1-People's Parliament.jpg

Residency: Place Publique at Fonderie Darling, Montréal
Exhibition: People’s Parliament 18 July - 20 September 2019
Performance: Mumu LP Vol II: The Orchestra 25 August 2019
Curator: Milly Alexandra-Dery
1 June - 31 August 2019

Last year, Ayọ̀ Akínwándé presented Power Show I in Lagos, the beginning of a large exhibition project on the question of social and political power. At first, Akínwándé offered a critique of governmental control of oil and energy resources to the detriment of Nigeria’s population. In the second exhibition, Power Show II: The God-Fathers Are Not to Blame, the artist used street recordings and social media tweets to examine the broken relationship between Nigerian citizens and their government as represented in popular discourse. Invited in residency to realize a project in response to the specific context of Place Publique, Akínwándé presents the beginning of the next iteration of this project, Power Show III: The God-Fathers Must Be Crazy.

On Ottawa street, Akínwándé shows how the opinions of Nigerian citizens form in their daily lives and on the world-wide-web. The artist’s research in Place Publique is twofold: a semi-permanent sculptural and sound installation, The People’s Parliament, and a performance of Mumu LP Vol 2: The Orchestra. Using the form of the Montreal bus shelter, the artist shifts the use of this stopping and waiting area to a listening zone of transposed contexts. The booth offers passersby on Ottawa Street a foray into two worlds: Lagos, a city with a population of over 20 million people where the artist currently lives, and the equally lively space of social networks.

The word “godfather” used in the exhibition titles refers to the political oligarchy of powerful and corrupt men that rule the country. Nigeria is one of many African countries that saw the emergence of a new democratic model in the 1990s and are now experiencing an ambivalent reality wherein most freedoms and opportunities remain accessible only to the political elite determined by the wealth and international alliances of the individuals within it. The People’s Parliament presents newspaper clippings, recorded snatches of heated conversations, and screenshots illustrating political commentaries that are often ironic, indignant, absurd, or plaintive. On Lagos Island and in its surrounding area, almost all bus stops are located near a newspaper stand—a table shaded by an umbrella displaying headlines under a protective plastic cover. In a city of insane traffic like Lagos, schedules and waiting times are unpredictable; bus stops, therefore, become actual meeting places where people debate and fervently or indignantly express their opinions on current events. The work lets us imagine the scene: at the bus stop, everyone speaks with authority, gesticulating and raising their voice to make their case. Speaking to listeners who alternately agree or disagree with one’s statements means engaging in a game of power and credibility and taking a public stance. As with social media platforms, the bus stop becomes a real hotbed of conversations.

In listening to heated voices and reading reactionary tweets in response to Nigerian current events, we are reminded that the frustrations and demands of millions of individuals are voiced on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All this agitation seems infinite, just like on a cable news channel. For Akínwándé, when people protest or complain that nothing is being done, their voices take on a certain rhythm, somewhat like a song being played in a loop in the media or at a bus stop. Mumu LP Vol I gives material form to this idea in a music album, each track of which is a fragment of recorded voices. In the pidgin English used in Nigeria, the word “mumu” refers to an individual with a stupid, naive, or reckless attitude. To give the project concrete form in Place Publique, Akínwándé presents Mumu LP Vol 2: The Orchestra, a performance in which voice archives and the constant absurdity of the contemporary political world are transformed into music. On Thursday, August 8, 2019, Akínwándé will perform the work in collaboration with Montreal musicians.

For more than ten years, Place Publique has been a gathering place where social connections develop through art and civic engagement; on Ottawa street, Akínwándé offers a story within a story of the civic discourses that revitalize the public space. By re-activating conversations recorded in Lagos and screenshots specific to the situation of this megacity, Akínwándé invites the neighborhood’s passersby, workers, and residents to imagine the countless voices that appear in the space of the street and the web, as well as their prevalence worldwide. In the context of programming focused on public interaction, Akínwándé makes a multitude of voices coexist and combine with our own voices.

Milly-Alexandra Dery

translated from French by Oana Avasilichioaei

Artist Statement

The archive is a contested space, a reflection of a past, glorified by the ‘archivist’ – the victor, and vilified by the ‘archived’ – the vanquished. Why questions abound as to the What, Who, When, Where, Whose, Whom, that surrounds the question of the archive, I’m interested in navigating a different kind of question, one that focuses on two key words “Archive” and “Future.” This has led me to my on-going research project “Archiving the Future” which began with making screenshots of social media posts, via my timeline, that borders on socio-political issues discussed by Nigerians.

For my residency at the Darling Foundry for the 2019 Place Publique, I’m interested in the flow of information in global democratic discourses, and how it reflects existing power structures. Information is often vertically projected, and it is a downward flow – from the developed world to the developing – and except for situations of poverty porn, war, terrorism, crisis, there exist no upward flow of information. I’m presenting two site-specific works – The People’s Parliament (opening Thursday 25th July), and Mumu LP Vol.2: The Orchestra (opening Thursday 8th August).

The People’s Parliament (2019) positions the bus stop, as the contemporary “Village Square” – a democratic space that is central to story-telling and knowledge dissemination in various African societies. This site-specific sculptural installation, takes the design and aesthetics of the Montréal bus stops, in conveying the sonic collages and experiences in the city of Lagos, while transforming the space into a “News stop.” The introduction of the 24-hour cable news operation on June 1, 1980 changed our relationship with information, and the news. The sound piece in the installation, which runs non-stop, references this cable news format. The newspaper prints and screenshots are installed to envelop this space, creating some sort of intimacy with the messages and turning it into a “News stop” or an “Archive stop”.

Mumu LP Vol.2: The Orchestra is a performance piece that transforms initial recordings of conversations from newspaper stands into a musical scores that are performed in collaboration with five musicians playing – the trumpet, guitar, bass clarinet, trombone, and viola. In 2016, I began making sound recordings of conversations at newspaper stands in Lagos, and started using these materials in exhibitions and projects. I made a selection of these recordings to create the piece, titled “Mumu LP Vol.1 (2018)” which is made up of 19 tracks that symbolizes the 19-year uninterrupted democratic period (1999-2018)– the longest in Nigeria’s history and reflects on the notion of “freedom of expression.”

The notion of democracy as a utopian system for “all the world’s problems” is constantly being challenged, by recent happenings across ideological struggles, between those on the “Left,” and the “Right,” – and even those who remain in the “Middle.” Both my research, and exhibition projects, which explore these power dynamics, engages with these issues and the relationship between the “Powerful” and the “Powerless.”