Emeka Ogboh remixes the city

14th June, 2012

Emeka Ogboh


I was very lucky to work with sound artist Emeka Ogboh during the development of We Face Forward. Emeka is from Lagos, Nigeria, and has made three new pieces of work especially for the exhibition. As a curator, it's always exciting to work with artists outside the traditional spaces of the gallery, which was what Emeka was very keen to do. He spent time in Manchester a couple of months before We Face Forward opened, checking out public spaces in the city and working out where he wanted his sound work to be positioned. His chosen locations were the Manchester Art Gallery entrance, Piccadilly Gardens and Whitworth Park.

Emeka's work brings certain distinctive sounds of Lagos to Manchester; outside the Manchester Art Gallery entrance and in Piccadilly Gardens you can hear the sounds of bus conductors in a Lagos bus park calling out the name of their bus's journey - essentially touting for business. I'm amazed by how musical this sounds; the chanting is fast, passionate and determined, like rapping, and the city gets remixed as Lagos soundscapes blend with the sounds of Manchester's trams and buses. In Whitworth Park you can hear sounds from a Lagos marketplace as you walk along the pathway beneath the trees. The positioning of the speakers means that you are surrounded by sound and really feel the marketplace coming to life around you.

Emeka loves the idea that people come across his work by chance before even entering a gallery, perhaps while walking to work through the park or having lunch in Piccadilly Gardens. He talked a lot about his wish to reach out to West African people living in Manchester, using sounds which may be very familiar to Nigerians living here, but which they may not have heard for a long time. He told me a wonderful story from a previous exhibition in Finland: while he was installing his sound work in a gallery in Helsinki, a Nigerian student walked past. Suddenly hearing the sounds of Lagos, he was completely confused and started to think he was going crazy. Very sensibly he entered the gallery and asked why he could hear sounds from his home city. On being told that it was a piece of sound art and being introduced to Emeka, he was so relieved and overcome with emotion that all he could do was throw his arms around the artist in a huge hug. So it will be interesting to see how people respond to the work here!

The We Face Forward Art Bus will be taking Emeka's sounds around Manchester this summer, as his work is to be used as a starting point for workshops and activities with people in many different areas of the city. Emeka has a very open, collaborative approach to his work and was excited at the prospect of sharing his sounds with people in this way.

Thanks to CityCo and One Piccadilly for enabling us to position Emeka's work in Piccadilly Gardens and for being so supportive and helpful. I'd also like to say thanks to the very welcoming Manchester artists who spent time with Emeka during his time with us in the city.

Clare Gannaway
Curator: Exhibitions
Manchester Art Gallery

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Martin Barlow, curator of the exhibition Moving Into Space at the National Football Museum talks about the exhibition.

Barthélémy Toguo, Lucy Azubuike and Nnenna Okore, three of the exhibited artists, talk about their work and their interest in using materials which reflect the lifestyle and experience of the people of West Africa.

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