Invisible Borders: Encouraging Empowerment Through Art

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LAGOS, Nigeria — The Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers Organisation is a geographically sprawling and deeply collaborative effort to investigate, through discourse and artistry, what trans-Africanism can, could and does mean. The organization uses art and photography to grapple with the fluidity of the contemporary African experience, while examining its increasing irreconcilability with the misconceived geographies of a colonized past for empowerment through art.

Emeka Okereke, founder and artistic director, said it best in an interview with Al-Jazeera.

“These borders are not made by us,” he said. “They are remnants of colonies for the Spanish, the French and the English. They are not relevant to the African modern experience”.

By focusing on the spatial groundwork that belays the every day, Invisible Borders creates by foot, fostering an understanding of African culture and experience that transcends that which can be mapped from above.

As might be expected, this undertaking isn’t contained to a singular medium or form. Projects that strive for empowerment through art range from the publication of The Trans-African, a literary journal, to the hosting and participation in workshops and exhibitions.

The project that arguably best captures the organization’s spirit, however, is the Trans-African Road Trip, which dates back to 2009 and remains active to this day.

Each road trip assembles up to 10 artists in Lagos, Nigeria, who embark on a journey to some destination on the continent. Past destinations include Sarajevo, Bamako and Addis Ababa.

True to the organization’s commitment to boundless creation, the voyaging artists share on-the-road content through Invisible Borders’ online platform, collating over the trip’s duration a collection of reflections, photos and even vlog posts.

In these entries, physically static landmarks and places are brought to life, lent animacy both by the artist’s interpretation of colonial and decolonial markers.

The most recent road trip took on the theme of “Borders Within,” a visual and experiential exploration of post-colonial Nigeria.

For about a month and a half, sometime between May and June 2016, nine participants packed themselves into a van and traveled the country with the purpose of “creating a crowd-sourced narrative of contemporary Nigeria.”

The travelers embedded themselves in historically significant pathways that brought them in contact with the stories of literati and government officers; war veterans and, in a hair-raising turn of events, roadside robbers. They verbally logged their adventures through The Roadside Intellectuals, a podcast that blended sound bites recorded throughout the trip.

The artistic fruits of the participants’ labor live on in various online records and manifested physically in an installation at the Unseen Art Fair in Amsterdam.

They persist, also, as another chapter in Invisible Borders’ ever-growing compendium of living artifacts — of voices, visuals and, to borrow a phrase from their books, “fragments of experiences” that map Africa anew.

What results is far from an act of mapmaking as we know it. The collaborators that come together through Invisible Borders practice cartography, not as a means of compacting culture into the stuff of coordinated divides and map legends, but to unpack it — an exercise in reckoning and recollection that celebrates the power of exchange and empowerment through art.

Josephine Gurch

Photo: Flickr

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Jo Gurch

Jo writes for The Borgen Project from Lagos, Nigeria. She grew up in Houston, but has never been to the rodeo.

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