Yagazie Emezi <em>Nigeria’s 62nd year of independence against British colonial rule, Lagos state</em> 2023, from the Megacities project, Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. This project is supported by the Orloff Family Charitable Trust, and Barry Janes and Paul Cross, 2022. Courtesy of the artist<br/>
© Yagazie Emezi

Multilayered vibrancy

Yagazie Emezi

One of a series of essays featuring the answers to questions posed to artists participating in the Megacities project of NGV Triennial 2023

In this third decade of the twenty-first century, the megacity – a city with a population of more than 10 million people – may become the dominant human habitat. The NGV Triennial project Megacities is an ambitious, immersive multimedia installation bringing the creative vision of ten leading street photographers into dialogue with the urban environment. These images offer a counterpoint to the myth of the megacity, an urban agglomeration often used as the antithesis of wealthy European and North American metropolis. Here, the megacity is shown through the lens and explained in the words of those that live there.

Can you describe your daily experience living and working in one of the largest cities on the planet?

It is not as exciting as one would assume. Outside of work, I tend to spend a lot of my days indoors at home, where I am grateful for the peace and quiet. Work tends to take me out of the city and country quite often, but the majority of my experiences with Lagos also come from work. With that, I get to see more of the city than I normally would from my personal life alone, and it is a multilayered vibrancy that is very hard to explain.

How has this contemporary urban environment shaped your practice as a photographer and artist?

I moved to Lagos, and it is here that I discovered my language to be photography. Bits of the city reminded me of my home in Aba, Abia State, a south-eastern region of Nigeria. Being consistently homesick and nostalgic, I started taking pictures with my phone of places and faces I found familiar. Everything grew from there.

Our understanding of cities has benefited from the development of GPS and mobile technology – does this impact your work? Has it changed the way that you work ‘on the street’, with the ubiquitous presence of mobile technologies?

For one, thanks to mobile technology I don’t get lost! So that is an advantage. However, I am not a street photographer, so it is quite rare for me to rely on mobile technology to navigate my work in Lagos. I work predominately within specific neighbourhoods and communities and with individuals, so it is just a matter of getting from point A to B.

Environmental and social problems are often cited as negative outcomes of urbanisation on the megacity scale, but counterpoints include the development of innovative ways of living and employment opportunities. Negative or positive? Can you discuss your experiences and responses to the high-density urban environment?

People will always find innovative ways to live and work. But, in my opinion, with the challenges that many face, it is fully negative if people are doing so because they are not being provided with the basic amenities and rights to live comfortably.

Beyond capturing the built environment, we asked you to consider a narrative arc within your images that explores the quality of life in a megacity, the experience of moving around the city, where and how people work, and the impacts for community. With this in mind, what did your project reveal?

Lagos is a massive city, so I do not have access or the right to fully explore every facet necessary to begin summarising the above. Even with the completion of this project, it will never be sufficient to truly, deeply address any of this. What I do know is that the population is growing, resources are limited, and many have dreams that it can all be held within one city.

If we accept the premise that the megacity is an engine for cultural and social change, how do you see that reflected on the street?

It is reflected in the people, who are the navigators and curators of everything within the city.

YAGAZIE EMEZI | Lagos, Nigeria