Marilyn Nance, at right, the photographer and author of “Last Day in Lagos,” which was edited by Oluremi C. Onabanjo, below left, seen at Nance’s home in Brooklyn. Credit: Lelanie Foster for The New York Times
ITP Alum, Marilyn Nance was 23 when she photographed FESTAC ’77, the immense gathering of Black artists in Nigeria. In ‘Last Day in Lagos,’ she shares her archive.
It was February 1977, in Lagos, Nigeria. Nance was 23, an emerging photographer from Brooklyn, freshly graduated from the Pratt Institute. Now, for her very first trip outside the United States, she was thrust into an epochal Pan-African cultural event, of an ambition and scale never attempted before — nor indeed ever since.
She had arrived on a charter flight with over 200 other Black American artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, scholars and cultural activists. They joined colleagues and peers from the African continent, the global diaspora and Indigenous Australians during the four weeks of FESTAC ’77 — the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture.
In all some 17,000 artists would gather in Lagos, exhibiting and performing in the National Theater complex constructed for the occasion, living in the newly built FESTAC Village. There were stars: Miriam Makeba, Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Among the American visual artists were Samella Lewis, Valerie Maynard, Melvin Edwards. But what Nance remembers best of all was effervescent exchange among scores of artists who are less known today.
Her new book, “Last Day in Lagos,” gathers over 100 of these images with essays by artists and curators. It is the first book for Nance, now 69, who maintained her photo practice all along even as she prioritized day jobs, first in advertising and then as a public-school educator.
Written By Siddhartha Mitter