Monday, July 25, 2011

VIDEO: How I Found Ikemba Nnewi Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu In London | Sahara Reporters

The wonder is why of all the media houses in Nigeria only the "little but heroic" Saharareporters is capable, willing and courageous enough to do this kind of investigative journalism, to shine the light of truth on the dark zones of Nigeria's socio-political culture.

VIDEO: How I Found Ikemba Nnewi Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu In London | Sahara Reporters

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Destruction of Demas Nwoko's Mural in Ibadan

Interior of Teddar Hall, University of Ibadan. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu
This is what I saw earlier in the month when I went in search of Demas Nwoko's 1962 masterpiece mural The Gifts of Talent. A clean wall coated with fairly new sky-blue paint. I had to go outside again just to be sure that I was in Teddar Hall, where this painting had been for decades. I had a chill, when I realized that the mural was gone. When later I asked colleagues I was told that some university official gave the order to paint over the mural. Why? Who? I got no useful answer. Did someone want to "facelift" the hall by painting over the "old" work of art with new paint? Or did someone just decide that the nudity depicted in the painting was too pagan for the radical Christianity and Islam that is sweeping across the land? Or is it just simply an act of wanton philistinism? I heard sometime ago that the painting was not in good shape, with some of the paint peeling in some areas. But should the university authorities not have contacted the artist to negotiate the restoration of the mural? Did the university not know the value of this work; the fact that it is one of the few artistic landmarks in the entire campus? I went into mourning, and days later traveled to the east to see Nwoko who, to my relief, already heard about the vandalism. Shame to the University of Ibadan authorities. If there was a cultural hell, that is where I would send whoever it was that  approved for elimination of Nwoko's mural. Just imagine the cost of removing that unfortunate coat of paint to reveal what remains of the mural someday in the future, in a better Nigeria.

Church of the Resurrection, University of Ibadan. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Ben Enwonwu's important wood sculpture, The Risen Christ at the Church of the Resurrection also on the University of Ibadan campus is in better luck, but not by much. You'd think that the church owners would take better care of the precious work. No. It is just sitting on the floor by the entrance door, with parts of it broken off, the surface coated with grime (I saw what might be a big rat hiding under the base!). The whole ensemble looking really miserable, like an abandoned child. If the church has no use for it anymore, perhaps they should send it to...oh, I just remembered that Nigeria has no art museum where the work or any other can at least be kept in better condition.  Shame.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fashola's Lagos

Construction sign by the German engineering company, Julius Berger

The Iganmu train station under construction by a Chinese engineering company

Today, as I was passing through Orile-Mile 2 road in a taxi, the driver said to me in pidgeon English:
"if I had a voice, if people were to listen to me, I would tell the people of Lagos to allow Governor Fashola to stay in office until he is tired. Then we could see if we can find someone who will be like him. But they say, because of democracy he cannot run again after second term." We were passing through the  multi-billion dollar road and light rail project that would drastically enhance intra-city mass transit as well as transportation between Lagos and the West African region. The car was airconditioned, but I had to wind down the glass to soak in the orchestra of machinery, and the cacophony of children playing on mountains of construction sand. I wanted to breath in the dust, knowing that, perhaps, when next I pass this road all the thrilling chaos will be replaced by the kind of transportation infrastructure I could not dream of just a few years ago for this sprawling, formidable city. The taxi driver, I thought to myself, was a wise man.

E.C. Osondu's reading at The Lifehouse, Lagos

E. C. Osondu [Photos: Chika Okeke-Agulu]

Yesterday, I was reminded what made and makes Lagos--in spite of itself--the city one cannot turn completely away from. E.C. Osondu, who won the Caine Prize two years ago (for his short story, "Waiting") had a reading from his  collection Voice of America at Ugoma Adegoke's trendy The Lifehouse in Victoria Island, Lagos. It was my only chance to see old friends, and make new acquaintances during this trip. Odia Ofeimun, Toyin Akinosho, Ndidi Dike, Toni Kan, Victor Ehikhamenor, Tunde Kuboye, Molara Woods, and many more were there. Toyin who has sparred with E.C. many times before, returned to the question of what constituted appropriate writerly subject for Nigerian writers publishing overseas. A boring subject to me; one that to me comes from a siege mentality, which you also see in the visual arts. The difference of course is that at least there is room for debate about these matters in the world writing. Toyin represents is the kind of criticism that is more concerned with what the "west" thinks than about the freedom of the artistic imagination to seek its subject and, moreover, the fact that these literatures are the product of their environment, regardless of what the imagined "west" thinks about them. 
Ugoma Adegoke (2nd L), Toyin Akinosho (near Center), Toni Kan (in red)

As I see it,  Nigeria's postcolonial condition--manifest  in elaborate culture of mind-numbing official and endemic corruption and violence; economic and psychological impoverishment; paradoxical, stunning even heroic creativity borne out of untold hardships; and rich, diverse cultures layered over by bewildering, new-fangled religiosities--all these and more are wont to excite the creative imagination and to yield literary works of incredible power and beauty. Literature that may not recommend the nation well to the aspiring tourist, or provide sound bites for the Ministry of Information, but which in themselves are memorable if dark works of art by Okey Ndibe, Ike Oguine, Helon Habila, Chika Unigwe, Akin Adesokan, Sefi Attah, Uzodinma Iweala, Toni Kan, and, yes, Osondu and so on.

Tunde Kuboye, Ugoma Adegoke, Odia Ofeimun
Molara Woods, Ndidi Dike
Victor Ehikhamenor with camera

Ok, it is not true that I find these debates about literary subject matter boring! Actually, I like the robustness of it. The fact that the writers are willing to engage with equal passion with their critics makes for a healthy literature. If there is anything that gets me really, really mad, it is that none such serious, meaningful conversations are taking place in the visual arts. And that, if anything, is why contemporary Nigerian literature is miles ahead of contemporary Nigerian art both terms of the quality of the production and the discourse around it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

From the Toyin Falola Annual Conference, University of Ibadan

Panelists: Professor Gloria Chuku, Univ. of Maryland (c), Greg Mbajiorgu, Univ. of Nigeria (r)
Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu
So, last week--as my earlier post on the spectacle of Oloolu indicated--I was at the University of Ibadan to attend the innuagural Toyin Falola Annual Conference. In many ways it was (and is) a most laudable project organized by the Ibadan Cultural Studies Group, a collective of scholars mostly based at the University, and led by Professor Ademola Dasylva. If anyone deserved to be so honored with an annual international conference named after him, it has to be Toyin Falola who, in spite of his prodigious scholarly productivity--as a historian--has been so supportive of scholars of all shades in the academy. I tend to think of him as a generous patron who uses his tremendous intellectual resources to help younger scholars overwhelmed by the complicated maze of the academic industry; and to recover and consolidate the work of older academics who have not quite received the kind of recognition due them. And he does this with the kind of enthusiasm you associate with inspired youths!  So, Dasylva and his group have done well to establish this annual conference, which I am sure will grow from strength to strength.

Professor Femi Osofisan (r), and his friend during evening performance. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Performance group during the closing evening. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Having said that, there were a number of hiccups with regards to the actual organization of the conference. Most of it has to do with Nigeria--my impossible home country where things everyone takes for granted elsewhere, such as power supply which was epileptic and decent, proper accommodation that was scandalously expensive (note: the University of Ibadan Hotels). But also, many of the presenters in the printed conference program strangely did not show up, even especially participants from other Nigerian universities who could not claim to have been denied visas or discouraged by embassy travel advisories (in the wake of the Bokom Haram bombings in the north!). This made the panel schedules so confusing, because the organizers had to compound several panels.  But also organizers also displayed a lot of generousity, such as when they allowed late arriving presenters to join later panels. My hope though is that future hosts of the conference--it is designed to be peripathetic: next year the Center for Black African Arts and Culture and the University of Lagos will host, and it might go to South Africa after, and so on--will be more discerning in terms of paper selections, as there was quite a few really poor quality presentations for a conference in honor of such an esteemed scholar and academic.

"Eyo" masquerade performance. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Falola (c) with performance group. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Still, I thank Dasylva and his Ibadan Cultural Studies Group for making this conference happen in Ibadan. It is for people like them that one hopes that some day soon, the academic culture that was decimated during the dictatorships of the previous decades will rebound. Some day soon.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

GTBank and the Tate's African art program

The Guaranty Trust Bank might well be the most significant intervention by any African corporate enterprise in the support of contemporary African Art internationally. This new collaboration with the Tate, London consolidates the work of the bank's previous helmsmen Fola Adeola, and the late Tayo Aderinokun; it signals the bank's continuing commitment to contemporary art under the new leadership of Segun Agbaje. Both the GTB and Chris Dercon's Tate deserve our commendation. And I look forward to the unfolding of the plans they have set forth.

GTBank partners with UK’s Tate Gallery on African art

Friday, July 8, 2011

Oloolu masquerade, Ibadan

Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

What is going on in this picture?

Well, you see, the inaugural Toyin Falola Annual Conference hosted by the University of Ibadan ended two days ago (more on that in another post). To complete the Ibadan experience, a party of conference attendants went on a really nice tour of the city of Ibadan, famed for its, well, rusted roofs...On our way back, along a major street, we encountered a massive commotion. Young men with unfriendly gestures were running amock as this male-only crowd surged, like ants, more or less swallowing up two open-roof security vans in which sat several menacing, heavily amored police men. There was no time to ask what this was about, except that our driver, an Ibadan native, quickly swerved our van into a side street for safety. In our van were several women who--instinctively obeying a riotous command from the male Ibadan grad students we were traveling, and from shouts of terror outside--ducked under the seats. Ayo my colleague from Dartmouth realized later that such incidents require action first and then questions later. Welcome to paradoxical modernity.

It happened so quickly. By the time I had the composure to pull out my camera, we were already in the side street. This woman trader with a heavy head load in the picture, miraculously jumped down from the Okada (commercial motorcyle) taking her to the market and fled the scene (the bike seat is visible in the left lower corner).

And what was it all about? It happened that the Oloolu mask was out that afternoon and no woman dared look at it. Whether or not you were in a car or out and about. What would be the consequence of such sight? Would such unfortunate woman turn to stone--like the poor Greeks who turned to stone under the Medusa's gaze? No. One graduate student in the van, and our driver pointed out that the woman who looks at Oloolu will just dry up until she died! But I figured that even before such perhaps slow dessication commenced, the woman would suffer a quicker punishment in the hands of the thousands of sweating, excited men. Isn't that why the police vans rode with the crowd. To help support the tradition that authorizes the aura of Oloolu that must walk the streets of one of Africa's most populated cities.

And by the way, although the Oloolu is described as a mask, everyone seems to know that it refers to a male character bearing a power calabash, but without any face covering or any kind of distinctive costume!