In February we caught the goth bus to Almere with a group of daredevils, ready to discover the emerging underground scene in Lagos. We witnessed a fantasy-full experience that depicts the darker side of this intriguing city. Gothics in Nigeria is an exhibition that features, among other things, photographs shot by Jan Hoek and Stephen Tayo for The New York Times. Our curator Manique hitched a ride to interview the two about their practice, collaboration, goths in Nigeria and in the Netherlands.
The goth scene in the Netherlands seems to have shrank, do you reckon the subculture still exists in the Netherlands?
Jan Hoek: When I was at secondary school in Amsterdam there were lots of goths. Nowadays I think they hang around in smaller villages. The fact that life in bigger cities has become so expensive might be a reason why many subcultures have disappeared. Particularly the alternative ones. The need to resist might also be more common in smaller areas, where you feel you can still revolt. And, another development I’ve picked up on is that talking about the darkness, or death, has already been accepted in the Netherlands. It’s no longer seen as taboo.
Based on the idea that the need to revolt forms the basis of the existence of subcultures like the goths, it seems that the restrictive culture of post-dictatorial Nigeria would be a great instigator for this movement. In fact, in the 1990s and 2000s, teenagers who rejected the country’s politics embraced American punk and metal through MySpace. So how did you find your way into the Nigerian goth scene? Did you already know people who were involved?
Stephen Tayo: The writer of the New York Times story, Edwin Okolo, came up with the idea. He told about the goth scene in another Nigerian city called Jos, and were instantly fascinated by his proposal.
Jan Hoek: When I was in New York I pitched the idea to the New York Times, and they were very enthusiastic. It was clear from the beginning that Edwin Okolo would be the writer of this story because he instilled the original idea in us.
Okay, so we now know how the story and photography project came into being, but how did you two meet? Nigeria and the Netherlands aren’t exactly neighbouring countries..
Jan Hoek: I met Stephen in Lagos during Lagos Photo, where we both exhibited our work. It was instantly clear that we’re brothers in photography because we share the same aesthetic. When The New York Times gave us the opportunity to produce a new series together it felt like fate.
The digital underground world has helped the goth scene rise over the past decade or so, allowing it to manifest itself through rock festivals. However, fully expressing the gothic lifestyle remains restricted to behind closed doors. Seeing as this scene isn’t out in the open and people don’t dress in full goth when hitting the streets of Lagos, how did you meet the people you photographed?
Jan Hoek: We mainly met them during the annual metal festival, Rocktoberfestival. Everyone feels completely free and dares to dress the way they want. Most of these people can’t go into the streets of Lagos when fully dressed as goths, with face paint and all. If their families see them, they will think they are possessed by the devil. Once we’d met these people, and gotten to know them a little better, we photographed them at home. What’s particularly interesting is that goths generally look similar across the world, but the house of a goth in Nigeria is very different to that of a goth from Belgium.
So from the Netherlands, to New York and from Lagos to Almere Haven. How did the exhibition at Corrosia come into being?
Jan Hoek: The gothic scene in Lagos is extremely eclectic and fantasy-full, especially because it’s hidden behind closed doors. When we visited the exhibition space, at first I was worried it would be too big. It wasn’t the kind of space to exhibit framed photographs; the exhibition needed to be wild. I already knew Joerie Woudstra, and his series of soundscapes, and was intrigued by the goth vibe of Thijs de Jaeger’s fountains. When I met Rik Laging, I figured that the three of them could join forces for some kind of graphic design intervention. Instead they dreamt up a whole plan for an immersive installation. We gave them free rein, and they created an experience that envelopes you as you enter the space.
What do you want the visitors to feel?
Stephen Tayo: I want to show the outcome of this extensive collaborative project, I’m sure that upon seeing the combination of graphic design, installation, sound, and photography people will be inspired.
Jan Hoek: I want the visitors to submerge into a different world. Not just another photography exhibition about something, but to give them the experience of delving into a subject that tickles all their senses in different ways.
Curious about our little road trip in the goth bus? Click here for a sneak peek and find out what you could be witnessing right now!
The exhibition Gothics in Nigeria is on view until 25 May at Cultureel Centrum Corrosia in Almere.