October 2020: Lagos, Nigeria

In the weeks before the riots, I was about a month into my first MFA year, living the sheltered life of a fellowship-funded student and Zooming in to classes in New York from Lagos because of pandemic travel embargoes. To pass the time I made mood boards — mostly collages of things I could not afford: Togo sofas. Matisse sketches. Muller Van Severen grid shelves. This was months into COVID, and I had recently discovered lifestyle vloggers with niche appeal. In my Lagos one-bedroom, certain there would be an apocalypse any day now, I eased into my info-glut life, clicking on each video and watching with the singular focus of a new convert as a YouTube homemaker portioned food into containers. I grew apathetic to almost anything that wasn’t featured on an obscure German influencer’s channel. Here, I thought, according to the logic of pandemic-style parasocial relationships, was a person like me. Her apartment was shabby chic, like mine. What did it matter if hers had been in her family’s possession for generations and I was renting a cramped boys’ quarters? In the red wash of her kitchen’s mood lighting, she delivered updates on her life and performed ordinary tasks. I watched her soak cashew nuts, blitz them with baby tomatoes, and spread the paste over penne pasta, all the while whispering intimately to the camera about a set of new clothes she’d just ordered from Depop.