Obidike Okafor talks to Emeka Udema, artist and initiator of the Molue Mobile Museum of Contemporary Art in Lagos.
Obidike Okafor: Tell us about the idea behind the Molue Mobile Museum of Contemporary Art (MMMoCA).
Emeka Udemba: The idea of MMMoCA in Lagos is a proposal to explore and situate critical contemporary art practices, experiences, and collaborations within an all-inclusive, accessible social space in the Nigerian art environment. In the context of the rapidly changing socio-economic transformation of some major cities in Africa, the Molue commuter bus provides an eloquent narrative for the challenging realities of post-colonial urbanism in Africa.
OO: Do more African cities need new museums for contemporary art? Is that the motivation behind your project to some extent?
EU: There is no question that African cities need more museums of contemporary art. I think the pertinent question we should ask is: What kind of museums of contemporary art are appropriate within the African context? Do we need museums that are copies of the Eurocentric model or do we need to radically rethink the whole concept of the museum based on our own culture and reality? MMMoCA is certainly a voice in this discourse.
OO: How has the feedback been?
EU: The most exciting feedback has come from ordinary people in some of the deprived communities where MMMoCA was stationed. The integrated small library with art books and exhibition catalogues seems to attract the interest of most kids. Although many of them can’t read, they seem content just sitting in the museum for hours curiously exploring the images in some of the catalogues. The question these kids often ask is: when are you coming back to our street?
OO: The inaugural exhibition put on by MMMoCA was Witness.
EU: Through moving images and paintings, this exhibition explored prejudice and stereotypes in the megacity of Lagos, reminding us that location is as much about projection as about physical space. Accompanying the exhibition was also a series of talks that explored the theme of interpretation and representation of existing forms and images rooted in the semiotics of public art.
OO: Are there plans to reach other areas of West Africa?
EU: The activities of MMMoCAhave so far concentrated on metropolitan Lagos. We have had various presentations and discussion sessions on public playgrounds and walkways in some communities. But we are in the process of scheduling our activities and projects in collaboration with our partners across the West African region. MMMoCA will be travelling with some artists from Germany and Nigeria to the Carrefour des Arts Plastiques in Ouagadougou taking place this November. I am also exploring the possibility of a touring exhibition called Exchanging Space in Germany. This project would present collaborative and individual works of young video and performance artists from Nigeria and Germany.
OO: What will happen to the Molue Mobile Museum of Contemporary Art after the project ends? Will it be put on display or packed up?
EU: The success of MMMoCA has reinforced the need to integrate communities into the cultural life of society. Museums in general play a strong role in providing positive personal experiences as well as engaging and educating the community. I think the MMMoCA is an independent art space in Lagos that has come to stay. I intend to transform a number of other decommissioned Molue commuter buses into separate modules as extensions and part of the network of the Molue Mobile Museum of Contemporary Art project. We are looking for sponsors to fund each module of the museum.
OO: Are alternative projects such as your mobile museum much more successful ways for people to connect with contemporary art?
EU: To most people, the contemporary art world is a mystical preserve of the elite and the rich. Can contemporary art address important questions of life that are meaningful or relevant to common people? This perception of estrangement with contemporary art is further entrenched when institutions whose activities are linked to contemporary art are all located in posh areas of our cities. I think that MMMoCA’s success is predicated first and foremost on its ability (and mobility) to connect with people of all social strata.
Based in Lagos, Obidike Okafor is a content consultant, freelance art journalist, and documentary filmmaker.