24 Hours of the Smithsonian In Lagos: An immersive art experience

multi-sensory affair

Last week, the Museum of African Art launched its global presence in Lagos, Nigeria with an immersive art exhibition titled ‘Taste! 24 Hours of Smithsonian in Lagos.’ The collaborative interactive art experience in partnership with Art X Lagos, the African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) and David Adjaye designed venue Alára brought together the international, Nigeria and African diaspora through the worlds of film, art, photography, and fashion.


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Taste! was curated by former Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow Temitayo Ogunbiyi, who created a multisensory, participative art experience that involves the use of sound, photography, and food by sound artist Emeka Ogboh, New York-based photographer Iké Udé and Temitayo Ogunbiyi in collaboration with chef Renèe Chuks. The three-day event kicked off in Lagos last Friday with Taste! Mystique, a masterclass for a group of Lagos-based photographers in collaboration with the African Artists’ Foundation.

“Taste!” seeks to question assumptions concerning culture, geography and identity. By appealing to the senses, Temitayo Ogunbiyi, Emeka Ogboh, Iké Udé, and Chef Renèe Chuks urge the audience to remember, recognize and interact with the project based on personal experiences.

Speaking about the event, Ogunbiyi shares that:

“There are a lot of ways to interpret the term. This is why we thought it was so fitting to be the umbrella term for this wide range of experiences.”

Intrigued by the prospect of an all-immersive multi-sensory experience, I attended all three days of the event and uncovered the magic of the intersection between our senses and the art, music, fashion and photography we consume.


On this day, guests are wowed by the culinary prowess of Chef Renèe Chuks who curates a menu of fresh Cuban mint and broccoli leaves – grown in Ogunbiyi’s home garden – mixed with her locally sourced squid ink, pineapple, hibiscus, turmeric, and Bambara, honours their connection to Yoruba cooking techniques. Many of these ingredients connect to Yoruba healing, traditions, sustainability, biodiversity, and the memories we hold in our senses.

Ogunbiyi’s delicate and nuanced offerings of “botanical hairstyles” are unusually presented alongside the tasting experience. Her works fuse botanical forms with the shapes of hairstyles she has observed in the Caribbean, West Africa, and wherever she draws inspiration. Selections from Ogunbiyi’s renderings are printed on the server’s and usher’s custom aprons – as well as take-home gift items.

Ogunbiyi also shares: “The experience that I’ve worked to shape –’Taste! Memory’, we’re really looking at food traditions that connect to Lagos from our personal experiences. It was exciting to work with Chef Renèe Chuks, to think about our connection to the city. Whether it’s eating chin-chin or cooking and innovating from Efo, we tried to think through in curating this experience with food and drinks.”


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On November 5, Iké Udé partnered with the African Artists’ Foundation to lead a master class for a group of emerging Lagos-based photographers. Udé is Best known for his conceptual photographic portraits that explore issues of representation – across sexual, gender, cultural, and stylistic identity.

The young artists tutored by Udé in his signature style – creating mystique at the intersection of harmony and the unexpected – took portraits of Nollywood Star, Enyinna Nwigwe. ‘Taste! Mystique’, the three-day art experience involved a masterclass, an exhibition with interactive studio sets, and a ‘Tableau Vivant’ living installation.

Alongside photographs from the master class, Udé presents two bespoke studio sets that reflect and disrupt distinct, cultural references from Lagos and beyond. The opulent Nollywood-inspired sets offer attendees an opportunity to take photographs, perform, and commune. Within Udé’s compositions, participants can choose how to participate in personal negotiations of space and proximity.

The ‘Taste! Mystique’ experience culminates in a living installation on the opening night of the Africa International Film Festival. Guests of the opening celebrations can become works of art by posing for photographs against another of Udé’s exuberant sets.

“The African image has been controlled by the west since the advent of colonialism. The way we are depicted has been bastardized. It’s part of my job to make African representation beautiful, one project at a time – It’s my duty.”


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On this day, the audience is invited to listen closely to music and soundscapes that Nigerian-born Berlin-based Emeka Ogboh, made in Lagos. The artist recontextualises sounds from Lagos and other cities to highlight contemporary microeconomics, reflect on the social dynamics of immigrant populations, and respond to pertinent planetary issues.

During this session, he revisits the early years of his career – sharing sound art from the formative years of his career. Live-streaming from Berlin, he discusses his crossover into the music industry, his practice, and how he has evolved – with relation to Lagos and other cosmopolitan cities. In addition, he speaks about how sound can reframe perceptions of the world. Guests also enjoy a debut track from his forthcoming music album and a sneak preview of his major forthcoming project, ‘Lagos Underwater.’


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Recently named Director of the NMAFA, Ngaire Blankenberg, whose utmost vision is to see the museum be “more international” and reach “global Africa”, believes this was the right time and place for such an event to take place in one of Africa’s busiest art capitals.

To round off the event, she shares:

“My purpose is not the same as the original founder and collector. Every director, I believe, has a different vision as to where the museum goes. Creating art experiences as opposed to art exhibitions, is really where I would like to take NMAFA. Art isn’t just something to own. Art is something to experience, art is something to be in dialogue with. We aren’t just passive vessels of art, we bring something to the experience and the experience you bring affects how you see the art itself.

It’s understanding – not just reading text on a panel – but understanding them through your taste, through your body, through sound. Being able to bring your own perceptions, your own memories to the experience, to make it that much meaningful, that’s what the new NMAFA is moving towards. For me, there is this interesting conversation between the museum, the artist and the audience. It’s a circle of engagement and the audience is as important as the artist.”

Read more about the Smithsonian In Lagos here.

Featured image credits/SmithsonianInLagos

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