Otobong Nkanga: The Dolphin Estate

Following on in our series on Nigerian artist, Otobong Nkanga, we take a look at one of her most celebrated works, the Dolphin Estate Exhibition.

In this critically acclaimed exhibition which toured The Netherlands, Brazil and Senegal, Nkanga documents the pre-fabricated housing units which sprang up in the city Lagos, Nigeria where she was living in the 1990s. These homes were regarded at the time as modern dream homes for the middle classes. The housing complexes were often given names which would not have looked out of place in the American suburbs. As time passed by, families began to outgrow their housing complexes, and facilities began to break down. Extensions and additional buildings were added onto the structures to accommodate growing families, changing the architecture of the area completely. In a series of photographs taken in 2008, Otobong Nkanga shows the decline and disrepair of an area that was once regarded as the height of opulence. Dolphin Estate today is a lost dream, its residents are living without basic amenities such as water and electricity and facing the threat of flooding whenever the rains come. Nkanga’s exhibition reflects on the labour required for everyday survival and the underlying structures of how everyday lives function.

The Dolphin Estates on Nigeria’s Lagos Island are a story of nature reclaiming land, the swish housing estates succumbing to the swampy terrain. Most of the houses on the estate are in very bad conditions with submerged ground floors and heavy cracking betraying serious structural defects. Incidences of building collapses of these structures are growing increasingly common. The chief reason for this is that the buildings were constructed largely on beach and swampland. Without structural stability, they are simply being reclaimed by the sea. The Lagos State Government recently handed out relocation letters and allowances to Dolphin Estate residents under its urban renewal scheme. The presentation was held at the Town Hall in Adeniji Adele, Lagos; acknowledging that the Phase 1 Extension area had become completely uninhabitable and a “death trap”, the Lagos State Government’s representative Tpl. B. Kehinde proposed that the area would be completely redeveloped over the course of five stages. It remains to be seen whether such action will prove a long term solution, or simply buy some more time before nature reclaims the area again.

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