Tuesday, December 28, 2010

savvy | art.contemporary.african. -- Call for contributions

Call for Contributions for the bilingual art journal:
savvy | art.contemporary.african.
savvy | kunst.zeitgenössisch.afrikanisch.

Edition 0 of savvy | art.contemporary.african. and the storm of readers' affirmation confirmed the need for a sincere and independent criticism, as well as the majuscular cleft this journal is meant to bridge. The inaugural edition brought together instigations and directions as to “where do we go from here”, which provokes an inquiry into the status quo and thus the title of the subsequent edition. Edition 1 of savvy | art.contemporary.african. is dedicated to the theme “(Re-) Mapping the field: a bird’s eye view on discourses”. This edition will give an overview on the current academic discourses, aims at renegotiating and reflecting on terminologies, spaces, concepts and contexts at stake in the field of contemporary African art.

While the discourse on contemporary African art has undergone great changes in the last decades, with respect to the ways of perception and the rules of presenting or the tradition of talking about contemporary African art, the impact of the critiques in this field on a broader public still has to be investigated. The young but manifold schools of thought and critiques, their circumstances and consequences in both the academia and non-academia and the influences in subsequent practices will be elaborated in this edition. I.e. edition 1 will step back and take stock on, as well as (re-) map the field.

It is not by chance that this journal strides with huge steps - online and free - to reach as many readers as possible in this internet age in order to achieve the aim of this journal, which is to revitalise an open and academic discourse on contemporary artistic positions, movements and projects related to Africa and its diaspora.

We invite authors to send contributions related to the theme “(Re-) Mapping the field: a bird’s eye view on discourses”.

The articles should have a maximum length of 3500 words and be written in English.
German authors are asked to send their articles in German and English.
The deadline for submission is January 16th 2011.
E-Mail: editorial@savvy-journal.com
Homepage: www.savvy-journal.com

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sotheby's reverses decision on Benin art auction

On December 24, this announcement was posted on the website of the Sotheby's of London: 

“The Benin Ivory Pendant Mask and other items consigned by the descendants of
Lionel Galway which Sotheby’s had announced for auction in February 2011 have
been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors.”

This is very good news, if not for the descendants of Colonel Lionel Galway, at least for the Benin Palace, the Edo people, Nigerians and everyone else interested in seeking a just and equitable resolution of the fate of Benin art looted by British soldiers in 1897 during their invasion of the kingdom and destruction of the palace. As I indicated in my previous post, while--I hope--legal proceedings begin, popular pressure and mass action must be brought to bear on this question, if only to cause public relations problems for anyone or institution involved in or condoning future peddling of these stolen works. This Galway family cache must not be allowed to be sold until its ownership is settled by a court of law. And this is where the Benin Palace and the Nigerian government must act quickly. They must expeditiously sue the Galway family, and hopefully obtain a court order restraining them from disposing of these sculptures. They must not be allowed to squirrel the works into some godless private or public collection. In any case, I hope the outcome of this current campaign against the Sotheby's auction, should serve as enough warning to anyone who might want to buy these stolen objects from the Galway family.
To everyone who has been part of the media campaign against the Sotheby's sale, thanks! Let us now await the necessary court case(s).


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sale of Stolen Benin ivory mask by Sotheby's

On February 11, 2011 the Sotheby's, London will attempt to sell an extremely rare Benin ivory mask (representing the Queen Mother Idia) and five other important sculptures apparently consigned for auction by the descendants of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey--the same soldier of fortune who participated in the plunder and destruction of the Palace of the Oba of Benin in 1897.  This sale must not be allowed to take place. And I hope the Nigerian government or the Oba's Palace will seek an order of injunction restraining the Gallway family and Sotheby's from going ahead with this auction, until the Gallways can prove in a court of law their rightful ownership of these Benin sculptures. Moreover, Aso Rock and the Benin Palace should communicate in unmistakable terms to both Downing Street and House of Windsor their total opposition to this sale. They should also publish a caveat emptor on these works, even as they pursue other options.  All legal and political pressures and popular action must be brought to bear to stop this sale.

It is one thing for the likes of James Cuno at the Art Institute of Chicago to continue arguing against the possibility of repatriating art works plundered by European powers in the age of colonialism but that have found their way into the so-called repositories of human civilization; it is another for the family of this plunderer to bring out the stuff their ancestor stole a few generations ago from wherever they hid them, in the hope of making a fortune. Do they think that waiting 103 years after the theft would make the works legally theirs?  Frankly, I see no logical difference between the fate of these works taken from the Oba of Benin's private collection, and the works seized from their Jewish owners by the Nazis. This Sotheby's auction should present a good test case for the long-awaited process of righting a terrible wrong done to the grandfather of the present Oba of Benin by the British imperial regime. See my post two years ago on the same question of the return of stolen Benin art works.

At the moment a signature campaign against the auction of the Queen Idia mask and five other sculptures from the Gallway family is on. Please join this effort by clicking here

For news about this sale by Artdaily, the online newspaper click here

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Children of Akwa-Ibom: Signature Campaign

I write to ask for a big favor from you, on a subject that is very dear to my heart. I have written severally about the continuing suffering of children in Akwa-Ibom State, Nigeria. Children who, having been accused of witchcraft by Christian Pentecostal pastors in collusion with their families, are routinely killed, doused with acid or boiling water, mutilated with razor blade or knives, branded with hot iron, impaled with nails, starved till near death, or just driven away from home. Many of these are children as young as a few months.

I have written also about the travails of the Mr. Sam Itauma the founder of CRARN, and Mr. Gary Foxcroft of Stepping Stones Nigeria, two men who have given everything to ensure the wellbeing of these surviving terrorized and traumatized children. Mr. Itauma and Foxcroft have been victims of government-orchestrated attacks, intimidation and prosecution for "fraud". The Children center along with its school--that is the only access these children have to life and succor, their only refuge--is now threatened with closure now that the State Government has hounded the founders into hiding.

The reason I am writing now, is that at the moment there is an international signature campaign with the goal of putting pressure on the authorities in Akwa-Ibom State to change course, and do more to save these children, or at least to allow CRARN and Stepping Stones Nigeria do the good work they have been doing for these children for the past seven years or so.
Please help with this initiative with your signature, but also spread the word; send this link below to anyone you know. For the sake of these children.
To sign the petition click here
OR copy this URL:

This is not WikiLeaks

For the past couple of weeks, the world's pastime has been Wiki Leaks. What new embarrassing comment did another US official make about the head of state of Vanuatu, or the defense minister of Lichtenstein; and what did the Sultan of Bahrain tell Hilary Clinton about the Nigerian president...real gripping stuff that diplomatic etiquette suppresses from reaching the global public squares. That is Wiki Leaks brand of whistle-blowing.

But when it comes to Nigerian government officials, forget about secrecy, or confidential memos. Nigerians don't deal in diplomatese. Left to them alone, Mr. Assange would still be some anonymous journalist from the Land Down Under, or just out of work. Take for instance the incident that happened during the just ended Achebe Colloquium at Brown University. During one of the panel discussions involving Mr. John Campbell, former US ambassador to Nigeria, and the current Nigerian ambassador to the US, Mr Adefuye, the Nigerian diplomat did not wait until he got back to his office to gossip about his feelings for the irreverent American who was going on and on with statistics about looted Nigerian funds (the kind of stuff corrupt folks in my dear country don't want to hear, anyway). He just simply announced to everyone in the room and all others watching realtime on the internet that: “I will deal with him [Campbell]... With friends like him, Nigeria does not need any enemies. We shall confront him in the next section and by the time we finish with him, he will see that Nigeria is not on the brink.”
This is not Wiki Leaks. Read Saharareporters account of the event here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Decoding Basquiat" now available

To list to "Decoding Basquiat" by the British poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, click here
* This link is valid for 7 days

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Plea?

I have been reading quite a bit recently about El Anatsui's two major retrospectives in Toronto and Tokyo, and I cannot help but plead with all this commentators...actually, it is not a plea; it is a threat: if I hear or read one more time  scholars, critics or roadside commentators describe Anatsui's work as "fabric", "textile" or "wall hanging" I will throw up my cyberguts on their virtual faces!
I used to consider these descriptions of the artist's sculptures naughty or simply stupid. But now I believe it amounts to denial of the status of these works as Sculptures, and of the artists achievement in this genre, and I am having none of that. It makes me think of the days when African sculptors were described as "carvers." So, people, help me keep down my Thanksgiving turkey.

For CBS's helpful coverage of the Toronto show, click here

Benjamin Zephaniah on Basquiat: BBC Radio 4

[Program Announcement] 
Zephania with Anina Nosei, (Basquiat's Untitled, 1981); courtesy BBC 4
"Decoding Basquiat" - BBC Radio 4 - 11.30am Tuesday 30th November

50 years after the birth of one of America’s most enigmatic visual artists, Benjamin Zephaniah visits New York to read between the lines of Jean Michel Basquiat’s graffiti-inspired paintings.
When he died at the age of 27 Basquiat had been painting for less than a decade, but had achieved a unique feat: rising from graffiti writer to international art star. Basquiat’s prodigious talents and “cool status” made him a hero of the converging disco, hiphop and no-wave music scenes. By 1983 Basquiat had given up graffiti and was one of the most sought-after art commodities on the planet, surrounded by a string of sometimes contradictory mythologies: bohemian, ladies’ man, genius, drug addict, poet, inarticulate.  
Text was a constant in Basquiat’s work. From his street poetry, to his vast canvasses filled with lists from various sources: medical terminologies, Greek mythology and jazz LP liner notes. Benjamin will attempt to interpret his texts and symbols, to get beyond Basquiat’s artist as rockstar mythology. Can we draw conclusions about Basquiat's inner world from the words he used? 
Contributors include gallerist Annina Nosei who gave Basquiat his first solo show, Art historian Richard Marshall, art writer Michael Holman, music journalist Greg Tate, composer Lisle Ellis, Chika Okeke-Agulu from Princeton University and Basquiat’s long term girlfriend Suzanne Malouk.

“SAMO as an end to mindwash religion, nowhere politics and bogus philosophy”

- Basquiat street tag, 1979

December 22nd 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Basquiat’s birth.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Panel on African Independence


Scholars from the fields of art history, history, economics, political science and journalism discuss the legacy of African Independence in recognition of the 17 African nations that gained independence in 1960. Cosponsored by Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and George Washington University Department of History.

Keynote address by Chika Okeke-Agulu, Princeton University
"Postcolonial dilemmas: African Independence and the politics of cultural autonomy"

Howard French
Columbia University, School of Journalism

Todd Moss
Center for Global Development

Markus Goldstein
World Bank

Moderated by Nemata Blyden
George Washington University

Thursday, November 11
1—4 pm
George Washington University Campus
Marvin Center, Grand Ballroom, 3rd floor
800 21st Street NW (between H & I Streets)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New PhD in Africana Studies at Brown University

Brown University has just launched a brand new Ph.D. Program in Africana Studies, which is an important landmark for this Ivy League university. Described as "an interdisciplinary program focusing on the artistic, historical, literary, and theoretical expressions of the various cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora," it should be a grade-A destination for ambitious, high-achieving graduate students. As is now customary for similar programs in the League, the Brown Graduate School offers incoming doctoral students five years of guaranteed financial support, including a stipend, tuition remission, health-services fee, and a health-insurance subsidy. This support--which may take the form of a teaching assistantship, research assistantship, fellowship,or proctorship--helps to defray the cost of tuition, and also provides a stipend to assist with living expenses during the student’s program

The program is now accepting Ph.D. applications for Fall 2011.

For more information: Click here

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

ACLS African Humanities Program Fellowship

The deadline for applications for the 2010-2011 ACLS African Humanities Program fellowship competition is less than one month away!  Please take a moment to remind your colleagues, students, and other contacts of the deadline, and to encourage all who are eligible to apply. Your help is an important link in ACLS' attempt to reach all of our colleagues based on the continent, and to encourage those eligible for the fellowships to apply!

The deadline for electronic submission of applications is 1 December

-Fellowships support projects in the humanities, broadly defined.

-Applicant must be a national of a country in sub-Saharan Africa.

-Dissertation completion fellowships are available for the final year of dissertation writing. The applicant must be PhD candidate at a university in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, or Uganda. The applicant must be in residence at that university during the fellowship year.

-Early career postdoctoral fellowships are available to humanities scholars who completed the PhD in the last five years. The applicant must be in residence at and affiliated with an institution of higher education in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, or Uganda.

Application materials and further information about the program are available at the AHP website:

Contemporary Art and the Nigerian Law Makers

Yesterday, I received a copy of a document that is supposed to be a bill for a new Nigerian Gallery of Art law soon to be authorized by the House of Representatives in Abuja. When I first heard that a new bill was in the making, I thought, finally, someone has found the courage to do the right thing by providing a more sensible mandate, but also more crucially a framework for establishing a serious institution comparable to what exists elsewhere in the sane world. I thought, finally, perhaps there will be a law stating that the government will commit to building a national gallery of art in Abuja, rather than the disgraceful infrastructure lacking decent proper spaces or resources to exhibit and conserve any contemporary art worth its name. I thought, finally, the law makers would enable a process that will lead to construction of at least just one GALLERY OF ART for a nation that in spite of its wealth, has up till now not done what so many countries in Africa have accomplished--even the ones whose entire annual budgets are not up to the amount Nigeria spends on importing generators for federal agencies--which is to actually BUILD a decent national gallery however modest. I thought perhaps someone feels ashamed that in the 50th year of Nigeria, the so-called golden anniversary national art exhibition last month had to be mounted in the Abuja sports stadium, rather than in a proper gallery space.

Well, as it turns out, I must have been drinking something more intoxicating than "Sapele Water." For the document I saw yesterday is nothing but a plan by some conniving crooks to kill and to totally mess up what is already a lackluster contemporary art industry in Nigeria. Rather than consider laws that should strengthen the National Gallery in terms of making it a semi-autonomous progressive institution not stage-managed by civil service bureaucrats and politicians, this bill-in-the-making is a shameless attempt to hijack and micromanage key aspects of contemporary art transaction in Nigeria. It looks like some people have suddenly realized that there is money in art, and thus are scheming for a way to milk this cow, legally. I am under no illusion that some folks are trying to legalize what is clearly a parasitical impulse, especially with the relatively high sale numbers turned in by new private auction houses in Nigeria.

I do not know who is behind this bill (sponsored by Tunde Akogun) from within the art industry, but it must be said that THIS NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART BILL STINKS! and must be rejected by anyone who cares about the present and future of contemporary art in Nigeria. Let me be clear that if this bill passes, it will have a most devastating effect on artists, collectors, private galleries, and everyone involved in the field of contemporary art. Just imagine the nonsense about registration of all artists practicing in Nigeria, including those who do not live in Nigeria but wish to have their works exhibited or sold in Nigeria. Not even in efficiently managed dictatorial regimes did government mandate registration of all artists, including those who never wished to do business with government. Moreover, I am sure the National Gallery of Art could spend its time taking care of the works in its collection, rather than be turned into a money collecting and management agency. Just imagine the scale of transactions in contemporary art in Nigeria, and you would realize what it means for the NGA to supposedly micromanage every art sales and auctions, every building construction funded by government, and the registration status of art and artists. To me, this bill effectively kills the hope that some of us have that the National Gallery of Nigeria will one day become the type of institution imagined by the visionary members of the Federal Society of Art and Humanities in the 1960s.

Finally, if you don't believe me when I say that this bill has been drafted by people who are more interested in money that in art, consider this. Twice in the bill we are told that works of art without proof of paid royalty or clearance permit will be DUMPED in the National collection of the NGA. So, here you go. The bill effectively will legalize the transformation of the NGA such as it is currently into a dump.

Just in case you wonder what has got me this riled up, here below are a few of the clauses in the proposed bill:

  • Every contemporary visual work of art sold in this country or otherwise shall attract a 5% deduction from the total cost, paid in cash as royalty to the original artist estate whether he is alive or dead.
  • This royalty shall be made payable to the Embellishment Committee of the National Gallery who shall within one month remit same to the estate of the affected Artist after a 1 % administrative deduction from the gross sale.
  • Every contemporary visual work of art engaged in an exhibition, displayed for sale which does not comply with section 19 shall be confiscated and dumped in the National Collection for art until the royalty of 10% of the sale and another 5 % as fine is paid by the artist selling, auctioning or exhibiting.
  • Where the Director-General or the person authorized in writing by him is certified that the object is a contemporary works of art, he may issue permit hereinafter called "Clearance Permit'1 in respect of that object or where he is satisfied that the object is contemporary works of art and that the object is not the property of another artist, he shall issue a "Clearance Permit" and a number identifying such work of an where there was none existing pursuant to section 19 of this Act.
  • Where a permit is not produced and surrendered within one month, the Gallery shall dump it in the national collection of art at the National gallery of Art.
  • Every contemporary visual work of art originating in Nigeria or not originating in Nigeria but is being sold or auctioned or exhibited for sale in Nigeria, shall be registered, stamped. and issued a number by the Gallery.
  • The number so issued shall be unique to the art work and shall be issued-to identify the art work throughout Nigeria and to locate the estate of the original artist.
  • Every Artist or Art collector practicing in the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall register and obtain a registration number from the National Gallery of Art—

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Memoriam: Agbo Folarin and Gregory Isaacs

The light of our world shines dimmer with the deaths of two remarkable men, the Nigerian sculptor Agbo Folarin, and the Jamaican Reggae star Gregory Isaacs.

Agbo Folarin, who retired as a professor of art at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, was a leading artist of the renowned Ife School. His many sculptural commissions at Ife in no small way have defined, for many, the visual character the beautiful campus. A teacher of acclaimed artists and scholars, Folarin's place in the history of Nigerian art is assured. But thinking about a common problem of Nigerian artists, I worry what happens to the work he left behind and about his invaluable archives. I pray though there are few among his bereaved family who would take on the task of safeguarding the materials that will constitute the basis of future research on the life and work of the master sculptor.

Gregory Isaacs, the gentleman cool ruler who, despite long struggles with his personal demons, gave to reggae music its coolest riddims, its most romantic lyrics, its heart tingling rhymes. I cannot forget the days back in the Umuahia of my youth when my brother Ike and I struggled mightily to extract the bass riddims from Isaacs' (but also Black Uhuru, Marley, etc) sounds with the aid of earthen pots and primitive speakers, which was all we could afford. How so much I pined to weave my own version of the man's silk-threaded voice. Listening to him as I write this now, I cannot help but say: Lord a mercy!

Did the sun come out today?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Achebe's 2010 Gish Prize

Chinua Achebe at home(Aug. 7, 2010). Photo copyright: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Tomorrow (October 27), Chinua Achebe the master of the written word will receive the 2010 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in New York. One of the world's most prestigious awards in the arts, the $300,000 Gish Prize winners include individuals who have defined and extended the horizons of the visual, performing, and literary arts since the later part of the 20th century. And it is no surprise that the same man who, at the expense of his own art, has been indefatigably committed to the development of modern African literature (just imagine this field without the "African Writers Series," published by Heinemann, or the journal Okike!) has now put an African name in the rarefied list of Gish Winners. It sure promises to be a blast of an event at the Hudson Theatre, Millennium Broadway, with many Achebephiles, friends and family in attendance. But first I have to find a "business attire" I am told I must wear to see the big masquerade in the public arena!

The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Recipients:
2010 Chinua Achebe, author
2009 Pete Seeger, folk musician, singer and social activist
2008 Robert Redford, filmmaker, activist, Sundance Institute founder
2007 Laurie Anderson, multimedia performance artist
2006 Shirin Neshat, visual artist and filmmaker
2005 Peter Sellars, theatre and opera director
2004 Ornette Coleman, jazz innovator
2003 Bill T. Jones, dancer/choreographer
2002 Lloyd Richards, theatre director
2001 Jennifer Tipton, lighting designer
2000 Merce Cunningham, dancer/choreographer
1999 Arthur Miller, author/playwright
1998 Isabel Allende, author
1997 Bob Dylan, singer/songwriter
1996 Robert Wilson, artist/director
1995 Ingmar Bergman, film director
1994 Frank Gehry, architect

For further information on the 2010 Gish Prize, Click HERE

Thursday, October 21, 2010

From my photo files

039_Okwui-El_Oct 2 2010

Okwui Enwezor and El Anatsui at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

On Delhi Art Gallery, New Delhi

Photos: Courtesy of Delhi Art Gallery

Late this summer I was in New Delhi visiting a bit of its art world, and was struck by the work some of its elite modern and contemporary art galleries in the realm of documentation and research. I had gone to the Delhi Art Gallery to look at its collection of Indian mid-20th-century modernists, particularly Francis Newton Souza who my friend Ulli Beier once held as a model for young Nigerian artists. Of course I saw the art I was after, but it was the range of publications commissioned and produced by the DAG that I found astounding. For years this gallery and others like it, such as the Vadehra Art Gallery, have been at the forefront of producing scholarly publications on especially modern Indian artists. And they have, I think, helped in increasing international scholarly (and yes, commercial) attention these artists are attracting now.

When I think of how these commercial art galleries participate in serious knowledge production only very few galleries, even blue chips of New York's Chelsea district, come to mind. Here you have substantial monographic studies of individual artists-- from Souza, and Raza to Sunil Das, Rabin Mondal, etc--and their wonderful survey volumes, Manifestations. I just involuntarily pined for the day galleries in Lagos would grow up to doing this kind of crucial groundwork. To really invest in artists whose work they claim to promote. So, there I was so thrilled at the work being done by commercial galleries in New Delhi; like a child confronted by a candy-bearer, I packed so much books published by just the DAG and Vadehra, that I had to pay excess luggage on my way back to base. Contrast this with my visit to the "high-end" Mydrim Gallery in Lagos earlier in the summer: I came out empty-handed. Oh, the wish, the wish.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Anatsui at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Earlier this month the much-anticipated El Anatsui retrospective organized by the Museum for African Art, New York opened at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. For years, I was anxious to see what Anatsui's retrospective might look like; what a museological space would make sense of his very diverse body of work, from the round wood panels of the 1970s to the ceramic sculptures of the early 1980s, from the acrylic paintings of the early 80s to the wall plaques and three dimensional wood sculptures of the 80s and 90s, and finally to the metal sculptures of the last ten years. I wondered what the works would look like in the discursive space of the retrospective exhibition, after several years of seeing them up close as Anatsui's sculpture student, and later as his studio assistant, long before I started writing about these works or presenting some of them in exhibitions.

The show organized by Lisa Binder, assistant curator at the Museum for African Art, is quite an effort and must be, for people who know Anatsui only through his stupendous metal sculptures, a revelatory experience. Here for the first time are gathered some of the artist's key early works, with many of the round wood panels, several of the ceramic sculptures, and the paintings only visitors to Anatsui's home at Nsukka knew existed. There is of course the graceful free-standing wood sculpture, Wonder Masquerade, owned by Wole Soyinka, and a few other key wood sculptures, such as When Last I Wrote to You...(which gave the exhibition its title). Surprisingly though, the Crumbling Wall, or the Wast Paper Baskets --works that show a bit more of the range of the artists metal sculptural language, beyond the bottle and milk can top sculptures--are not part of the show, nor are any of the marquee wall-bound metal sculptures of the last decade. Might this be due to loan problems?

Ok. What I have said above is the good thing about the show. I don't even want to rant about the really terrible design of the exhibition. I could, but I wont. But let me just say that whoever came up with the idea of painting the walls, platforms and pedestals with that terrible blue paint, and reddish wood highlights did a great disservice the artist's work. Not only did the color add to the already noisy space (I just can't help wondering what Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the building, thought he was doing with the harsh, messy diagonal walls that compromised the usable space of the galleries, apart from giving me momentary, unappreciated vertigo), it invaded the composition of several of the wood panels. I don't even want to think that the designers of the show wanted to really impress visitors to the work of this "African" artist--after all, are Africans not a people of color!?

So, please, please. Let this craziness just end in Toronto, and could designers of the spaces where this retrospective will travel save these works from the color abuse? Thank you.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Princeton in Africa (PiAf) offers yearlong fellowship opportunities with a variety of organizations that work across the African continent. PiAf Fellows work in service-oriented positions in many different fields, including humanitarian aid, public health, conservation, and education. Since its launch in 1999, PiAf has placed over 200 Fellows in 30 countries. Graduating seniors and young alumni from any U.S. college or university are eligible to apply. For more information, visit www.princetoninafrica.org, call 609.258.7215, or email piaf@princeton.edu.

Applications are due November 19th!

Tracy Emin, the newest Black British artist

So, it is now official. Black Britain has claimed one of the country's best known contemporary artists, the irreverent, smart Tracy Emin. It has been revealed that both she and her cousin the Baroness Hussein-Ece are in fact great-grand daughters of a Sudanese slave. Their black slave ancestor was sold to a Cypriot merchant, while their own parents arrived England after WWII from Cyprus. Just when you thought that Emin had put everything about her life, including the kind of stuff that could get readers of Maxim and Ok! magazines tickled, out in the public as works of art. So what happens now?

I suspect that before Emin starts thinking of what to do with her Sudanese ancestry that country's Islamist regime will denounce her, and let the world know that her art is a betrayal of the African woman; a blasphemous gesture unbecoming of someone who has strayed from the faith and the culture. Then they'd make sure she never presents herself as a lost daughter of Sudan and Africa. If you think this is just crazy speculation on my part, remember what happened to Chris Ofili who was denounced by the Nigerian government for debasing the African woman with his dung-breasted Virgin Mary painting.

The more important lesson in all of this though is that history hides so much from us, even as we confront, avoid, or just stare at the intractable idea of race and difference in today's society.

Read the story of Emin's African ancestry in Daily Mail

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Governor Akpabio's War Against Children -- Okey Ndibe

*This is unprecedented for Ọf ọdunka: I am posting this piece written by my friend Okey Ndibe for a newspaper published in Nigeria. But for some really curious reason it was declined by the editor. In posting Ndibe's piece I am just saying to the censors: you cannot kill the voices in the wilderness.
Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom is in danger of doing something that’s unforgivably evil. In the name of protecting the image of his state, he has set out to destroy two organizations that are doing an admirable job of rescuing innocent children who are stigmatized as witches and wizards – and then subjected to brutalization.

In a recent CNN program devoted to the plight of Akwa Ibom’s “witch” children, the state’s commissioner of information, Aniekan Umanah, resorted to the most bizarre of lies. Unabashed, this commissioner told the world, in effect, that the problem was a mere hullabaloo and fiction, the product of a scam by two groups – one, the UK-based Stepping Stones Nigeria (SSN) run by Gary Foxcroft, the other, the indigenous Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN), run by Sam Itauma.

Following his commissioner’s shameful attempt to convince CNN viewers that the young victims of witchcraft persecution were actors and actresses directed by Foxcroft and Itauma, Governor Akpabio delivered an address to the state where he spoke along the same lines. In Akpabio’s facile script, the many children being sheltered, fed and educated thanks to the collaborative work of SSN and CRARN are victims, not of depraved witch hunters, but of two men determined to make a fortune.

The governor’s allegations are the more astonishing because he must know that his claims were deceptive. As a duly registered entity in the UK, Stepping Stones Nigeria is required by law to file documents disclosing the donations it received as well as its expenditures. If Akpabio had any proof that SSN’s funds were diverted, he could send Foxcroft on his way to jail by forwarding the evidence to British authorities.

But the governor and his commissioner are the ones making facile fiction out of a gory reality. The fact is that children, thousands of children, in Akwa Ibom are accused of witchcraft, and then beaten, burned, maimed and killed on the grounds of the unproven, ignorant charges.

It’s a shameful, shocking reality, and one that should challenge the governor and his cabinet to keep sleepless nights until the traumatized children are safe and their tormentors brought to book.

Instead of doing this, the governor and his commissioner have taken the low road. They have decided to wage a vile campaign against the two men whose dedication and advocacy have made a world of a difference in the lives of some of these persecuted innocents.

Governor Akpabio was not content to stop at vending a falsehood by accusing SSN and CRARN of fraudulent exploitation. Since his declaration of war – ostensibly on Foxcroft and Itauma, but in actuality against the unfortunate children that the two men care for – “security” men have turned the town of Eket, where the children are sheltered, into a theater of indiscriminate shooting. It is nothing less than evil to compound the travails of children who have been put through hell-grade suffering. Itauma, the portrait of a loving father to these maligned, mauled children, has been forced to look constantly over his shoulder, and to run for dear life.

It’s bad enough that Mr. Akpabio did not offer to make the resettlement of these children a singular mission of his administration. In seeking to slash and burn those who offer succor and a glimmer of hope to the castaways, the governor is, in effect, savaging poor children who had already suffered cruelty on a scale that would horrify anybody with a modicum of humanity.

It was in late 2008 that BBC Channel 4 first exposed the hideous dehumanization of children in a documentary titled “Saving Africa’s Witch Children.” As I wrote in an earlier column, “I was transported to one of the most gruesome, barbaric and dehumanizing documentaries I’ve ever watched.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Reign of Terror

Just yesterday I wrote about the travails of the charities assisting the so-called "Child Witches" in Akwa-Ibom State. This morning, news reports indicate that armed men invaded the CRARN Center, terrorizing the children and the neighborhood two days ago. This campaign against Mr. Sam Ikpe-Itauma by the State government is reminiscent of the tactics of the Abacha dictatorship. Who will forget that Ken Saro-Wiwa, the leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (MOSOP), had earned his death warrant after his exposition, at the United Nations, of the collusion between the dictatorship and foreign oil companies in the human and environmental devastation of the Niger Delta. Now, the governor of Akwa-Ibom State, having accused CRARN and Stepping Stones of fraud and for giving the state a bad name in the international community, seems poised to "disappear" these men. You would think that the ten years of "democracy" in Nigeria should have made a difference!

Given the urgency of this situation, all conscientious people ought to call on the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (who is visiting the United Nations in two weeks) to intervene in this matter, as the well-being of these unfortunate children and their helpers far outweigh the vain pride of an insensitive governor. If I make it to New York I shall ask Mr. Jonathan what his government is doing about the matter. But also, local and international news media should revisit this story; for it will be a shame if tomorrow--and God forbid--something terrible happens to Sam Ikpe-Itauma under our watch.

My helplessness is hurting so bad. But letting this matter go, without a final resolution that is beneficial to the children is not an option. The man dies in him, Soyinka memorably affirmed, who keeps silent in the face of tyranny.

Read the latest news from Saharareporters.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Governor Akpabio and the so-called Child Witches

In a recent interview with the CNN, the governor of Akwa-Ibom State in southeastern Nigeria was asked about the well-documented inhuman abuse of children accused of witchcraft by their impoverished families who themselves are, I might add, victims of a very twisted form of Christian faith. The governor, to my consternation, charged that the problem is "very, very minimal" and that reports of this ongoing tragedy are only a "part of the media propaganda against the state, and [that] it was done for pecuniary reasons." He specifically took issues with a report sent to the United Nations by Stepping Stones Nigeria, the charity organization that has (with Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, CRARN) been the foremost advocate of these unfortunate children. Moreover, Akpabio argued that his state does not have an anti-witchcraft problem, but one of poverty.

But guess what, Mr. governor? Are you so blind to see that this witchcraft phenomenon is a result of the material impoverishment of peoples in your state combined with predatory practices of certain Christian pastors? Or have you ever seen any maimed "child witch" from a well-to-do family? It is either naivety of the troubling kind or outright dis-ingenuity for you to think that the simultaneous rise in mass poverty and countless forms of "Christian" faiths, is not responsible for the unprecedented cases of child abandonment, as well as physical and psychological abuse of babies by parents, families and communities struggling to make sense of their own sorry existence in today's Nigeria. And by the way have you not heard that similar witchcraft phenomena have been reported in other parts of Africa and Asia blighted by social, political and economic hardship and forms of holy sadism?

If the matter stopped at the stupid, insensitive response of governor Akpabio to this soul-wrenching abuse of the human rights of innocent children in his state, I would not be this much angry. As I write, Mr. Sam Ikpe-Itauma, the indefatigable founder of CRARN and Mr. Foxcroft of Stepping Stone Nigeria are in hiding, deeply concerned about their personal safety since the CNN broadcast. In the past it was Helen Ukpabio whose church, according to Wikipedia, "claim[s] that Satan has the ability to manifest himself in the bodies of children by demonic possession and make them become his servants in the form of 'witches' or 'wizards'" that hounded these men, with the help of a compromised legal system, for suggesting that her brand of Christianity and childxploitation films are stoking the fires of the murderous anti-witchcraft movement. Now, I understand that the chief executive of Akwa-Ibom State himself, is out to "deal" with Mr. Ikpe-Itauma and Mr. Foxcroft. Given the incessant political murders and kidnappings taking place in the State and elsewhere in southern Nigeria, I am very concerned about the safety of these two men. And according to a reliable news report the governor has ordered the arrest of the two men by the police (he forgets that he is not a military dictator).

While I hope that having gone underground the two men (and their families) remain safe, has it not occurred to governor Akpabio that the 200 or so children who depend on these two men are the ultimate victims of his terrible politics? The governor must realize that Stepping Stones and CRARN are not the problem; rather he must thank them for assisting his government in the work it ought to have been doing right from the start. If he is interested in the welfare of these children, in whose scorched hands lie the future of his state, he must then tackle in earnest the problem of poverty in his state, some of which is the product of the rapacious acts of oil companies that have wasted vast waterways and farmlands on which many Akwa-Ibom citizens depend for their livelihood. He must condemn the work of these so-called Christian pastors who exploit the gullibility and existential insecurity of an impoverished people, and he ought to make sure that the police and the courts are not hampered in the job of bringing to justice the perpetrators of this violence against children. That is what he should be doing, not harassing people who have, against the odds, devoted their lives to providing succor to these unfortunate little ones.

The world must keep watch on what happens to the terrorized and abused children of Akwa-Ibom State; we should all be concerned about the safety of the founders of CRARN and Stepping Stones, Nigeria.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On the Association of Art Museum Directors

Courtesy ARTnews, Sept. 2010

I cannot help but comment on a photograph published on p. 50 of this month's edition of the venerable ARTnews magazine. It shows a group of men and women standing behind a guy on the driving seat of a really snazzy formula-1 car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My first impulse was to think that it is another stunt by Glenn Beck and his gang of tea-party jingoists motivated not so much by the crocodile-tear anger at the Obama Administration's handling of the economy as by fear of losing some power in the ongoing, ineluctable, demographic transformation of the United States of America. Don't get me wrong. The museum directors group do not, by any stretch of the imagination compare, in their practices and pronouncement with the incredible racism behind the Tea Party/Beck rhetoric. Moreover, the AAMD is now consciously even-if-belatedly working to remake itself by seeking greater "openness in changing the organization in its membership to respond to a changing world," according to one of its leading members. But it is impossible to not say something about how white the organization currently is, and looks. This is all the more reason to wonder why the art world, in spite of its supposedly progressive self-regard, is always the very last to actually effect meaningful change to acknowledge the gains America has made in letting its non-white populations gain access to real and symbolic seats of power. If the NFL, MLB and NBA have diversified team managerial cadres (at least a little bit), the AAMD sure can. Or are they waiting for the Hockey League? The AAMD sure can show it means business about change; and it can do that by actively working to add more color--and I don't mean using saturated photo inks, or bringing along the museum security personnel!--to the next group photo. I happen to know quite a few of the members of the group, and that they are very decent people. But it is often easier to take the status quo as acceptable. I suggest that each member of the Association should take a second look at their very nice group photo; perhaps the urgency of the problem of lack of racial diversity should be all too obvious.