Eloghosa Osunde on the shift between language and art


Set in and around Lagos, Nigerian writer Eloghosa Osunde’s debut novel, Vagabonds! sneaks into the lives of those who fall through the cracks of accepted society. The name of the book comes from the term cited in the Nigerian penal code which criminalizes members of the LGBTQ community, sex workers, homeless people and others on the margins – a legal hangover from British colonialism. In Osunde’s hands, the book stands as a celebration of those who are altered and a condemnation of the individuals and structures that make them such that they perpetuate violence, corruption and capitalism.

A supernatural thread connects the different stories of Vagabonds! whole. There are evocations of the afterlife, and the city of Lagos itself is kept going by people like Èkó, a menacing “city spirit”, and his many amorphous underlings, including the talkative narrator, Tatafo. At every glance, Vagabonds! is alive with magical potential in the face of oppression.

Osunde’s writing is rich and sensory, and it is interwoven with hints of her wider creative practice. Beyond words, her ideas have taken shape in painting, photography, poetry, installations, film and textiles. Each discipline often turns against each other: see his swirling and flowing pieces in mixed media, or his collaboration with Nigerian fashion brand Orange Culture, a mix of text fragments, playlists and artworks , which later influenced the fabric prints used in the brand. SS20 collection.

“Everything I do tends to inform what else I do,” the artist tells us. “I write for the same reason that I do visual art, for the same reason that I touch any other medium: to better express what I want to say; tell a story; remembering the specific feeling of something; sending an energetic force field out into the world; to make what I dream of more possible, more tangible. There is no particular order, which is fine with me, because order is not a priority for me. The common thread of my practices is that they all make me grow. Yet while her practice may seem fluid, it’s all about the pursuit of “accuracy”, she explains: “I want to be as precise as possible in doing what I do – whether it’s a novel, a exhibition or a photograph or a song or a film. Once I’ve decided I want to do something real, just give me some time.

Like vagabonds! resonates with readers around the world and as the accompanying short nears its release, we talk to Osunde about nurturing the written word and visual art in his sprawling practice.

Top: Illustration by Eloghosa Osunde from The Orange Room, a collaboration with fashion brand Orange Culture; Above: Eloghosa Osunde

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