An interview with Olufela Omokeko, leader of the X-MAP project (Slums Makers Art Project) in the Makoko floating slum, in Lagos, Nigeria.
Interview held on January 23, 2022.
In Nigeria for field research on food habits and alternative foods in January 2022, Jean Fox met with talented makers: researchers, entrepreneurs, activists and artists. He spent the day with Olufela Omokeko, artist in residence in Makoko, the slum closest to the Lagos islands. His interview is below.
Can you please introduce yourself and your art?
My name is Olufela Omokeko. I’m a 30 year-old contemporary visual artist, with a focus on performance an art installation. I’m also interested in photography. I’m the artistic director of X-MAP project, which stands for “Slums Makers Art Project”.
I was born and raised in Iweya, Lagos, Nigeria. I moved to art after a personal crisis when I was 22 years old. It’s been a way to escape life’s curve balls.
What motivates me in the morning, is my hope to achieve a simple goal: take care of myself and my family financially and be responsible to my community.
How do I use art to create social development? I’m trying to create a new impact. I believe in the power of makers, art makers in particular.
With the X-MAP project, we use art as a tool for social engagement and development.
I was privileged and received education, whereas 50 to 60% of people living around me are not able to go to school. But the good news is that art can be the lighthouse of development, the lighthouse of a better future to the community.
In a word, art can create a dialogue between the Makoko community and the outside.
I use my performance as a message of social rejuvenation to change the attitudes of the external world towards our community. We want to change the narrative of slums. We all see slums as a dirty place, but with art, we can explain or denounce social and environmental issues among the community. We’re also creating a platform for the community to express themselves through art.
We would like to invite and host artists from other communities, and have a space in the community that can be fully dedicated to art.
What is your feeling about the situation in Nigeria today, after covid and #ENDSARS movement? What’s working? What’s not? What are the challenges?
My point of view is that we’re slowly progressing, going up and then slowing down. We’re always solving the same issues, nothing is sustainable… Whereas development should mean steady progress. As an artist, I try to develop and nurture an underserved community which the government cannot do.
Imagine you had a magic wand… how would you better feed families and kids in particular? across Nigeria? in Makoko?
- First, I would promote going back to nature, to the source, to the tree’s roots. We in Nigeria, Africa, are diverse, but we all have strong roots that can provide solutions for the future.
- Second, I would develop magic tricks and creative recipes that will give us live healthier and longer. Using the power of creativity in culinary art is a powerful tool, I feel.
Is there a last thing we didn’t talk about that you feel is important to say? Something why not, unorthodox!
I am convinced that there’s a relation between art and life in general, art and food in particular.
On the one hand, Art can feed bodies and minds and provide healthy qualitative nutrition. We can get delicious and nutritious food from art. Body & Mind growth is art’s ultimate objective.
On the other hand, the process of nurturing a child is definitely an art, and most of the time, a mom’s art. Cooking is an art, a food art.
It’s all about imagination and creativity. Imagination for a better way to nurture kids. Create new, exciting and affordable recipes.
I personally use raw pepper to create an installation, that denounces food waste.