Queen India’s Air: Saturation, Conditioning and Power

Monday, 22 April, 2024 - 16:00

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This paper embraces what reading for air can bring to a narrative of how a 16th century portrait of Queen Idia appears in Lagos. Likenesses of the legendary Edo queen have been fashioned in Benin tradition since her time (including in ivory and bronze). In Lagos, she is present and powerful in various visible manifestations. Queen Idia’s portrait slowly corrodes in laden air as part of the stadium built for FESTAC 77, the post independence festival of African culture for which she was claimed as an Afrofuturist figurehead. Her expression exudes serenity on carvings at dusty open air tourist markets, sometimes fashioned in fragrant woods. As graffiti-ed stencils in the city centre, she visibly bears the condensation of polluted particles. The warrior queen’s power over the spirit world, symbolically rendered in the crown of ocean symbols she customarily wears, melds her to an urban fabric saturated with more than human beings. Idia leads us into hierarchies of air, from the hermeneutic sealing of artworks in air-conditioned museums, which cuts off their breath, to the particular weathering of those buildings Lagos allows to stay standing. My thinking draws on Nnedi Okafor’s science fiction novel Lagoon (2015), where air-travelling interplanetary visitors challenge human perceptions of matter and spirit.

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