The Spiritual Highway: Religious World Making in Megacity Lagos, Exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London, 9 April to 21 June 2014

The Spiritual Highway: Religious World Making in Megacity Lagos, an exhibition at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London, 9 April to 21 June 2014, is a photography project by Akintunde Akinleye and Marloes Janson.

The 120-kilometre long Lagos-Ibadan Expressway that connects Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos with the city of Ibadan – the third largest metropolitan area in the country – is considered the most important and busiest road in Nigeria. It was opened to traffic in 1979 at the peak of the oil boom, a period often described as ‘paradise on wheels’. As from the 1990s deterioration set in. Resulting from the fact that it has become one of the most accident-prone highways in Nigeria, a popular label for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is ‘Highway of Death’. While it has failed as the artery linking the north and the south of Nigeria, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has succeeded as a stage for the performance of public religiosity to the extent that it can be described as a ‘Spiritual Highway’. It owes this name to the fact that since the late 1980s numerous Christian and Muslim movements have cropped up along the highway.

This exhibition is a result of the work that Akintunde and Marloes produced as part of a project to explore and record these centres of religion that have become known as ‘prayer cities’ in the summer of 2013 along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. They concentrated on two of these. The Christian Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries or MFM Prayer City and the Muslim Nasrul-Lahi-Fatih Society of Nigeria, which translates as ‘There is no help except from Allah’ and is abbreviated to NASFAT. These prayer cities are huge in scale with congregations of tens of thousands, competing with each other for new converts by offering a range of facilities and services ranging from faith healing, to education and health care. Challenging conventional assumptions of Christianity and Islam as bounded and distinct traditions, this project focuses instead on the convergence between the two religious traditions, thereby crossing boundaries and blurring sharp distinctions. The convergence of Pentecostal Christianity and revivalist Islam in the ways religion articulates with urbanity makes the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway a true crossroads.