Inspired by the art of Nigerian street traders.
When photographer Lorenzo Vitturi first visited Lagos in 2014, he expected to find the same gentrifying phenomenon he found in London. He imagined he would find colorful neighborhoods demolished, flattened and replaced by sterile skyscrapers. He expects to have chains and shopping centers, where there have been mothers and shops.
In most cases, his instincts are right. Mass expulsions have become commonplace in Africa’s most populous and fastest-growing city.
But on the island of Lagos, one of the oldest parts of the city, Vitturi is happy to find what he calls “reverse gentrification”. Through the bridge connected to the mainland, the island is home to a local government bursting at the seams, and the expansive Balogun market, vendors selling plastic furniture, cleaning products, bedding, basket, lipsticks and hair gadgets. Over the past two decades, these booths have steadily expanded, and have driven all international Banks, airlines and real estate companies that once lived in the region.
One of the last remnants of the regional company is the 27-story financial trust home. Skyscrapers – once lined with cubicles and buzzing with business executives – are now vacant. The grey pink-pink Sahara has been rotating through windowless Windows in abandoned buildings, gradually covering each surface. “I like the contrast between the grey interior landscape and the chaos of the external market,” Vitturi said. “It’s amazing because these Nigerian street vendors are taking back land from big companies.”
Of course, these companies aren’t completely gone. “They just moved to another place,” explains Vitturi. But Balogun, whose enterprising suppliers and undiminished crowds have captured his imagination.
Vitturi “Money Must Be Made” a book is a celebration of the market, its characteristic is the supplier of portraits, in many times visit to Lagos, and Vitturi by shear he sale product pictures together without photo collage together.
We talked to Vitturi about what sparked his interest in Balogun and how he put his books together. The length and clarity of the interview.
What brought you to Lagos?
I was invited to be an artist resident at the African artist foundation, an art nonprofit in Lagos. They have seen my previous book, Dalston Academy, which is based on the ridley road market, a very diverse African Caribbean food market in east London. I’ve never been to Nigeria or even to the African continent, but I’m actually very familiar with Nigerian culture, Nigerian food, long lived in this part of London.
It looks like you have something in the market.
I guess so! I didn’t initially intend to focus on another market. But then I found the incredible story of Balogun. In London, the market is fighting a high-pitched battle of failure, while in Lagos it is the opposite. The market won.
What surprises you most about Balogun?
The crowd is unstoppable. There is constant movement. I like the feeling there. For some, this may be a little stressful. But for me, I just love energy.
The other thing is creativity, the ingenuity of suppliers. They invent new ways of selling every day to gain a commercial advantage. One of the things I hope I can capture in the book is the audio technology used by different manufacturers. For example, a tailor balanced a sewing machine on his head. On the one hand, he had these big scissors, and in fact he was like a musical instrument. He would open and close them and make this kind of TCH-TCH-TCH sound in fast mode or rhythm. So in this crazy market mess, you can hear that noise, you can find the tailor.
You can see in my book that some suppliers invent new art installations on a daily basis. For example, you will see a man selling simple things like different soap and toothpaste. But he had all these things arranged, and to me it looked like an altar.
Interspersed with the image of the supplier, you use the material you bought in the market, including the collage and sculpture you made. Why is that?
My idea for collage paintings and sculptures comes from suppliers. I was inspired by their art. But it’s important to show all the jumble of things sold and put different things in different environments to see them in new ways.
What are some of the most common items sold?
I’m really interested in watching how the products made in China are invaded.
Take fabric as an example. Nigeria has a long and important tradition of producing textiles. It used to be an important part of Nigeria’s economy. But now the Chinese have got cheaper alternatives. These are just copies of the traditional African model, but the price is incredible – super cheap.
I also bought some prayer MATS. These are made in Ghana and made of plastic – because they are used in the streets. So they have to be cheap, light and durable. But I like the beauty and variety of them, so when I take portraits in the market, I use them as a temporary background. Later, I deconstructed them and used them in some of my sculptures.
In many portraits, you don’t actually see the vendor’s face. In some cases, they cover their faces by raising the items they sell. How did it come about?
I started to show them this way, because most of the women I photographed were muslims. They’ll tell me, ‘I want to be photographed, but I don’t want to show up. ‘but it’s really good for me because these suppliers are so connected to the things they sell every day. It’s their livelihood and their lives.
How did you come up with the idea that money had to be made?
A man I met in the market was actually wearing a shirt that said “must make money”. When I asked him about it, he told me it should be the unofficial Lagos maxim. People from all over the country go there to do business, make money and make their dreams come true.
What do Balogun’s people think of your book?
I haven’t shown off my final product in the market yet. Although I held an exhibition in Lagos at the African artist foundation.
I really didn’t like it when photographers, especially western photographers, went to foreign countries to click on photos and leave. In fact, people in these pictures never see their own images or see how they behave.
So to avoid this, when I put the book together, I printed a series of dummy or models and presented them to different people on the market. I’m interested in seeing their reactions, good or bad, and I’ve actually published some of these responses at the end of the book.
A woman, she said, “I don’t understand why you left so much blank space.” I think it’s interesting because, of course, it’s crowded in Lagos, and every inch of space is occupied. So, in this case, the idea of a white, unused page is meaningless.
In any case, I am considering how to present my work to Balogun suppliers in another performance.
Have you considered setting up a booth there to sell copies?
I’ve thought about it. But the thing is, there’s absolutely no room for new booths!
Inspired by the art of Nigerian street traders.