Who knew that there were so many similarities between Naples in Italy, and Lagos, in Nigeria? Well, artist, Temitayo Ogunbiyi figured it out through her recent installations showing in faraway Italy.
During her research for her latest art project- a playground installation, Temitayo Ogunbiyi realised that there were many similarities in the types of plants that grow or can grow in Lagos and Naples. This discovery alongside an investigation into how everyone is connected despite physical distances formed the starting blocks for her latest artistic adventure.
“No matter where we live, we are all fighting to survive at this moment and this segues into our commonalities as human beings and our basic needs”, she explained. The project titled ‘You will play in every day, running’ was commissioned during the Italy-based museum lockdown in Naples called Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Napoli.
Though the title might sound a bit confusing, its origins make perfect sense. Temitayo explains the origins behind each word in the title. “The word ‘Play’ in English has so many meanings–physical activity, music, theatre. The work can go in so many directions and for this reason, it remains central to the titles I attach to my playground works especially”
According to her, the word ‘Everyday’ speaks to the fact that play will not remain the same again, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic ends, and children will be comfortable in playgrounds that are most familiar and accessible. ‘Running’ for Temitayo began as a reference to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the Black-American man who was murdered while he went jogging.
“I am still so rattled by his death, the deaths of so many black people that have become increasingly visible over the course of this year.‘Running’ also references the determined meanderings of plants, and their resilience and adaptability—I really do find encouragement in how plants persevere and thrive, at times in very unexpected circumstances.” She explained.
The idea for the design of this playground installation was to allow families and their children to have touch-free interactions and play. She believes that the installation will allow people can interact, without necessarily becoming a health threat to the next person. In keeping the families and children faraway yet close while playing, she borrowed a leaf from the way hairstyles were commemorated in the past in Nigeria.
“ I felt it would be fitting to think about this piece as creating a hairstyle to capture and forever remember this moment, where aeroplanes were grounded for a month because the virus had the entire globe, rich and poor, at a standstill,” she said. So inspired by culinary traditions in Naples, botanicals(especially ewedu), threaded hairstyles and the Google Map directions from Lagos to Naples through the road she began to literally ‘cook’ the installation, by using materials also used for cooking, food processing and food consumption.
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She used materials like jute fibre which comes from the same plant as the ewedu leaves, moss used in making cooking ware and concrete to create large, spindly structures that look like spiders, with legs spread wide.
Sadly, the installation will not reach Nigeria, but at least she hopes it will do one thing for the country. Temitayo hopes the people who interact with her installation learn to appreciate plants, and the references to things like Ewedu, hairstyles and the road directions from Naples to Lagos, will incite curiosity to know more about Lagos.
“ I hope the references to their domestic spaces make the space welcoming. And I hope that references to Lagos incite curiosity. And I hope that people will take risks to discover new forms of play that they might continue to enjoy for a long while to come. Lastly, I hope each visitor might leave to plant anew–ideas, seeds, and good energy.”