ELEMENTS OF ART – An Interview with Polly Alakija


    Polly Alakija is a muralist, artist, educator and children’s book author. She moved to Nigeria from the UK in 1989 and was based in South Africa between 2005 and 2011. Polly has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in the UK, France, Nigeria, and South Africa, where her work can be found in numerous private and corporate collections. She is currently Chairperson of the Lagos State Council of Arts and Culture.

    As well as writing and illustrating for children for publishers in Nigeria, UK, EU, and USA, promoting educational programs, working on set designs, with interior designers and architects, Polly, with MOE+ Architects, develops public regeneration projects that bring new life and dignity to under-utilised spaces across Lagos. For more information, visit: www.pollyalakija.com

    She piqued our interest at The Cosmocrat and we got up and close with Polly Alakija.

    Where did you grow up? 

    I grew up in the United Kingdom. 

    When did you move to Nigeria? 

    I moved to Nigeria in 1989 

    How has it been like living in Nigeria and how has it affected or inspired your art?

    Its not been easy but it’s been colorful, challenging and dynamic. Every day still brings new surprises. My work always responds to where I am. Having said that being in Nigeria makes me always question the relevance and impact possibly more than if I was in Europe. I ask “why” and there must be a convincing reason.

    What was your inspiration behind your murals on the underside of the Falomo bridge, Ikoyi?

    I used to work at James Cubitt Group of Architects and my office window used to overlook the Falo- mo roundabout which didn’t look great at the time and I always used to wonder what I could do with that. The Chibok girls had been kidnapped around that time and there were posters of them on the bridge which had been peeling off and flying away and I being a mother to 3 daughters thought that those posters were not enough to remember them by or to represent and acknowledge their suffering.

    So it was basically inspired indirectly by the suffering of The Chibok girls and their families and by the social silences surrounding women and the silence about issues regarding women. I named the women on the columns ‘My Silent Choir’ which is about the fact that a lot of women choose to remain silent about the suffering and things they endure and their right to as well if they choose.

    Do you ever experience creative blocks?

    It might be helpful if I did have some mental blocks! Sometimes I really would like to be able to turn my brain off! 

    Is there a piece you are most proud of and why?

    The pieces I am most proud of would be the Falomo Bridge murals and portraits of my children. 

    How would you describe the art scene in Nigeria?

    I would describe the art scene in Nigeria as Dynamic. There is definitely enormous potential and strong foundations being set by some key stakeholders. Having said that I look forward to our art scene having a broader reach . This is starting to happen but will only really be able to flourish when our institutions will be strong enough to give our emerging artists a “safety net” to enable young artists to be able to be more experimental and exploratory with their work .

    How do you think the government can contribute to encouraging the Art scene more in Nigeria?

    By creating an enabling environment for a start! We all need the same basics to work to flourish. As chairperson of Lagos state council for arts and culture our board is advising Lagos state regarding the structures needed to support the arts.

    What are your favorite tools of choice?

    Paint is my favorite tool of choice. 

    Any upcoming shows or workshops we should know about

    Yes, we would be having the My Story of Water Summer Events programme coming up. My Story of Water is an arts education programme being delivered by the Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative in Lagos, Nigeria and comes to Lon- don. We are also presenting at SIWI World Water Week in Stockholm at the end of August.


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