An Insider & Outsider

ACI Artist Leader Stephen Hamilton  

Project: "Yoruba Empowerment in Nigeria" 2015-16

Placement: Osogbo, Nigeria

Hometown: Boston, USA 

At this point I have been In Nigeria for a little over two weeks and the experience has been overwhelming. It is a surreal experience to be in this place, a place that I have wanted to visit since childhood — a place with a rich, beautiful and tragic history all at the same time.

My words fail me when trying to sum up the experience of driving through the city of Lagos. The places I've seen, the people I've met, are both new and familiar at the same time.

I see flashes of Roxbury and West Virginia (places of my childhood) as if I am seeing them in a half remembered dream blended with imaginings from books. I see the faces of friends and family in the faces of strangers, as if I have seen long lost relatives whom I have never met.

I hear such beautiful languages, Yoruba, Pidgin, Igbo and Hausa. I cannot understand them, but the tone and cadence sound so familiar.

My mind struggles to interpret what it lacks capacity to translate. When I reached the Nike Art Gallery I was both shocked and elated to be greeted by chief Nike herself. I never expected such warmth and familiarity from someone who I read about in books, and from artists whose work and story I admire.

I spent over a week simply exploring the rooms of what has to be the largest collection of contemporary Nigerian art in the world. Exploring its rooms and finding treasures — paintings, sculptures and cloth. I touched real African wild silk and basked in its ancient smell. The blend of old, new and everything in between is almost unreal.

The people I’ve met here are so different in certain ways, but so much the same in others.

The city is full of such decay and new life. Contradictions upon contradictions and sights and smells both sweet and foul at the same time. 

I am just beginning to accept my place here as both an insider and outsider: one caught between two worlds. I sit patiently and thoughtfully absorbing the experience as I anticipate the creation of something new.