Charles Okereke

Charles Okereke
Charles Okereke

Begun in 2009, Charles Okereke’s series The Canal People documents the Festac village settlement in Lagos state, Nigeria, a stretch of stilt houses built along the Festac canal offering cheap accommodation for the poorest in society.

The series contains many ‘sub-chapters’, each focusing on distinct subjects such as architecture, daily life and style. The photographs exhibited in We Face Forward are selected from the chapter concerning the environment. For this section, Okereke chose a deliberate style of photography, setting out to simulate the techniques of advertising. ‘For products to be attractive the images must glamorise, so ironically I was doing the same.’1 Okereke’s luxurious close-ups and super-saturated colours turn the oily, polluted canal into a sparkling night sky; waste suspended in the canal’s reflective surface is beautifully composed, like an elegant still-life.

Once in a Blue World captures Okereke’s own reflected image, showing the photographer himself at work, demonstrating the artifice, whilst also raising issues of the environment and the global threat of pollution.

Okereke’s work highlights photography’s capacity to abstract and to politicise. Through his lens the most polluted of subjects is rendered beautiful, and the microcosm of one canal can be read as a universal concern.

1 Charles Okereke in an email to Bryony Bond 11 April 2012.



Born in 1966 in Nigeria. Lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria.

Following an apprenticeship with a commercial arts publishing company, he studied at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria graduating with a BA in Visual Arts with a specialisation in Sculpture in 1996. He is a member of the photographic group Black Box Collective and is also a founding-member of the Trans-African Photographic Road Trip, Invisible Borders.

Recent shows include 9th Rencontres de Bamako: Biennale Africaine de la Photographie, Bamako, Mali, 2011; Mapping the Flâneur, Format International Festival, (Black Box Collective), Derby, UK, 2011; World Black Arts Festival/ Invisible Borders in Dakar, Senegal, 2010; The Idea of Africa (re-invented), Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland, 2010; and the 3rd Photo Africa, Tarifa, Spain, 2010.


Works in Show

The Canal People Series 2009-10
Once in a blue world
Fuelled tank
The Vein Travellers
Red Peeping Marmaid
Our reflections
66 x 48 cms
Photos – courtesy of the artist


Martin Barlow, curator of the exhibition Moving Into Space at the National Football Museum talks about the exhibition.

Barthélémy Toguo, Lucy Azubuike and Nnenna Okore, three of the exhibited artists, talk about their work and their interest in using materials which reflect the lifestyle and experience of the people of West Africa.

Twitter (#wefaceforward)

Creative Tourist


Nine countries show off their talent as five city venues link up for a summer celebration. Helen Nugent in the Guardian

Street life, dazzling dress, social commentary and a riot of sensuous colour interweave in a rich assembly of West African art, writes Charles Gore in the Times Higher Education