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Glenna Gordon: Andrea Stultiens’s Images of Emptiness

Photos of empty performance spaces in Lagos capture the spirit of Fela Kuti's famous nightclub and strip back the chaos of one of the world's busiest cities.

By Glenna Gordon

“I always use photography as a way to get to know people, try to understand how life is organized in specific places. I particularly am interested in how people, places present themselves and are represented in images.”

Andrea Stultiens began photographing stages and performance spaces in Uganda earlier this year and decided it was time to bring this idea to Nigeria. Using triptychs, she opens up the space and brings an immediate recognition of the making and photographic process to the final product.

She asks, “Where is ‘culture’ presented, what does the performance that is given look like, and how is this performance promoted?”

Part of why she photographed empty stages was practical: during her brief trip to Lagos in June, many theaters weren’t staging any shows. As an artistic choice, showing emptiness in one of the world’s busiest cities strips away at noise—both figurative and literal—and allows the spaces to exist as the beginning of a narrative without a conclusive ending.

Stultiens also visited the Shrine, the nightclub on the outskirts of Lagos made famous by Fela Kuti, to capture his enduring popularity and influence on Afrobeat’s music and message. Photographs are of course silent objects, but these images almost sound like Fela.

Stultiens visited Lagos as part of the Nigerian-Dutch Photo Exchange initiated by Emeka Okerek and Karine Versluis; other participants include Opara Adolphus, David de Jong, Chidinma Norom, David Galjaard and Abraham Oghobase.

Glenna Gordon is a photographer and writer who splits her time between Brooklyn and West Africa. Her work has appeared in Time, The New York Times, Newsweek, and elsewhere. She also blogs about photographic representations of Africa, her own work, music videos from Africa, and more. And, yes, she took that picture.

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