Review: Native Maqari, LEFTOVERS
Most of the discussion about migration is centered on an international discourse, but there are places like Nigeria, China and India with huge populations where people from the rural areas are migrating to the urban areas and are being treated as migrants for all purposes, and are also facing the same challenges that international migrants face. —Native Maqari
The above quote is profound and sets the tone for Nigerian multi-media artist, Native Maqari’s recent solo exhibition at Lagos-based Omenka Gallery. Titled ‘LEFTOVERS’, the exhibition marks the end of the artist’s residency at the Arthouse Foundation, Lagos. Engaging migration on a national level, Maqari’s work serves as a performed monument to hundreds of young northern Nigerian immigrants referred to as “Almajiri” (Almajiri is Hausa for ‘migrant’ and is derived from the Arabic term ‘Al-muhajir’ for the same).
The exhibition’s main feature, an installation in the form of a shallow graveyard site is modest in its elements and alludes to the growing exploration of unconventional materials and methods in installation and performance in contemporary Nigerian art. Complete with sand and tombstones, the work brings to mind hastily dug graves for a mass burial. On closer inspection, the tombstones turn out to be slates inscribed with Arabic writing and are a testament to these immigrants, who under the guise of studying the Qur’an were sent from rural areas into urban cities but are subsequently left to beg for alms in order to survive.
Walking into the exhibition space, the viewer is transported into a burial site, stirring up melancholic feelings of loss and despair, and recalling several examples of immigrants who, in their search for better lives have died. In November 2017, it was reported that 26 Nigerian immigrants, all women, drowned at sea in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Italy. This is only one of many such cases. The exhibition forces the viewer to consider these children (who we see every day on the streets as we go about our lives) as more than mere statistics.
The exhibition also featured five photographs by Maqari and French director Simon Rouby, depicting scenes of life and people in northern Nigeria as well as a video installation showing a performance by contemporary Nigerian dancer Qudus Onikeku. The performance sets Onikeku against a backdrop of a rural community in sometimes frenzied, sometimes slow, deliberate movement. Performed in public, in front of locals – mostly children – and incorporating symbolic items like slates and whips, the performance drew a connection between the people, their lives and movement across borders. The video installation was punctuated with haunting melancholic music from popular Nigerian singer Brymo.
The exhibition arrives at a climax with a remarkable joint performance by Maqari and Jose Mohammed. Here, the latter reads out a list of immigrants compiled by the United Nations, who died on their journey to greener pastures. Maqari sits cross-legged opposite him, scribbling Arabic text onto a slate, which is later added to the columns of tombstones to accentuate the haunting quality of the exhibition, while Adey Omotade engages the audience with a solo drum performance.
Maqari, with the simple elements and forms employed in this exhibition, has managed to say so much with so little, by directly confronting viewers with a reality many would rather ignore.
September 15, 2021
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