For social responsibility, Alakija’s Molue beats restrictions
REMEMBER the keke (tricycle) used as a canvas in a painting at Wheatbaker about two years ago? Yes, it’s one of the works of Polly Alakija, from her last solo exhibition titled Here and There. But the artist, few days ago returned for a similar work as she hit Lagos streets in a larger format of a commercial bus Molue, on which she painted dancers and strings of native gangan (talking drum).
On Sunday, the Molue bus as a canvas was driven across Lagos Island – restricted routes by Lagos State Government for the commercial buses – through the mainland with some unusual passengers. Alakija’s Molue project was in collaboration with We Love Lagos, a non-governmental organisation helping in raising funds for two social empowerment groups. The not-for-profits beneficiaries are Eruobodo House, a home for disabled children, based in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, maintained by Quintessence and requires expansion to serve the community better; and Parkhood Dancers, a community dance troupe established by Sina Ipaye at Freedom Park, Lagos Island, to develop the talents of young persons.
Few days ahead of the formal presentation, a 911 bus, parked at Quintessence Gallery, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos has just lost its yellow colour and black stripes identity of Lagos commercial vehicles to the realism figures from Alakija’s brush strokes. Though still in its yellow dominance, Alakija’s Molue attracts attention more for the figures, painted in brown. It appears ready to go. For Aakija, the Molue canvas of murals extends her Artist-in-Residence idea she has been doing across the country, taking art into the streets. “This is to create awareness for the fundraising for Eruobodo and Parkhood Dancrs,” Alakija confirms shortly after taking a break from the painting for a chat with one inquisitive visitor. But she relishes the passion in using the fundraising to take art appreciation to the streets, particularly using an iconic name like Molue.
“People ask me: why molue?” It’s “iconic,” she notes. “And it’s disappearing.” She recalls the popularity of molue bus on Lagos roads in the 1970s, and draws coincidence with the rising fame of Fela whose music, coincidentally preaches freedom from the shackles of government. The common narrative for the Molue project in fund raising, she explains “is freedom,” which connects the dancers at Freedom Park with the inmates at Eruobobo Home.
Included in the exhibition were prints of paintings by Alakija as parts of the source for the fund raising. Also from the Molue object, “a numbered collector prints will be made and sold” from which “a percentage of the proceeds of the sales will go to support Eruobodo and Parkland Dancers.”
Part of the contents of the print, Alakija discloses, are texts extracted from a book Possessed” by Olasupo Shasore. Alakija describes the book “as a fascinating look at Colonial Lagos, fromw hich I have drawn inspiration about The Drumming Question, which tells the story of the Governor of Lagos who tried to “ restrict “ drumming in Lagos.”
Alakija’s previous Artist-in-Residence included a projects at Ibadan International School with the support of Skretting Nigeria when she painted on a 1970s Bedford truck still in use for transporting timber in Oyo state. Also, in Kaduna, she painted a 1960 Stern Water Tanker in acrylic, depicting a scene from the Kangimi fishing village. From the painting of the water tanker, “a limited edition of 50 archival quality injet diptych prints were created and will soon be on sale.”
While the timber carrier and water tanker still move around Ibadan and Kaduna with Alakija’s paintings, the Molue in Lagos would not be as lucky: the iconic bus is barred from the Lagos and Victoria Islands by the Lagos State Government. But for the purpose of the project, “permission has been granted” to drive the bus within the city.
Beyond the project, what becomes the fate of the mural look Molue? “The molue is rented and will be returned to the owner,” Alakija says, almost lamenting. In a country that has no museum for modern and contemporary antiquities, molue may never be seen by young people in the generations to come. In fact, Alakija’s choice of Molue for the project “is driven by apprehension” that the bus may go into extinction without adequate documentation.
The bus was driven from the Island across the Mainland to National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos with select passengers.
“The background for this stunning visual aide memoire to another time will be Freedom Park, the iconic heritage park located on Lagos Island itself the Broad Street site of the former colonial prison. It is now the venue for able bodied people to enjoy the freedom of their own good health and vitality. The depiction of the members of Parkhood Dancers, the young group of dancers that practice daily in Freedom Park will serve to illustrate the stark contrast in the lack of freedom with which the disabled children at Eruobodo House contend.”