TOP TO BOTTOM: Ilo Toivio (Birds of Knowledge), Dr. Clementine Deliss (Co-Director, LagosPhoto20), Joana Atemengue Owona (Birds of Knowledge), Asma Ben Slama (Birds of Knowledge)

LagosPhoto20: Nguveren Ahua in conversation with Birds of Knowledge

The Birds of Knowledge discuss their project the Home Museum, the subsequent challenges they faced.

TOP TO BOTTOM: Ilo Toivio (Birds of Knowledge), Dr. Clémentine Deliss (Co-Director, LagosPhoto 20), Joana Atemengue Owona (Birds of Knowledge), Asma Ben Slama (Birds of Knowledge), Yan Yan (Birds of Knowldge)TOP TO BOTTOM: Ilo Toivio (Birds of Knowledge), Dr Clémentine Deliss (Co-Director, LagosPhoto 20), Joana Atemengue Owona (Birds of Knowledge), Asma Ben Slama (Birds of Knowledge), Yan Yan (Birds of Knowledge)

Nguveren Ahua: What was the collectives perception of Rapid Response Restitution and Home Museum when you first learned of it, and how has that changed?

Birds of Knowledge: From the beginning, we have all been very taken with the entirety of this project, the theme felt very close to us and to our own interests in what we do in our practice. The subject of sharing this huge amount of visual material and work begged the question of very consciously working on how this can be brought to life, looking at questions of access, challenging traditional forms of very competitive art museum practice and consciously not doing that but going further. We were very interested in the question of how to connect to art online when it’s not possible to see it on a physical level. How to be inclusive and accessible in an online context while keeping with this very tight time frame of the project.

…working closely with the images of the co-creators we developed a broader understanding. It really opened up the whole idea behind objects of virtue and this question of what is a home? What is the object of virtue to the co-creators and artists?

At first, the perception of everything was very much focused on how this will relate to heritage and culture, which it definitely is. However, over the course of time, working closely with the images of the co-creators we developed a broader understanding. It really opened up the whole idea behind objects of virtue and this question of what is a home? What is the object of virtue to the co-creators and artists? Obviously, the question of heritage and culture was very crucial to the whole meaning of the object of virtue but we also learned it can mean something like a witness of time. It can capture a specific moment in time and in history. It can be a migrating object that is brought from one place to another as an act of carrying your heritage. Or something that acts as a carrier of energy, something that holds spiritual properties, being a subject rather than an object, something that can ‘cough and die’: “My sister, now 28, gave it {my mother’s sewing machine} ago for some weeks but it coughed and died afterwards.” (Philemon Ikpaki, LagosPhoto20, Co-Creator). It can be something that is almost not visible, just a human trace, something that is very delicate, left behind in a home that defines that this is home. They can also just be everyday objects that generate meaning through their frequent use and through being a tool that eases your life and its tasks: “This particular image here once saved my dad’s life. Especially the cold pure water. And like people say, WATER NO GET ENEMY! Before the phone was invented this alarm clock here woke my dad in his days of youth. I want to show this to my children too.” (Eweje Oluwaseyi, LagosPhoto20, Co-Creator). These are just a few of the meanings that can come through when you look at these images.

We’ve seen very clear examples of the influence of this global lockdown, many artists and co-creators aren’t solely talking about everyday items or about objects that carry memory or sentimentality but many are sending content that is a documentation of the different lockdown situations around the world, if you go through the museum you will be able to find them. It has been something of an unintentional record or snapshot of our collective experiences.

What has the biggest challenge been?

What has been challenging is definitely the fast pace of the project, but really I think the biggest challenge is the aspect of unlearning which is always a huge obstacle when trying to change how you go about artistic practice. The question of how to present this material in a way that provides this mutual feeling of a home and of a shared safe space while remaining cognizant of the sensitivity of the material etc. Also, unlearning the categorization practices that are so familiar to all of us, was a challenge because the importance of honouring the sensitivity of the materials the right way is quite momentous to all of us. We didn’t want to force any categories onto the material but very deliberately move in a new direction.

We want people to walk away with the realization that the object of virtue has infinite meanings, and that it can be very personal and quite subjective but also can be very kindred and shared.

TOP TO BOTTOM: Ilo Toivio (Birds of Knowledge), Dr. Clementine Deliss (Co-Director, LagosPhoto20), Joana Atemengue Owona (Birds of Knowledge), Asma Ben Slama (Birds of Knowledge)TOP TO BOTTOM: Ilo Toivio (Birds of Knowledge), Dr. Clementine Deliss (Co-Director, LagosPhoto20), Joana Atemengue Owona (Birds of Knowledge), Asma Ben Slama (Birds of Knowledge)

The Museum seeks to step outside the cycle of classification common to art & culture institutions the world over. How will this carry over to the design and experience of the exhibition? What would you want the audience to walk away with?

At the core, the museum architecture we build will offer various routes into the narratives that will constitute the Home Museum. The digital aspect of the museum space opens up the possibility to navigate through the material in many different ways while still being able to have a personal and subjective approach when in contact with Kindred Narratives that are offered by the Co-Creators and artists. We seek to discourage the moment of bias and are focussing on solely showing the narratives of the artists not our own. Also, you will have the chance to interact with the material on your own terms and build your own Personal Collection. We want people to walk away with the realization that the object of virtue has infinite meanings, and that it can be very personal and quite subjective but also can be very kindred and shared. Simply wanting people to be able to recognize this broad spectrum of what an object of virtue can be.

Any final thoughts?

It is a bit hard to answer because the project isn’t finished, but also because it’s going to be a very long term project. Up until this point what I can really say is we want more, we want more projects and journeys of collaboration that provoke these kinds of thoughts and these kinds of discussions because they are necessary and they have to happen more. We need these conversations and we need these connections to open up institutions and to work towards mutual aid and solidarity.

This interview took place before the Home Museum was launched.

Nguveren Ahua is a freelance photographer and creative based in Abuja, Nigeria. Born in Nigeria, raised in Kenya and matured in Switzerland, the USA, Hong Kong and the UK, Nguveren brings an atypical perspective filtered through the lens of her nomadic life. For the last three years, she worked as the Development Manager for the African Artists’ Foundation where she worked with the team to execute capacity building programs, workshops, artist residencies and other arts and culture projects. She holds a B.F.A. in Broadcast Design and Motion Graphics from the Savannah College of Art and Design.