The Perilous Past Of Performance Arts In Nigeria

The Perilous Past Of Performance Arts In Nigeria

What Is Performance Art?

Not to be confused with the Performing Arts, Performance Art usually refers to the nontraditional art form often with political or topical themes that typically features a live presentation to an audience or onlookers (as on a street) and draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, or painting.

Performance art may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any type of venue or setting and for any length of time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. Performance artists often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways, break conventions of traditional arts, and break down conventional ideas about “what art is”.

Performing arts are a form of art in which artists use their voices and/or their bodies, often in relation to other objects, to convey artistic expression. It is different from visual arts , which is when artists use paint/canvas or various materials to create physical or static art objects . Performing arts include several disciplines but every one is performed in front of live audiences.


In Nigeria, there is a low level of appreciation for performing arts. Jelili Atiku, arguably Nigeria’s most vocal performance artists is perennially under-apreciated and his bold and wild expressions on the streets of Lagos and parts of the world is highly under-reported, that is, when he’s not been constantly harassed and incarcerated by the Nigerian Police.

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In 2016, Kabiru Yusuf, the Government appointed Director General of the National theater, who is largely regarded as a crony of establishment, accompanied by men from the Nigerian Police Force laid waste to the ‘Artist Village’, a sprawling settlement of singers, dancers, drummers, playwrights, writers and artists, annexed to the National Theater grounds in Iganmu, Surulere.

Eyewitness reports claim at about 5am on 23rd January, the police arrived with guns and bulldozers, and forcefully evacuated the artists, any resistance was to be met with bullets or the baton. Many artists nursed injuries, and numerous priceless works of art were destroyed in the process.

Albeit claims that the settlement is ‘illegal’, many young artists have found a creative outlet for their youthful energy in this settlement, including Effiong Edet, a product of the Artist Village, who has gone on to be successful Art Director for major international productions. “This madness is becoming a norm, and as you know, when some shylocks are given power, they misuse it and become tyrants to the society. This is the case of the DG of the national theatre. He has called for a battle and he will get it beyond his wildest imagination. Art is a profession and not a hobby I insist. Artists should be respected just as other professionals I insist. It’s time to speak truth directly to power.”


Does this neglect of the performing art have an effect on the society? Nigerian poet and author Lola Shoneyin definitely thinks so. In a recent interview with Farabale Weekly, Lola expressed her thoughts on this issue

“If we don’t encourage people to pursue careers in the performance arts and in the creative arts, where do we end up? We end up in the black water, we end up in the drains at the bottom of the barrel because everyone who knows what this life is knows how important the arts are to our development.”


Lola also lamented the unavailability of facilities for performers to express themselves.

“In Lagos for instance there is nowhere to go, there are no parks, there are very few theaters that you can take your families to. These things are so necessary we learn from them. These things give us life. The arts is so important and its literature, its theatre, its dance, its poetry. Its every single art form that you can imagine.”