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The Untold Story of “Little Lagos”: How Nigerian Diaspora Made Peckham Their Home


Image by Aaliyah Ahmed.

In the heart of South London, a neighbourhood known for its eclectic blend of cultures and vibrant atmosphere, lies a hidden gem that tells a captivating story of migration, identity, and the unbreakable ties between two distant cities—Lagos and London. The exhibition "Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes" curated by Folakunle Oshun at The South London Gallery takes visitors on a profound journey through art, history, and shared experiences. This exhibition serves as a testament to the enduring connection between the Nigerian diaspora and Peckham, shedding light on the struggles and triumphs of a community that has made this corner of London their own.

Tracing the Roots

To fully understand the significance of "Little Lagos" in Peckham, we must first delve into the historical context that laid the foundation for this unique cultural exchange. The name Lagos, meaning 'lake' in Portuguese, was given by European explorers who were the first to arrive in the region. This is symbolic of Lagos' geographical reality, nestled along the Nigerian coast and serving as a crucial port during the dark period of the transatlantic slave trade.

The 1970s and 1980s marked a significant turning point in Nigeria's post-colonial history. The oil boom promised prosperity, but it ultimately resulted in an economic crisis that forced many Nigerians to seek a better life abroad. This initial wave of migration set the stage for what was to come. In the 1990s, as economic challenges persisted, Nigerians continued to flock to foreign shores, including London, in pursuit of opportunities and a brighter future.

Peckham emerged as a haven for these migrants, offering affordable housing and a welcoming atmosphere. As Nigerians put down roots, they established businesses and became active participants in the local property market. Over time, Peckham blossomed into one of London's most multicultural neighbourhoods. The "Lagos, Peckham, Repeat" exhibition is a celebration of this cultural fusion, showcasing the works of 13 artists, both contemporary Nigerian and British Nigerian. These artists explore the complex dynamics of home and identity, striving to preserve their rich cultural heritage in a new environment.

A Tapestry of Stories

The exhibition serves as a visual narrative of the shared values and experiences that bind the communities of Lagos and Peckham together.

Trade: Ndidi Dike's striking acetate sculpture, "Deciphering Value," juxtaposes the London skyline with the Lagos coastline used during the transatlantic slave trade. This poignant piece underscores the interconnectedness of Lagos and Peckham through trade, with references to products like vanilla pods and hot combs that flow between these two vibrant marketplaces.

Gentrification: Christopher Obuh's "No City for Poor Man" offers a stark commentary on the industrialisation of Lagos, making me think immediately of the gentrification happening in London. His powerful images of Eko Atlantic, often called the 'Dubai of Africa,' reveal the rapid socio-economic disparities that parallel the struggles in London. The exhibition lays bare the dystopian reality of urban transformation happening on two continents.

Religion: Victor Ehikamenor's "Cathedral of the Mind" beautifully encapsulates the fusion of Western religion and Nigerian spirituality in these hybrid communities. As cultures become increasingly intertwined in our globalised world, Ehikamenor's work serves as a testament to the enduring significance of faith in the lives of the Nigerian diaspora.

Commodities: Emeka Ogboh's collaboration with South London Brewery 'Orbit,' branded as "No Food for Lazy Man," celebrates the Nigerian ethos of hustle culture and the pursuit of success. The fusion of traditional Nigerian spices with English flavour varieties in this collaboration reflects the strength and adaptability of the Nigerian migrants who sought better opportunities in London.

Reminiscence: The "Archive of Becoming," a collection of discarded film negatives rescued and developed by Lagos Studio Archives in Finland, highlights the importance of preserving cultural heritage and memories. In a world increasingly dominated by digital media, these old photographs serve as a poignant reminder of the value of retrospection and lineage.

Image by Aaliyah Ahmed.

Building a Home in a Different Land

In the bustling streets of Peckham, amid the diverse tapestry of cultures and backgrounds, the "Lagos, Peckham, Repeat" exhibition successfully unveils the profound connections between Lagos and Peckham and their shared communities. Yet, beyond the art and history, this exhibition speaks to a universal human experience—the quest for a sense of belonging.

For many of us second-generation immigrants, the exhibition resonates with the complex emotions of straddling two worlds. It is a poignant reminder of the enduring human spirit, the ability to adapt, and the resilience of those who have made a home in a foreign land. "Little Lagos" in Peckham is more than a physical place; it is a testament to the enduring bonds that connect us all, regardless of our origins.

As visitors leave "Lagos, Peckham, Repeat: Pilgrimage to the Lakes," they carry with them a deeper understanding of the Nigerian diaspora's rich history and the vibrant culture they have brought to Peckham. The exhibition serves as an invitation to explore, learn, and celebrate the diverse communities that have come together to create a unique and vibrant neighbourhood—a little Lagos in the heart of London.

LAGOS, PECKHAM, REPEAT: PILGRIMAGE TO THE LAKES is on at the South London Gallery until 29 October 2023. Free Entry.


Edited by Samuel Blackburn


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