This is essay is reprinted from the MFAH Core catalogue, Core 2012 Yearbook, © 2012. This essay is also featured on www.artandeducation.net.
In his work Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh records the sounds of Lagos, particularly focusing on the noise of danfo and molue buses, and installs his soundscapes in the milieu of other cities. This essay examines the political implications of this gesture. I argue that Ogboh’s practice doesn’t just celebrate the vibrant urban sounds of Lagos but foregrounds the medium of sound to reflect on the African city as a space historically shaped by and entangled in economic, social, and cultural interrelationships with the rest of the world.1
Ogboh’s sound installations focus on Lagos—the city in which he lives–exploring what the artist describes as its “history and aural infrastructure.”2 In galleries, he usually installs the work in booths where audiences listen to the recordings through earphones. Sometimes he places speakers and megaphones blaring with Lagos sounds in the streets of cities such as Cologne or Helsinki in order to initiate dialogue on globalization, migration, and multi-culturalism. One could read Ogboh’s practice within the context of Camerounian philosopher and critic Achille Mbembe’s Afropolitanism: a cosmopolitan understanding of Africa as a dynamic cultural hybrid, a “world in movement.” Afropolitanism describes Africa as a product of continuous “itinerancy, mobility and movement” of diverse peoples from all corners of the globe into and out of the continent and within its geographical boundaries.3 Present day Africa is a mixture of Asian, European, and indigenous peoples and cultures which have been in political and economic interrelationships for millennia. Mbembe uses the term “afropolis” to refer to major African cities such as Lagos, Cairo, and Johannesburg, cosmopolitan spaces implicated in and shaped by complex, skewed and asymmetrical global flows of ideas, goods, capital, and people.4 Following this framework, the essay examines how Ogboh inserts the sounds of Lagos into the soundscapes of Western cities to highlight the socio-political imbalances and contradictions of globalization, focusing on two sound clips titled Lagos by Bus and the installation Lagos Soundscapes in Cologne: Reception of Strangeness and Consumption of Difference.