#Essay: Protest Art in Festac Town and its Relevance in Galvanizing Local Youths


The tangled mass of weeds ushering a newcomer into its surroundings might not be the most inviting of opening moves, but it does nothing to detract from the hospitality and comfort that SUKI Park offers its relentless youthful community and even visitors from far and wide.

Originally built as an international standard basketball court and multipurpose recreational park, it continues to serve as a hub for all manner of youthful activity in the Festac Town axis. It also plays host to some of the most beautiful murals in all of Lagos, proudly displayed on its wall of fame.

Walking through the broken down entrance gates that seem to be suffering from Nigeria’s general lack of maintenance culture, I am transfixed by the first mural painted on the unbroken fourteen-feet tall wall: two wrists breaking free from a pair of handcuffs amid a crimson background which is both colorful and bold in the large space it occupies on the fence.

It is not my first time seeing this glorious mural aptly titled “Freedom” but in the wake of the October 2020 nationwide EndSARS protests, this particular painting strikes me as prophetic, as if the artist had known that one day the youth of Festac town and indeed youth from all across Nigeria would throw down their shackles and chains and rise up to peacefully demonstrate against police brutality in the country.

I am here to meet up with visual Artists; Eli the Great and CVLZED, whose mural at a street right across the road from SUKI recently went viral on Twitter, near the end of the general protest. The tweet by Eli which garnered nearly thirty-two thousand retweets, likes and comments is a series of four pictures depicting the process of bringing the impressive piece to life.

“It wasn’t planned,” CVLZED responds to my question about the publicity their art got, “I just wanted to do an outline but Eli convinced me so we ended up doing a more detailed work.”

The mural, standing at almost twelve feet, is a painting of one of the images that were most identified with the protests globally: Aisha Yesufu, with a fist pointed to the sky in defiance, to the backdrop of patriotic young Nigerians exercising their constitutional right to protest.

“The people in the background are all of us,” Eli says, “They represent all of us. It was also a tribute to the people who lost their lives in the Lekki massacre.”

All art is a form of protest, but protest art is recognized around the globe as art which spotlights issues and aims to evoke both shock and empathy with bold, targeted imagery. Going back as far as Pablo Picasso’s 1937 “Guernica” used to immortalize victims of the Spanish Civil War and even further back, art and artists have always been agents of cultural change. Drawn by the desire to deconstruct the system of oppression using cutting-edge visual communication, Nigerian visual artists and photographers were instrumental during the hashtag #EndSARS protests, creating and capturing images and proudly showcasing the art of resistance.

According to Eli, a proud Festac native, the mere fact that he exists in the same period of the protests and the agitation for socio-political change by young Nigerians means he has no choice but to join the conversation because it affects him directly. In his own words: “They are trying to stifle the online conversation so we have to bring it to where they can see because we just have to, it is necessary. This government is trying to fuck with us, so we have to fight back. We might not have guns but we’re smarter than them.”

Festac Town is home to several artists and creators in the Lagos creative scene, from prominent musical artistes like Tuface Idibia and Ycee, to Osa Seven (who painted the “Freedom” mural) a fast rising visual artist taking the continent by storm. The area’s relationship with art and culture traces back all the way to the Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture, held in Lagos in 1977.

The town was built as a residential estate to host the participants of the festival and over time has expanded into a mini hub of creativity and innovation. When asked if there is something about Festac’s environment that enables artistic development, CVLZED claims: “I can’t really say, I just found myself here and I’m making use of it.” Eli the Great, however, strongly feels the area is indeed a breeding ground for creatives. “It’s easy to be expressive because it’s a very small community but with a wide reach,” he tells me, “if you show your skill or talent among your friends, it’s simple enough for them to show other people. There are always people willing to help and collaborate.”

The protests in October were a response to decades of sustained and targeted police brutality against young Nigerians and Nigerians in general via the oppressive mechanism of the state’s archaic security system, which is an offshoot of the colonial era and, like many other things in the country, remains unchanged. In spirited agitation, the likes of which is unprecedented in Nigeria’s twenty-one years old democracy, youth from all walks of life came together to demand better policing and, in extension, the end of bad governance in the country.

The demands of the youth are yet to be met, weeks after the protests culminated in the Lekki massacre, but for Eli and CVLZED as well as many other young Nigerians, the fight is just getting started. They intend to continue using their art to protest and painting murals to document the movement as they lend their voices to the cause and ensure that the message reverberates from Suki Park, Festac Town Lagos to the world.

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