A Curator from Lagos is Propelling Curating Forward like a Skilled Cyclist
On the spectrum between spontaneity and premeditation I am a planner. I like process and I like to plan. From the onset of any given activity, I would always have a pre-designed trajectory, albeit it may not follow its planned course because of life’s consistent gift of curveballs. The idea for my recent project “Beautiful: The Exposition” at the gallery of Freedom Park in Lagos, was birthed out of necessity a few weeks before the beginning of 2019. I had just concluded an exhibition with collagist Sylvester Aguddah in October, and I was antsy about mapping out my activities for the new year. Doing so successfully entailed having a vision for a new project. One evening, I was sitting outside on my porch in reflection, when, bam! My vision came to me about a project that would be titled “Beautiful” and that would specifically inquire about artists’ perception of beauty. I immediately began scribbling the project down on my notebook. I decided for a multidimensional approach that would include an exhibition, a documentary film, and a collectors’ corner to show select works from three private collections. That evening, I designed the entire structure, and even contacted one of the two first exhibiting artists, Ronke Komolafe, who works in hyperrealist drawings. That is how my entire life works: a direction matures in my head, then I catch it on paper and plan out every detail, from who will be doing it with me and how, to the location and the next steps. Having said that, an interesting unforeseen inclusion was made months into the preparations of “Beautiful”, when Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka requested to collaborate as the thematics of his latest book were akin to the project. I went on to insert a fourth part to the project with a prelude presentation of his book “Beyond Aesthetics: Use, Abuse and Dissonance in African Art Traditions”.
Music is indispensable to my life, and my musical inspiration is Nigerian first. I am completely enamoured by indigenous Nigerian music, and among its different styles, such as Highlife, Ogene, Juju, Sakara, Waka, etc. I am most inspired by Afrobeat. Afrobeat is about the seamless melange of traditional and modern musical elements (such as timbre, pitch, texture, tempo, etc.) to create timeless music. It has a unique lyricism that earmarks it as conscious music centred around social and political matters, easily promoting Pan-Africanism. The discography of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who pioneered the Afrobeat genre sits atop the list of my most played songs. I also enjoy the Asiko music of Madam Comfort Omoge, whose hit gospel song “Olorun mi, iwo ni ma sin” (I will follow you all my life, My Dear God) stands as one of the most popular in Nigeria’s Southwestern community. There is also the group now called Dr Sir Warrior & His Oriental Brothers International Band. Originally it was the premier Highlife band from Eastern Nigeria to come together just after the civil war in the early 70s, and it is highly recognised for providing musical succour to the people who were recovering from that traumatic period.
I also love jazz and its chaotic harmony. Some of my favorites include Billie Holiday, American saxophonist David Sanborn, fusion Nigerian bass player and composer Wole Jesutomi, and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. I am also crazy about the Senegalese musician Cheikh Lô, the German rock band Rammstein, and the Nigerian contemporary band Bantu.
And music is also paramount for the emancipation of Africa and Africans. It was my interest in understanding the history of our contemporary music scene that led to my total embrace for our indigenous sounds. Most of all, I enjoy the musicianship of Femi Kuti who creates both Afrobeat and Jazz. I have been blessed to make his acquaintance and witness countless live performances by him. You would hardly find me sitting when he is on stage. FK, as I call him, infuses political activism into his passion. My top two songs are “You Better Ask Yourself” and “Plenty Nonsense”, because the lyrics of these songs address the lack in moral codes of those at the helm of affairs, and it openly challenges the ethos of our government and that of the entire continent. His music aligns with my views on social and political consciousness, and is mnemonic of the indigent state of the country and the African continent. His music is a clarion call for good governance and accountability of African leaders, and the emancipation of Africa and Africans. These are causes my entire life is dedicated to and it is no surprise why FK’s music is what it is to me.
I have a long-standing personal tradition that consists in including in my outfits at least one item that speaks to my Africanness. A pair of Ankara trousers, a tee-shirt, and a scarf draped over my shoulders—and I’m good to go! I mostly buy indigenously produced wearables: handmade bags, scarves, and even my hair bonnets are locally produced.
I am a desktop gal. If I am not close to my screen, my phone then covers temporarily. I am hardly distracted when working away sitting at my desk. It is by far one of the most effective tech tools that I use.
I am a cyclist. It is the one sport that I made into a lifestyle. I cycle nearly every day through the busy streets of Lagos to commute to work or for personal errands. Sadly in Nigeria, there is not a policy that encourages cycling as an alternative mode of transportation, nor are the roads built to accommodate bicycles. There are a couple of cycling groups around the country, and I am part of one called the Bikaholics of Lagos. Here, we engage in pro-cycling activities to create more awareness on cycling as an alternative means of transportation (advocating for the creation of lanes for example).
I grew up all around Nigeria, and have been to thirty of its thirty-six states. Lagos is an audacious State with innumerable personalities, and I love to walk its bustling streets. I also love to reminisce on my interactions with the diverse native cultures of Plateau State in the streets of its capital Jos. Located in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, Jos (or “J-Town”), is where I used to climb the Shere Hills and pass the crowds gathered at the entrance of the Kwararafa Cinema.
But there is also Imo state, in south-eastern Nigeria, with its colourful communities and villages. I like strolling through the terrains of the Ogbotukwu junction, down to the market square behind St. Mary’s Church, or running from the hills to the stream, following the entourage of an Iwa-Akwa ceremony (which is Igbo for an adult initiation ceremony) or encountering a Mmanwu (which is Igbo for masquerade).
I like to take long walks, especially when I am in a new environment, it is the fastest way to discover it. Even in familiar environments, I never find a route the same way as when I last saw it, there is always an addition or something removed.
When I am not curating you will find me tucked away in a coffee house reading and writing, and enjoying several cups of coffee and cookies. You can also find me at the New Afrikan Shrine, an open air entertainment centre in Lagos, dancing my heart out while Femi Kuti and his Positive Force Band perform, or in the company of dear friends sharing conversations almost always centred around the arts. You could also find me home with my dog, Midas.
I do not think there is just one way to know a person. However, I am a keen observer and I take note of the most minute details about someone, such as one’s ability to say “I don’t know”, or to follow simple etiquette like keeping the trash on them until they find a proper way of disposing it. This helps me in figuring out the underlying traits of character of an individual, and if I want to know more about them or not.
Artists are a different breed. Usually far from what is deemed regular. I cannot at this time pinpoint what is or are the best ways to know an artist, but somehow through the years, I have done a somewhat good job at figuring them out.
When I travel, the bulk of my luggage usually consists of books. I always carry more books than is necessary under the pretext of not running out of reference materials. “Too much” and “unnecessary” are two expressions that do not exist in my dictionary when it comes to the number of books I carry around.
The perfect meal with friends is going out to a Buka (a food stall with an open kitchen) and enjoying hot, steamy plates of abula. Abula is a Yoruba mixed dish which comprises amala (a brown paste made from yam flour), ewedu (a soup made from jute leaves), obe ata (a stew), chunks of ogufe (goat meat) and assorted (offals).
We could also be sharing a tray of a gigantic catfish with fries as a side dish. Oh heavens!
The one guilty pleasure I can finally come clean about is that I enjoy (a lot) gallows humour (dark comedy), including the reactions of outrage it stirs when it is practiced in public. Topics are usually provocative and/or hard to discuss, ranging from death to violence, and often displayed in grotesque and cynical manners.
The book that still haunts me today is one I have read many times until it disappeared ten years ago. It is a novel called “The Wailing Masses” (1999) by Mohammed Adeiza. From what I can remember, its principal theme was poverty with subthemes based on community, sexual abuse of minors, and moral corruption. I first read it in 2007, and each time I visited the library afterwards, I would reread it alongside the other new book I picked. Unfortunately, one day in 2010 I went to the library and it was not there anymore. None of the six copies were to be found. I have searched for the book and even for that author ever since, and found neither of them. I turned the corners of the internet inside out, and still nothing. This haunts me till date.
My perfect holiday is one spent in the company of loved ones. It also entails interacting with the art, culture, and people of the given location.
I feel at home when I have connected with my environment. Familiarizing myself with the terrains and inhabitants of a particular area is an important part of the process. My relationship to my environment is critical to the peace that comes from the feeling of being at home.
What inspires me most about curating is the plurality of the entire process. I enjoy conversing with artists, sharing and helping bring to realization some of their most unarticulated and unclear aspirations. The posthumous exhibition that I am currently putting together for mixed media Nigerian renowned artist Dr. David Dale (1947-2019) is a result of such process. When he was just admitted in the hospital, one of our conversations was about an exhibition that would take place after he was discharged, which would include works he would have started upon returning to his studio. It was this exhibition that he really looked forward to and which occupied most of our convos up until his death.
Curating is also about the infinite experiences created for others, I try to create a new experience for the audience every time I curate. Finally, the ultimate feeling of satisfaction derives from starting from uncertainty. At the beginning of every new project, I always have to contend with this feeling of cluelessness—call it nerves if you will—up until a few days before the show.
I actually collect pens and own a decent collection (that increases by the day). I spend the longest time shopping for pens, compared to any other thing that I own. There are many reasons for my ability to concentrate, one of which is my inspiration for the tales told by pens, my considering of the person who wielded the pen at some point, and of the period when they did. I am particular about fine tips, and I have found a sense of home in nearly all Waterman fountain pens and Pilot pens. My most treasured pen is my Waterman Concorde (c.1970), that was gifted to me in 2018.
If I wasn’t curating I would either have a career in diplomacy and global relations, or be a paediatrician.
Kehinde (or Kennii) Ekundayo
Kehinde “Kennii” Ekundayo is an independent art curator based in Lagos, Nigeria. Specific about modern and contemporary African art, she has curated exhibitions around the country. Her professional practice began in March 2017 with a group exhibition of amateur photographers, and has grown to curating key projects involving the likes of revered legendary artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, in various media ranging from drawings and paintings, to film and photographs, to texts and installations amongst other art forms.
She is affiliated with the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), a Nigerian nonprofit platform for artists, art critics and aficionados, and culture advocates as the Communications Officer. She is also a part of the organizing team of the Lagos Book & Art Festival, LABAF, a yearly prime literacy and youth empowerment project that is now in its 21st edition.
Ekundayo has a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Languages with a concentration in French and Francophone Studies from Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun State, Nigeria.She is currently working on following up her recent project “Beautiful: The Exposition”, and on a posthumous exhibition in the memory of Dr David Dale who passed on August 6, 2019.