panoply of modes of governance under the aegis of global capital. The critical issues of this 21st century – even though global in reach – are played out in local, national, and regional spaces. Their profound implications and effects on our lives are enabled and activated in the present by choices made at the level of the individual or community.
The 2023 edition of the Lagos Biennial will take place in the heart of Lagos on the historic grounds of Tafawa Balewa Square, a site named in honor of the first Nigerian Prime Minister. The biennial will move the cursor away from a eurocentric history of ‘universal’ exhibitions and biennials in order to create the premises for discussing political allegiance, territory, sovereignty, regionality, notions of belonging, encounter, and alliance. Lagos Biennial 2023 will encompass experiments in non-conventional modes of exhibition making, moving from the idea of the work as an end in itself to generative models and prototypes that will continue to activate possibilities in the world.
By situating Lagos as an international geopolitical nerve point and an international hub for artistic expression, the biennial opens a speculative space for the fabrication of alternate realities.
Artistic Directors: Kathryn Weir & Folakunle Oshun
About Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos
Taking its name from the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria, Tafawa Balewa Square is situated on Lagos Island. The national monument, surrounded by significant memorial sites and buildings, is in constant use for a range of state and commercial events. Initially conceived in 1859 under British rule as a racecourse, a leisure facility for the colonial regime, the 14.5-hectare space was surfaced and remodeled under Nigerian military rule in 1972 to accommodate state events.
Tafawa Balewa Square’s main entrance is surmounted by four giant rearing white horses and features six red eagles perched above the gateway. The square’s main grounds were initially covered in coal tar after the Nigerian independence celebrations in 1960. However, they were later covered with concrete in 1975 during what was known as the Cement Armada, a period when the Lagos port could not accommodate the enormous influx of cargo. Huge consignments of cement from Britain had to moor in the open sea for months. Finally, the Nigerian government bailed them out by purchasing most of the cement to complete capital infrastructure projects across the country. At this time in TBS, a pair of towers without a specific function were also built in addition to the terraced seating and entrance structure that framed the square.
Nearby landmark buildings include the 26-storied Independence House, the tallest building in the country when it was gifted to the Nigerian people by the British government at the end of colonial rule. To the west lies the Remembrance Arcade, commemorating the Nigerian soldiers who died in British battalions in World War I and II and in the country’s civil war (1967-70). Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) is also the site of the former Nigerian National Assembly building. A short distance away is the National Museum, which holds a collection of ancient artifacts.
Since its inception, Lagos Biennial has engaged with layered architectural sites in the city. The first edition of the biennial, curated by Folakunle Oshun with Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh and Kelvin Haizel as guest curators, took place at Nigerian Railway Corporation grounds on the Lagos mainland in 2017. Constructed by the British colonial administration in 1898, the grounds equally housed important parastatals, including the Central Bank and the Ministry of Justice. For its second edition, curated by Antawan Byrd, Oyindamola Fakeye, and Tosin Oshinowo, the biennial took over four floors of Independence House in 2019.
In keeping with this approach to responding to particular places and histories, the 2023 edition of the Lagos Biennial will negotiate space and meditate between contesting visions of the present from within the TBS site whilst also proposing paths to other futures.