Trained as a graphic artist at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where he graduated in 2001, Emeka Ogboh became a pioneering sound artist in Africa. His sound work, which began as an ethnographic fascination with the commercial nerve center in Lagos, was triggered by two key factors. First, an initial consideration of the abundance of markets spread around the city and how they dictate the psychology of Lagos as a place. Second, his introduction to sound art at Fayoum Academy, Egypt, in February 2008. His sound work, which he refers to as Lagos Soundscapes, explores the city’s history, social landscape, forms of belonging, stakes of ownership, and concepts of space. Ogboh seeks to comprehend the city through familiar avatars and contexts that incite the sonic experience on a mass scale. In his work he has explored the ubiquitous yellow commercial Volkswagen bus, popularly called danfo, as a mobile public space that articulates the city’s acoustic character through a cacophony of sounds, such as bus conductors screaming out bus routes, social interaction among passengers trading the latest city gossip, bus preachers of the gospel, and hawkers peddling all manner of wares.
Beginning with Lagos State of Mind 1 (2012), an installation of Lagos Soundscapes embedded in a danfo bus, as part of the Progress of Love exhibition at the Menil Collection, Houston, Texas (2012), Ogboh began to combine sound and material forms in robust measure. This marked a shift from his previous minimalist approach of installing soundscapes with few visual elements. His practice has since diversified to include a variety of media and art forms such as photography, video, and mixed media installation.
Ogboh has also addressed other subjects, of which the theme of migration and globalization has become an important concern. His work at the Biennale di Venezia, The Songs of the Germans, is a prime example. The multichannel sound installation consists of the voices of African refugees singing Deutschlandlied, the third stanza of the German national anthem composed by Joseph Haydn in 1797, but in their various mother tongues. The work examines the political status and economic conditions of Africans living in Berlin who are denied formal residency against the backdrop of recent anti-immigrant rhetoric and protests— in Germany in particular and in Europe in general—to question any assumptions that globalization provides equal mobility, access, and acceptance.