Akeroyd Collection


Karimah Ashadu , Machine Boys, 2024

Machine Boys (2024) offers an intimate glimpse into the world of the motorcycle taxis of Lagos. Colloquially known as ‘okada’, the practice has become illegal due to numerous accidents and, more likely, the impossibility of regulating its informal economy. In the film, we learn that after the ban was enforced in 2022, the okada continued to operate. Their ongoing work on the streets of Lagos makes passengers and drivers liable to imprisonment, and the drivers susceptible to attack and violence from the authorities. The film captures the high-stakes nature of this clandestine work and gives expression to the anxiety felt by the men who, through necessity, continue to risk it all. We hear intimate testimony of the rider’s desires, fears, and needs. Many hope to escape the industry with enough capital to begin a legitimate business or to train for a trade and what is apparent in the film, is a sense of conflicting emotion; a liberatory sense of belonging alongside a constricting sense of necessity. Nonetheless, as with any community, its aesthetics, codes and rituals play out as an internal economy of exuberance. Each rider embodies a particular kind of masculinity through their stylish attire and self-assured manner. Displays of flare and skill are in abundance. Lingering views of the bikes that track personal touches and customisation suggest internal competitiveness. This edge, however, seems to energise a collective movement against authority.

Through this exploration of Nigerian patriarchal ideals, Ashadu relates the performance of masculinity to the vulnerability of a precarious class of workers. There is a sense of pathos as we hear the fate of many comrades at the hands of the law or of God. An impending sense of inevitability persists. This is heightened in the film’s installation within a purple-lit room, referencing the customised lighting of one of the bikes. Alongside the film, a brass sculpture titled Wreath (2024) depicts an interwoven relief of tyres. Like a medal, the work in its totality speaks to ideas of value – both symbolic and economic. And while celebratory, the film's prevailing concerns seem to be those of commemoration and legitimacy.

MediumHD digital film, colour with 5.1 surround sound
Duration8 minutes 50 seconds
EditionEdition of 5