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Polly Alakija Artist talks to Pulse about showing the Five Cowries Creek in UK for the first time

The Flying flotilla created to raise awareness on the resourcefulness of the waterways and pollution was displayed at the Totally Thames festival in the United Kingdom. .

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It wasn’t that hard to miss - ‘The Five Cowries Flotilla’ - six traditional wooden canoes displayed at the London Millennium Footbridge in the United Kingdom.

The last couple of days have seen work created by Polly Alakija and over 100 Nigerian school children showcased part of this year’s Rivers of the World art exhibition at the 2017 Totally Thames Festival.

Polly Alakija takes the Five Cowries Flotilla from Lagos to London play

Polly Alakija takes the Five Cowries Flotilla from Lagos to London

(Polly Alakija)


To the ordinary eye, the 'The Five Cowries Flotilla' may just look like beautifully painted wooden canoes. But Alakija shares there’s a much significant story behind the artwork.

We chose the Five Cowries Creek as a “title” because of the history of the name. Each school looked at a different aspect of “river” life - we looked at issue around pollution; river cultures; the natural history of the waterways; the resourcefulness of waterways; and what it is like to live on waterways,” she told Pulse Nigeria via email.


The Rivers of the World exhibition is an educational project which seeks to enlighten children on the need to preserve the rivers in their community.

This was the first year that Nigeria was chosen to participate. I was the selected lead artist. I also engaged 6 youths from a youth empowerment program and these youths have been tasked with ensuring the schools remain in contact. I believe it's also good exposure for the youths,” Alakija said.

One of the flying flotilla's on display under Falomo bridge, Ikoyi, Lagos play

One of the flying flotilla's on display under Falomo bridge, Ikoyi, Lagos

(Polly Alakija)


The “Flying flotilla” was first displayed in Lagos Nigeria under Falomo bridge as part of Children's day and Lagos@50 celebrations this year. Alakija considers their selection for the for the Thames Festival in England “very lucky”.

When the Director of Totally Thames, Adrian Evans, visited Lagos he was most excited by the extraordinary potential here. I told the team right from the outset that I wanted all children who took part in the program to also be celebrated in Lagos, and we displayed the boats hanging under falomo bridge. When the Director saw this he suggested we take the children's painted boats and gave us a prime site outside the Tate Modern”.

This project which was taken to England in early September, 2017 was supported by the British Council, Lagos State, Get Real Youth Empowerment Program and MOE+ Architects.


The British artist who has created artworks exhibited in galleries and auction houses in England, South Africa and Nigeria is known for her community art projects, using art to raise awareness for social causes and working closely with children. She explained to Pulse the reason she worked with children in creating this instalment was to kickoff a conversation in artistry.

Rivers of the World is a schools project. I work often in schools and with youths. I am not trying to create a generation of artists per say, but rather use creative arts to help change mindsets and generate a conversation around creativity across the curriculum and in all professions.”

A student of Akande Dahunsi Memorial school painting one of the canoes play

A student of Akande Dahunsi Memorial school painting one of the canoes

(Polly Alakija)


In bringing the ‘The Five Cowries Flotilla’ to life, the muralist worked with a total of 150 children. She shared with Pulse what stood out for her during their work on the project.

As always I am most impressed by the children's ability to focus and concentrate. We may be in a digital age but all young people respond so positively to hands on practical learning. All the children and the team of youths, worked SO hard”.

Despite the exhibition coming to an end on September 26, 2017, it’s not the end of the project as it’ll run for the next two years.

““Rivers of The World” is their education project that is run in partnership with the British Council. Each year they work in 6 cities across the world; cities based on waterways. The idea is to educate children about the need to protect their rivers as they are a major resource for any city. The schools from cities around the world are twinned with schools in the UK. Our 6 schools were twinned with schools in SE London. The program is for two years”.

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