Set in and around Lagos, Nigerian writer Eloghosa Osunde’s newly published debut novel Vagabonds! weaves through the lives of those who fall between the cracks of accepted society. The book’s name comes from the term cited in Nigeria’s penal code which criminalises members of the LGBTQ community, sex workers, the homeless and others on the fringes – a legal hangover from British colonialism. In Osunde’s hands, the book stands as a celebration of those who are othered, and a condemnation of the individuals and structures who make them so as they perpetuate violence, corruption and capitalism.
A supernatural thread ties the various stories in Vagabonds! together. There are evocations of the afterlife, and the city of Lagos itself is kept in running order by the likes of Èkó, a menacing ‘cityspirit’, and its many amorphous underlings, including the gossiping narrator, Tatafo. Each way you look, Vagabonds! is alive with magical potential in the face of oppression.
Osunde’s writing is rich and sensorial, and it’s laced with cues from her wider creative practice. Beyond words, her ideas have taken shape in painting, photography, poetry, installations, film, and textiles. Each discipline often laps against one another: see her swirling, fluid mixed media pieces, or her collaboration with Nigerian fashion label Orange Culture, a blend of text fragments, playlists, and artworks, which went on to inform the fabric prints used in the brand’s SS20 collection.
“Everything I do tends to inform what else I do,” the artist tells us. “I write for the same reason I make visual art, for the same reason I touch any other medium: to better express what I mean; to tell a story; to remember the specific feeling of something; to send an energetic forcefield out into the world; to make what I dream of more possible, more tangible. There’s no particular order to it, which is fine by me, because order is not one of my priorities. The running thread through my practices is that they all grow me.” Yet even though her practice may appear freeflowing, it’s all in the pursuit of “exactness”, she explains: “I want to be as precise at making what I’m making as possible – whether that thing is a novel or an exhibition or a photograph or a song or a film. Once I decide that I want to make a thing real, just give me some time.”
As Vagabonds! resonates with readers around the world, and its accompanying short film approaches release, we talk to Osunde about nurturing the written word and visual art in her sprawling practice.