19
Feb
17

Locating Aka Group of Exhibiting Artists’ Intervention, within the Construct of Postmodern Cultural Awakening in Post-War Nigeria

By Okoronkwo Ikechukwu Francis
Email. Ikechukwu.okoronkwo@uniport.edu.ng
Department of Fine Arts and Design
University of Port Harcourt
Abstract
Post-civil war Nigerian cultural landscape is important due to some informal engagements by artists and practitioners within the cultural field. Typical of these interventions, are the activities of Aka group of exhibiting artists located at Enugu in Nigeria. This paper traces the activities of Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists as a lamp-holder professional artist’s group that have instigated the emergence of professional artists’ collectives in Nigeria with a view to renegotiating the group’s contribution within the threshold of postmodernism in Nigeria. Within the context of time and space of its pioneer activities, the paper locates the socio/cultural context from which Aka engaged its activities in order to understand the challenges and promises from which they operated. Through a re-reading of works exhibited, texts written by scholars and interview with some of the members of Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists, this paper locates Aka’s role as a vital contribution that have continued to influence professionalism in the practice of arts both in Nigeria, Africa and calls on artists, curators, art critics and others within the cultural sector should build on this worthy foundation
Keywords: Aka, Nigeria, Post-war, Collectives.
Introduction.
In the first paragraph of the essay, ‘The fulfillment of a vision: Aka in the Eyes of a Young Art Critic’, Ozioma Onuzulike began with lyrics from Kudo Eresia Eke’s dub-poetry, “I know a fire”, and Onuzulike re-echoed, “I too, know a fire, a fire that has illuminated, with laser-beam intensity, the artistic landscape of Nigeria and beyond”. Incidentally, that was the last edition of Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists’ outing at the time of this writing. Like Onuzulike, I too know a fire, a fire that kindled my and many other young artists’ desire towards the deep, the meaningful and the global in pursuing a career in visual art. This fire had been, even before my consciousness to take art as both career and profession. The fire had eased away the darkness of post-civil-war era in the artistic landscape of Nigeria, bringing with it a certain kind of visibility ‘see and be seen’ as catalyst for the country’s cultural sector. This fire is wild enough that it has transgressed the cartographical delineation of Nigeria; it has fueled art to constitute itself into light and expose hidden things into the consciousness of the living. This fire that Kudo Eresia Eke or Ozioma Onuzulike refers to, is akin to the light that a group of 13 talented artists – ; Tayo Adenaike, Chris Afuba, El-Anatsui, Chike Aniakor, Obiora Anidi, Ifedioramma Dike, Chike Ebebe, Chris Echeta, Nsikak Essien, Bona Ezeudu, Boniface Okafor, Samson Uchendu, Obiora Udechukwu, and later entrants Chika Okeke-Agulu and Tony Umunna beamed on the socio-cultural environment of Nigeria from 1986 (a period stretching from the end of the Nigerian civil war to the recent past) to 2005, through their exhibitions and writings. The group is the Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists, an artists’ collective that operated from Enugu in South-Eastern Nigeria during the period stated above.
This paper engages the activities and influences of the Aka group of exhibiting artists on a dais of ‘destiny’s child’ within a post-war Nigerian context, with a view to renegotiating the group’s contribution within the threshold of postmodernism. From their inaugural exhibition at Enugu and Lagos in April and May 1986 respectively, the group continues to wield enormous influence on the country’s art, artists and artistic public even beyond Nigeria. In this paper therefore, an attempt is made to locate the socio/cultural context from which Aka as a group operated in order to understand the challenges and promises from which they operated. To gather materials for this paper, the writer relied on documented sources and interviews with some of the Aka members like Professor Chike Aniakor, Chris Afuba and Bona Ezeudu.
From its inception to the many exhibitions by the group, they did not mince words in their catalogues to announce to the public that “AKA is not an art movement or a school but a circle of exhibiting artists.” To explicate this point further in the group’s mission statement, Aniakor explains that the group is “A forum for the interaction of kindred spirits, professional artists – Nigerians and expatriate – working in Anambra State.” Other scholars writing in the group’s catalogues had observed that though the group wouldn’t like to be identified as an artistic movement, they had already broken beyond this boundary of their mission statements to mount the panoply of a “highly anticipated and enthusiastically discussed event in modern Nigerian art, perhaps the precursor of any such collective activity and forum on the continent.”
Historical Framework
The period of the eighties in South East Nigeria typifies ‘a post civil war era’, coming on a platitude of a placatory admission by the federal government of Nigeria of ‘no victor, no vanquish’ and its programs of the three ‘Rs’ (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation) to the people of the South Eastern region. The promise was at best equivocations from the authority of the Federal Government of Nigeria. However, this situation ironically spurred the Easterners to embark on self help projects. University of Nigeria Nsukka was already an available beehive for ingenuity and scholarly engagements. In its Arts Faculty, it attracted reputable scholars like; Chinua Achebe, Ossie Enekwe, Helen Chukwuma, Donatus Nwoga, Uche Okeke, Chike Aniakor, Obiora Udechukwu, El-Anatsui and a host of others spread across the Faculties of the University. Enugu, the nearest metropolitan center to Nsukka was former head quarter city of the defunct Biafra government and hence Eastern Region. Due to these underpinnings in the psycho-social setting of the group, Gani Odutokun notes that, “Having grown out of the ashes of war, it will be fair to expect of the group efforts that will be superficial – for he that has survived the minefield cannot ignore the essence of the truths that could lie buried.” On the other hand is the influence of Nsukka Art school with ‘Uli Art Movement’ and its newer acolytes cueing behind Uche Okeke, Chike Aniakor and Obiora Udechukwu.
Enugu, enjoyed privileges of playing host to some international cultural centers even before the civil war; The British Council, the French Center, Americans were also there. Reminiscing on Enugu’s socio-political setting, Chris Afuba states that “we had companies that were operating and some company representatives that were selling cars like J. Allen, John Holt, the Mercedes Benz people and even the UTC” adding that by the time of Aka’s inception what remained was at best a residue of the former multinational presence in Enugu:
When we started Aka, some of these multinational concerns were no longer around but because of the culture of exhibitions that they have generated in the area coupled with some enlightened Nigerians who actually appreciated the arts like Pius Okigbo, Elder Kalu and others living in Enugu constituting an active art public, Enugu was naturally a right choice for Aka to operate from.
It was within this socio-cultural setting in 1985 that Obiora Udechukwu who may be referred to as a living casualty of the war (because he had to relocate his study from Ahmadu Bello University to Nsukka at the outset of the war) suggested the idea of an Artists’ collective first to his two other faculty members at Nsukka; Chike Aniakor and El-Anatsui. Thereafter other members joined them as a group. Afuba, confirms that “It was Obiora that informed us and to the best of my knowledge the idea emanated from him.” Aniakor partly corroborates Afuba by tracing pre-inaugural sessions of the group and what led to its formation as being informed by the need to develop a platform to challenge the status-quo. He says “We needed a change of paradigm, especially, as everything was concentrated in Lagos as the center of Nigeria. So, we need to interrogate the centrality of art practice in Lagos”. He further reveals that one of the high points of the group is the interrogation of an existing “center/periphery paradigm.”
At the international level, not until the sixties, the modernist agenda of the West held sway with monolithic and hegemonic structures of power. If we can turn with a little confidence to the flux or centrifuge of; philosophy, sociology and even global politics of the period between the 1960s to the 80s which being vital to Aka group’s contextual framework, a clearer understanding of its contribution within the Nigerian and African artistic development will suffice
At the global level, Foucault with some other late twentieth century philosophers under Nietzsche’s influence of post-structuralism had started to question modernism. Foucault for instance accepting Nietzsche’s “claims that systematizing methods produce reductive social and historical analyses, and that knowledge is perspectival in nature, requiring multiple viewpoints to interpret a heterogeneous reality.” This calls to mind Jean-Francois Lyotard seeing the “archetypal killing factory of Modernism, Auschwitz” as the breaking point and eventual death of modernism. Charles Jencks writing on Lyotard observed that these death camps under modernisms canopy “was so successful in its rationalization and mass-production that, Lyotard argues, it ushered in its opposite, postmodernism”. In its quest for inclusivity, postmodernism holds that every human perspective is nothing more than a breathing aggregate of the structures of power and contends that we “cannot stand apart from demands and identities that these structures and discourses confer upon us.”
No longer do we need a special fetish to engage the realms of truth or knowledge in the present dispensation. Truth or Knowledge had become system-dependent within cultures and individuals. The formation of ‘Spiral’ in New York “in response to the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963”, or ‘Thupelo’ in South Africa in 1998 are all such actions which influenced developments of arts in their various countries. To add to these examples even though it predates postmodern era is the activities of a group of artists in Toronto Canada during 1960 to 1931 known as ‘The Group of Seven’. In an introduction to the group’s retrospective exhibition in 2008, Brandi Leigh notes that, “the group became known as pioneers to a new Canadian art.”
Aka Group of Exhibiting Artists on the Threshold of Postmodern Nigeria.
The emergence of collectives in the Nigeria contemporary art scene was generally fuelled by the need of artists to consolidate their trade, especially in an environment that lacked instituted indigenous cultural platforms. Aka in the history of Nigerian art, occupies a very important position for its role of instigating awareness to artists on the need to connect to contemporaneous global trends in the way they perceive their vocation and also that artist can facilitate their development and visibility like the ‘Spiral’ in New York for example or from what others elsewhere have done through self organized and managed platforms taking a priori position, it is possible to deduce that if, “Art values are closely connected with all aspects of social life and with related modes of behavior.” It then follows that art will always put into context the consummated past, the living present and projected future of its society. Aka through its cultural activism, presented to the world, new paradigms of seeing African societies; its cosmology, people, art and artists from an insider perspective. Unlike the once comfortable mono-cultural and arrogant narratives of western modernism’s view of a primitive Africa that is unable to make meaningful contribution to global discourses, Aka through its exhibition told an authentic story of the African condition using the contemporaneous discursive platform of postmodernism.
In postmodernism, ‘grand narrativism’ gave way to the authority of the self or everyone through the construction of reality via language. These developments, along other interventions not cited here, created ennobling condition for plurality of non-hegemonic cultural narratives of which the Aka group rode on to inaugurate its presence in the artistic landscape of Nigeria and Africa. Like a popular Nigerian singer will say “everything you do na God win”, this became a win –win situation for cultural elements that had been displaced or marginalized during the modern era. With this, every voice becomes authentic in relation to its perspective. Sylvester Ogbechie, notes that “through the integrated intensity of their works, AKA gives a sound negation to the ultimate dehumanization of man.”
Fig. 1

Artist : El Anatsui. Title: Bedsheet, Aluminum and Copper wire. Dimension: Variable Installation. Source: 2005 Aka Exhibition Catalogue.
It is appropriate to locate Aka group in the same mold of reacting against monolithic structures of power perceived as anti-progressive, or any sort of charismatic authority that slides into immobility. Aka in taking this approach disavows of any iconic power source or fixed authorities by reacting; to the center/periphery paradigm, valorizing difference and frontally engaging the authorities through facilities available to the artist.
Taking a look at the creative activities of Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists; the body of works, compendium of literature from the group’s in-house writer (Chike Aniakor) and other scholars, it is evident that the group adopted a super panoptic approach to deriving influences from multiple sources in order to construct new cultural forms. Within this eclectic approach, one can understand the hybridization of influences; as in the super realism/surrealism of Boniface Okafor’s dream-world events that connects the subconscious reality of an African experience to a pre-existing modernist surrealism of Andre Breton, Salvador Dali or Giorgio de Chirico. The shock stocked experimental works of Nsikak Essien that have been severally identified with the avant- garde is another example. Being that this movement in art history marks the lull of modernism and ushers postmodernism, it becomes easier to see his direction towards this global movement. It is within this trend that one can also locate Samson Uche’s postmodernist sculptures. In Bona Ezeudu’s paintings, is a sense of his highly sensitive colour abstractions which involve the viewer into a dialogic relationship with the painting as a continuous creative process of an artwork. Obiora Udechukwu succeeded in extending the presence of a hitherto local art form that was predominantly practiced by traditional Igbo women on wall and human flesh to a global level by his neo-Uli experiments using new supports and medium of colours. The visual poetry of Udechukwu’s work share with his former teacher Aniakor who had mastered the technique of spontaneity in lyrical lines that his works are now abiding compendium of neo-African lyrical/poetical drawings and paintings. The work of their colleague El-Anatsui compels global followership, his style had moved through many stages to his current use of glittering aluminum wine covers to narrate the story of Africa and has won him the Golden Lion Award in the just concluded 57 Venice Biennale. Afuba’s new romance with shadows in his organic, rhythmic and linear style using mild steel clearly shows the Nsukka School ‘Uli’ idiom in a creative marriage with new expressive styles in sculpture. His incorporation of the interior architectural space of display introduces the elements of ‘shadow’ to what would ordinarily had been a two- dimensional or relief sculptural piece and readily locates his sculptures as a postmodernist installation work (see fig.2). Echeta brought in new dimensions to ceramics; that which weaves story telling with high dexterity in the manipulation of clay with painterly tendencies. Ifedioramma Dike in the same spirit of breaking traditional boundaries as is typical of the group had evolved the textile medium beyond its utilitarian domain to push it into mobile painting and sculpture. The newer entrant Chika Okeke-Agulu has moved on into art historical writing, curating and currently ranking among the global best. All other traces of different art trends that can be found in various degrees of the group’s individual works point to a tacit admittance to some principles of postmodernism.
Fig. 2.

Artist: Chris Afuba.
Title: The New Moon, 242cm x 110cm, 1989. `Source: 4th Annual exhibition, Aka 1989.
What is breathtaking beyond the group’s works is the organic composition of the group’s creative strategies that recognize each artist’s creative voice as a vital contribution towards a plurality of narratives. Within AKA project, contemporary art in Nigeria became more apprehensive to the global politics of postmodernity and its responsibility to present to the Nigerian and the world in general its own narratives through a cohesive plurality of voices. Could the apprehension of the postmodern tenets be what Aniakor refers to as “Anyu kota mmamili onu ogba ufufu.”
Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists: Through the Lens of Other Artists and Critics.
The focus of this paper seemed almost concluded if only we are engaging the question; did Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists influence the art terrain of post-war Nigeria in any way? But from the title of the essay above, there are other variables which are equally important. The Aka exhibiting group at first relied only on its in-house writer (Chike Aniakor) to generate texts for its exhibitions until 1990, though in interviews with two of the members ( Aniakor and Afuba) it was obvious that the writings reflect the thoughts of other members. They sat together and each artist expressed what he had put into his works. From that point the master wordsmith crafts his lyrical essays. Individual artists chose personal themes; the idea was creativity at the professional level of engagements. The outcome of this process is what Aniakor says “was visually engaging and interrogating enough that each time we had exhibitions the hall filled to the brim with people. Even at a point Odumegwu Ojukwu came himself.”
After 1989, the group accommodated essays for their exhibition catalogues from some of the people that have looked forward to its exhibition especially among fellow artists. Ogbechie, notes that “Speaking with several voices amplified by a union of aims, the artists presented their perception of man, of society, life and the cosmos” To deduce from Ogbechie’s comment on the focus of Aka, will be to find the operational meaning of what constitutes an artistic movement and at what point is this concept different from an artistic collective?
One would rather propose that there are no fixed rules that constitute an artistic movement. However, any artistic group that shares the same artistic ideals, style, and technical/creative approach within a timeframe may be termed a movement. It is imperative to note therefore that with few exceptions, the branding of artists within artistic movements had always happened retrospectively and it has always served the critic’s search for meaning of what they are yet to come to terms with. On the other hand, Wikipedia provides a succinct understanding of what constitutes an artists’ collective as “an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together, usually under their own management, towards shared aims”. These interests are as varied as the ‘Group of Seven’ in Toronto which emerged out of the need (but not limited) of sharing a common studio space, or ‘The Spiral’ in New York formed out of concerns for racial recognition of rights and privileges or the South African group ‘Thupelo’ which reacted out of need to integrate people at the periphery for the purpose of visibility. With a plethora of ‘isms’ that have dogged contemporary art practices since the beginning of the twentieth century, one will understand the quick dissociation of the group from the ‘movement’ appendage.
Ola Oloidi had called to question whether this group can totally remove the nomenclature of an artistic movement from themselves. This, according to Oloidi, is because, even though “it claims no official ideology, yet its outpourings are ideologically stable” Gani Odutokun seems to agree with the above position. However, Dele Jegede notes that after ten years of exhibiting, the group had “conclusively proved that the notion of a school of artists espousing common stylistic, ideological or canonical tenets is not applicable.” Comparing Jegede with the understanding of the terms movement and collectives provided above, one can accept the group’s rebuttal of any such appendage of movement to its activities.
As a collective, with set goals, Odutokun had enthused that their contributions so far had “inspired and encouraged many other artists in the country in the direction of experimentations and hard work and this is an even greater contribution for now.” In the same year, Olu Oguibe observes that the Aka exhibitions had; “provided the art public with not only an opportunity to enjoy a focused encounter with individual artists, but also a platform for embracing and assessing what we must consider the cutting edge of contemporary Nigeria art.”
Jegede posed a vital question in the group’s 1995 catalogue from which this paper derives its seminal interest when he asked:
In an age when the discourse has shifted to postmodernism and its liberating (or stultifying) tentacles (depending on which side of the isle you stand), how does AKA project a front that locates creativity within an ambiance that is cognizant of, or receptive to on-going debate in the field of contemporary art?
This question by a contemporary of the group may have found its answer five years earlier by Oloidi’s observation that the group has come to be one of the most endearing since the 1960s in terms of “artistic longevity, internationalization, pictorial or sculptural sincerity, consistent and persistent professionalism.” Similarly, Onuzulike opines that in their ‘hey days’, “AKA made an indelible impact by charging the country’s artistic landscape through critical issues and debates that the group raised annually.
It may amount to mere verbal aggrandizement of the group’s contribution to Nigeria and Africa in general if this paper will be unable to mention younger groups that have benefitted from the Aka example. Onuzulike drew our attention to this point when he asserts in Aka 2005 catalogue that the group had set the pace and standard to younger groups in keeping to its tradition of high quality works and documentation through modest catalogues. He cites some existing groups like; “Pan-African Circle of Artists (PACA), Visual Orchestra, Okanga, Echoes, Rivulets from Within, Bottles and others all sprang from the Eastern (Enugu/Nsukka) axis” Other groups which can be added to Onuzulike’s lists are; ‘Angala’, ‘Mangroove Artists’ both from Port Harcourt, the ‘Nogh Nogh’ group of Zaria, ‘ArtZero’, ‘Dept of Field’, ‘Black Box photographers’ collectives’, ‘3rd Black Heritage Group’ and many others located throughout the country. Despite Aka’s influence one may not confidently say that all these younger and newer artists collectives reflect the high standard of documentation and commitment as seen in Aka but one thing is common and that is that almost all these groups make reference to the standards set by the Aka Circle of Exhibiting artists as motivating factor to their own formation. It could be due to this spread of influence that Aniakor says that, “the feeling that we came at the right time and made a strategic contribution and fill in the gap in the development of art in Nigeria is a worthy achievement. If it touched many lives to seeing art from a better perspective then, we have made our mark.”
In a separate interview with Uche James Iroha the sculptor turned photographer who as a student in the University of Port Harcourt had shared similar sentiments with this writer as regarding the creative influence of Aka attesting to the group’s influence on his bringing other photographers together in the formation of the ‘Depth of Field Photographers Collective’ in 2001, he says that, “The Aka group influence is a remarkable example for newer generations of Nigerian artists . Within the period of the 80s in Nigeria’s art evolution, it became glaring that it was easier to gain local and international attention as a group than as individual practitioners.” This module proved successful with the ‘Depth of Field’s’ participation in ‘SNAP JUDGEMENTS” curated by Okwui Enwezor at the international center for photography in new York in 2006. This worthy foundation had served as an informal blueprint for artists in Nigeria. Iroha says that:
Since then, there have been pockets of collectives and collaboration of diverse manner emerging in Nigeria with the most interesting thing being that this module has evolved beyond the traditional media of painting and sculpture. It has moved on to the present reality of postmodernism where we are presented with performances and installations.
Conclusion
As a pebble cast into the sea sends ripples far beyond its entry point at the water’s surface, the creative activities of Aka circle of exhibiting artists still reechoes its ripples within and beyond the artistic/cultural landscape of Nigeria. This has been evident in the recent activities of the aforementioned groups and a host of others too numerous to mention in this essay.
With the AKA project, contemporary art in Nigeria became more apprehensive to the global politics of postmodernity, its responsibility of presenting through known and acceptable communication formats, its own narratives as told by individuals. The mode of the group’s internal working mechanisms further reflect a postmodern style of plurality, recognition of perspectives and mantra of ‘see and be seen’. Its hybridization of influences and internationalization of what would have remained local professional practices comfortably made this a major ‘lamp-holder-group’ of professional artists in Africa whose worthy examples continue to shine the light to the next direction for practicing and younger practitioners within the ever growing art sector.
However, to write about Aka group as if in retrospect, appears to me an unjustifiable and hasty injustice. This is simply because most of the members are still active players in the field: of practice, theory, teaching, curating where they ferret new metaphors to defining new frontiers as they are connected globally to their different interests. One wonders if Aka Circle of Artists despite having achieved some feats mentioned in this paper will not set similar examples as other international art groups had done in their environments. Artists groups like; the Canadian ‘Group of Seven’, the United States’ ‘Spiral’ and the South African ‘Thupelo’ that have left behind their activities, monumental structures that continue to point to their legacies and have metamorphosed into truly global artistic structures for continued cultural engagements with other cultures.
In a country with over one hundred and seventy million people it becomes a challenge on the bourgeoning number of curators, art dealers, art enthusiasts and other cultural platforms to cash into the existing pedigree of the group to continue hosting the group’s exhibitions, digitizing its images and texts for online sourcing, while also developing a more enduring and tangible structures that future generations will reference to. Lets connect once again to Onuzulike’s contribution in the first few paragraphs of this essay and join him to suggest and ask simultaneously, that the need for a website that contains all the literature and images on Aka is more cogent now more so, when getting their catalogues is like searching for gold on a brick wall. And like Onuzulike, one asks “Do we have professional Curators in Nigeria?” who will take the baton assuming age has become a limiting factor for the activities of the members of Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists working as a group?

Endnotes
Ozioma Onuzulike, “The Fulfilment of a Vision: AKA in the Eyes of a Young Art Critic (Enugu: Pearls and Gold, 2005.).5
see the back cover of Aka 86 inaugural exhibition catalogue. The first thirteen were the original members until the 14th edition in the year 2000 when Chika Okeke-Agulu and Tony Umunna made their debut with the group. See also Aka: Along with us in the millennium. 2000 for more information.
The author visited Calabar and Enugu in order to interview Chike Aniakor and Chris Afuba in their studios.

A Note on AKA’ (86:p5) and contained in the beginning sections of all subsequent catalogues.
see Dele Jegede, The Way Forward: Aka 1995, p. 7, Sylvester Ogbechie , A Pause at the Threshold: Aka 1990, p.11, Gani Odutokun A Perennial Fountain: Aka 1995, p.8, Ozioma Onuzulike , The Fulfillment of a Vision: AKA in the Eyes of a Young Art Critic Aka 2005, p5, Ola Oloidi, A Force in the Nigerian Artistic Circle: Aka 1990, p.12 Olu Oguibe, Signs of Difference: Aka 1995, p.11 and a host of other writers

Oguibe op.cit p.11
Odutokun, op.cit p.9
Chris Afuba, interview with the author, August 25, 2015

ibid
ibid
Chike Aniakor interview with the author, August 3, 2015
Douglas Kellner and Steven Best.1991, Postmodern Theory.( New York: The Guilford Press. 1991), 42
Charles Jencks What Then is Post-Modernism (London: Academy Editions,2009.), 15
ibid
Emily Hanna, “Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Art Collectives” http://www.thoughtsthatcureadically.com and http://www.studiomuseum.org, August 27 and July 14, 2011 respectively, (accessed September 10, 2015)
Brandi Leigh, An introduction to the Group of Seven. The group of seven, http//arthistoryarchive.com The Art History Archive, 2008, (accessed September 11, 2015)
Sylvester Ogbechie , A Pause at the Threshold: Aka 1990, p.11

Hit single “Godwin” by Korede Bello, a Nigerian singer and songwriter
Ogbechie, op.cit
Aniakor interview with the author, the implication of the word among the Igbos of South East Nigeria is that if everyone contributes from his/her bank of knowledge, a better result will be achieved.
ibid
Ogbechie op.cit 10
Oloidi 1990: p. 12
Odutokun, 1995: p.9.
Jegede 1995, p. 7
Odutokun, 1995 : p. 8
Oguibe, 1995 p.12
Jegede, p.7
Oloidi 1990, p.12
Onuzuluike, 2005,p.5
Ibid p.6
Aniakor, interview with the author.
Uche James Iroha, e-mail message to author, September 15, 2015.
Ozioma Onuzuluike, (p.5)

Bibliography
Docx, Edward “Postmodernism is dead” http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk ,August 2011 (accessed September 16, 2015)
Hanna, Emily “Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Art Collectives” http://www.thoughtsthatcureadically.com and http://www.studiomuseum.org, August 27 and July 14, 2011 respectively.
Jegede, Dele “The Way Forward: Aka 1995” (Enugu: AKA 1995)

Jencks, Charles. “What then is Post-Modernism?” (London: Academy Editions, 1996.)
Kellner, Douglas and Steven Best Postmodern Theory. New York: The Guilford Press. 1991
Leigh, Brandi “An introduction to the Group of Seven” http//arthistoryarchive.com The Art History Archive, 2008, (accessed September 11, 2015)

Odutokun, Gani “A Perennial Fountain: Aka 1995” (Enugu: AKA 1995)
Ogbechie, Sylvester “A Pause at the Threshold: Aka 1990,” (Enugu: AKA 1990)
Oguibe, Olu “Signs of Difference” (Enugu: AKA 1995)
Oloidi, Ola “A Force in the Nigerian Artistic Circle: Aka 1990” (Enugu: AKA 1990)
Onuzulike, Ozioma “The Fulfillment of a Vision: AKA in the Eyes of a Young Art Critic” (Enugu: Pearls and Gold, 2005.)

03
Sep
12

ISSUES OF THE DIGITAL DIVIDE AND E-WASTE IN THE ARTWORK OF IKE FRANCIS. by Greg Stuart

ISSUES OF THE DIGITAL DIVIDE AND E-WASTE IN THE ARTWORK OF IKE FRANCIS

Greg Stuart

Affiliation: School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL United States 60603; gstuar@saic.edu

Keywords: Ike Francis, Nigeria, art history, Netizen, e-waste, hypermobility, materiality, infrastructure, new media, mixed-media, urban planning, circuitry, ethics, technological literacy, multistable perception, informal networks.

Abstract: In the mixed media works of Ike Fancis, images of portraiture and landscape are conjoined through found circuit boards and other electronic equipment. These works comment on the gap between technological literacy and the materiality of e-waste. Ethically speaking, a synthesis between these two issues is needed; however, Francis’s work suggests that this process may be impossible. 

 

The work of artist Ike Francis reminds us that the hypermobility engendered by the internet is only possible through the material circumstances of the local. In mixed-media works such as Netizens 2.0 (2008) and 8 Faces and a Village Square (2003), he combines found circuit boards, transistors, and other electronic equipment with paint, wire and fabric to form images that make reference to the urban grid and portraiture simultaneously as circuit boards stand in for both anthropomorphic features and an aerially-viewed lattice-work of the urban grid. These cyborg “citizens of the net” are made out of laid-bare materials of computing, reminding us that internet access is only possible through the physical mechanics of circuit boards, telephone wires and consistent electricity. In a country where all of these elements functioning in harmony are hard to come by, an infrastructure that supports internet use cannot be taken for granted.  Furthermore, Francis’ use of salvaged motherboards and computer circuitry raises questions about the ethical imperatives involved in the disposal of hazardous waste that is produced by such a community. E-waste from the developed world is increasingly being shipped to developing countries like Nigeria, where it causes untold amounts of health and ecological problems. An understanding of Francis’s work necessitates an understanding of these problems outside the confines of art history and criticism, involving environmental, urban, and economic studies. Through detailed analysis of these conditions that inform his work, we can better bridge the gap between the transnational fluidity of the internet and its often problematic material circumstances. 

Ike Francis was born in 1970 in Lagos Nigeria.  He graduated with a B.A. in sculpture from Port Harcourt in 1995 and an M.F.A. in painting from the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. He currently teaches mixed media and painting at the University of Port Harcourt. Given his background in both painting and sculpture, he claims to work somewhere between the two forms as a mixed media artist (Francis, 2008a). His training at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka is crucial to his development as an artist, not only for the technical training he received there, but also for the specific style that the University advocates for its artists, known as “Natural Synthesis.” 

As a cohesive school of art, it developed out of the curriculum of artist Uche Okeke.  Beginning in the 1950s, Okeke, in his associations with the Zaria Art Society and Mbari Arts Club, developed a distinctive style of abstract painterly art that often made reference to classical uli and nsibidi markings as well as other aspects of pre-contact Nigerian art. Uli markings are pictographic markings, often used as decorative embellishments, which are made with pigment from an uli plant. They are drawn by women in Igbo villages, either on these women’s bodies or on the walls of houses. By adopting the uli principles of improvisation, the plays of positive and negative space, and the forms of uli and nsibidi in his abstract paintings, he developed a style that merged Western painting with this traditional Igbo practice to form the principles of Natural Synthesis (Ottenberg, 2001, pp. 17-85).

While Francis’s work is in keeping with the notion of Natural Synthesis as espoused by Okeke, it is perhaps more directly related to the work of another faculty member at the University, artist El Anatsui, who makes elaborate wall hangings out of discarded materials. As an educator, he certainly passed on aspects of his own work to his students; however, he denies the kind of totalizing approach that Okeke took towards arts education, stating that while he does encourage his students to use materials found in their everyday environment, similarities between the works may best be explained by the general spirit of sankofa—literally “go back and pick” (Ottenberg, 2001, p. 159) in Twi, but used by Anatsui to refer to “reclamation”(Anatsui, 2009)–that characterizes the post-independence movement.          

For Anatsui, the objects he uses often represent broken and fragmented parts of history, reclaimed by the artist to rebuild after the troubled period just after independence. Discarded materials therefore have political and social resonances as they are indicators of a shared, yet troubled memory in need of healing. This process of sankofa then is more than just going back and picking up, it has an active component of reclamation which is necessary for rebuilding a fractured society. He uses it to apply to a general spirit that pervades in postcolonial Africa as nations attempt to rebuild out of the fragmented scraps left after colonization (Anatsui, 1993, pp. 39-52).

In terms of content, Francis’s works comment on consumption and waste, just as Anatsui did so out of a desire for reclamation of heritage and memory in the wake of the postcolonial period in Africa (Binder, 2008, pp. 24-37). Francis acknowledges the influence of Anatsui on his own work (234Next.com, 2009) which is evident in his cross-disciplinary approach, as well as in these thematic concerns.  However, he expands on these themes to include globalized networks of exchange that have developed in the aftermath of the postcolonial period. Discussing his process, Francis writes:

I stroll the streets of Nigeria scrounging, scavenging digging, picking or collecting used and refused items from sites of their last abode. Circuit Boards, CD Plates, Diskettes, Empty cans, Old newspaper/Magazine prints, Ropes, Fabrics, Condensers, Wood stumps, Copper wires […] journey their way from these dumps to my studio where they play in concert with factory made art materials to assume new life. When recharged they beat their supposed transience and can outlive its creator (the artist). My strolling the streets also take me to cyber cafes where youths and adults throng to browse the streets of far away continents through a mouse click […] (Francis, 2008a).

 

These two situations, web browsing in the internet café and the scavenging artist searching for inspiration, are conjoined by Francis as part of a similar process of collecting and information gathering. Furthermore, the ephemeral and transitory act of “mouse clicking” is here linked with an insistent materiality that comes from his combination of discarded technology with older, more traditional forms of art-making.

As such, his works can also be thought of as a operating by the process of combination or synthesis.  This is not the “Natural Synthesis” (though he is perhaps inspired by this concept) as espoused by Uche Okeke, but rather one of the individual with his or her environment.  His series of works, titled 8 Faces and a Village Square (Figs. 1-4), is particularly indicative of this process. Here, the grid-like patterns created by circuit boards allude to an aerial view of the urban landscape.  However, these forms resolve themselves into portraiture, created through an expressionistic application of paint.  They are not merely expressions of either the urban space or the individual, rather they are both, indicating a mutually dependant relationship between individual and urban environment.

In some respects, these works function as a multistable perception phenomenon, which occurs when an image has two or more subjective interpretations, with each contradicting or canceling the possibilities of the other. In this case, it occurs in Francis’s work where the urban grid is only visible if one ignores the portrait and the portrait is only visible after ignoring the grid. I am not interested in this image in terms of its role as illusion as such, but for its properties as two images in one, and especially in the difficulties of seeing both forms simultaneously.  To see either requires a shift in orientation on the part of the viewer. 

This shift in orientation and the impossibility of seeing both images at the same time is apparent thematically in Francis’s work as well.  The juxtaposition between the materiality of the circuit boards with the flattened image rendered in paint call into question the binary opposition between image and material, hardware and software, rootedness and transience. The image of the portrait (functioning like an image on a screen) cannot be seen at the same time as the material of circuitry that comprises the image (functioning as the hardware of the computer.)  While image and material are combined in his works, they are separated by the gulf required in shifting orientations that prevents one from realizing both at the same time. 

The problems inherent in the divorce between material and image are further intensified by the necessities of location, in regards to the local, and what Saskia Sassen describes as the “hypermobile” (2007). She elaborates on this problem further using the example of real estate.  Whereas real estate is traded globally over the internet, its existence as hypermobile commodity depends on its physical location.  However, it is difficult to conceptualize this difference, as we are used to the liquid remaining distinct from the solid—from the materially rooted.  It is inherent in the very structure of internet communication. While on the one hand, the internet embodies an archive of knowledge and images accessible to anyone at any point with no fixed location; it is also completely dependent on the infrastructure required for its very existence. By focusing on the material interworking of the computers that play host to the internet, material that is often invisible to us encased in the plastic shell that surrounds the computer, Francis reminds us of its importance. 

This infrastructure is taken for granted in developing countries where computer literacy is high and where telecommunications run smoothly.  However, in countries such as Nigeria, there are many material obstacles that stand in the way of access, leading to what is often referred to as, “the digital divide” between those with access to the internet and those without (MacBride, 2008, p. 76). While there are now somewhere between 11 and 40 legitimate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Nigeria, this figure pales in comparison to the well-over 7,000 ISPs estimated to exist in the United States.  Granted, only about ten of these 7,000 control 90% of the market, however, the sheer number indicates the structural support for a large amount of providers (Silvius, 2009). 

The vast majority of the costs of internet service (over 80 %) do not come from investments in the super technologies on the cutting edge of development; rather, they come from the infrastructural costs of building and maintaining cable and phone lines on a reliable network of roads and tunnels that carry these lines (Graham, 2002, p. 81).  Service to Africa has greatly improved in the past few years thanks to an enormous circuit of cable laid by AT&T in 2005 that surrounds the continent, providing service to coastal cities at a cost (Graham, 2002, p. 88).  Of course, this network still leaves out interior communities that must rely on connections to these port cities which are often mediated through unreliable infrastructural supports.

These structural problems are further exacerbated by political and social ones which plague many African countries thereby inhibiting technological growth.  In Nigeria, as in many other African countries, telecommunications and power services are provided by government run companies which are often poorly mismanaged and rife with corruption, preventing any kind of well-established communications infrastructure (McCormick, 2002, p. 140). Some argue for an increasingly liberalized policy on telecommunications companies that, through competition, would work to provide better access to local communities.  However, others argue that such a policy would lead to new forms of “neo-colonization” as larger multi-national companies with little concern for the needs of local populations would monopolize the industry, causing internet access to be just as unaffordable and unattainable for the majority of Africans as it is now (McCormick, 2002, pp. 141-142).

It is perhaps somewhat ironic that Francis’s work can be read as advocating a greater awareness of the materiality required for internet connections given much of Africa’s troubled history with materials and resources.  Under colonialism, Africa was viewed as a conduit for raw material goods, unable to produce the kinds of manufacturing technologies available in Europe.  Arguably, this perception has not changed, as James Ferguson notes, “the latest round of worldwide capitalist restructuring, with its frenzied construction of ‘the global economy,’ has left little or no place for Africa outside of its old colonial role as provider of raw materials” (Ferguson, 2006, p. 8). The disparity between the access to technology and an infrastructure that is unable to support it has led to a tension between the possibility for instantaneous global communication and its material reality, which is hampered by the issue of speed as Brian Larkin notes “poor material infrastructure of Nigeria ensures that as the speed of Nigerian life increases, so too does the gap between actual and potential acceleration, between what technologies can do and what they do do. Thus, even as life speeds up, the experience of technological marginalization intensifies, and the gap between how fast society is moving and how fast it could move becomes a site of considerable political tension” (Larkin, 2004, p. 305).

 In a series of works similar to 8 Faces and a Village Square, titled Emergent Netizens (Figs. 5-8), Francis elaborates on issues raised in the earlier series.  Once again, portraiture, circuit boards, and topographical views of the urban environment are combined. By titling these works “Netizens,” the work alludes to the writing of Michael Hauben, who first coined the term in 1992 to refer to an internet user who feels the same responsibility towards one’s online community as one would towards a physical community (Hauben and Hauben).  As such, the term “netizen” carries an ethical connotation that was not necessarily present in the earlier series. Ethics are important for Francis, as he writes:

Our virtual experience being a transgression of time, speed and space is bound to be infected with those systemic viruses which threatened the former order, and in these concatenation of ideas; virtual crimes, dangerous appropriation of other cultures, imbalances in modes of participation to the global village and altering of ‘self’ is bound to spread with unprecedented speed (Francis, 2008b).

 

Francis’s unease with the “altered self” is made manifest in these works in the imbrications of the human with the machine and with the personal and public spheres combined. Francis’s use of chicken wire (Figs. 6 and 7) in this series creates barriers to the portraits reminiscent of cages or prisons perhaps indicating that the freeing possibilities of global communication are perhaps not as free as they might appear. The merging of private and public space that is made possible by the internet through blogs and other social networking sites poses ethical questions for Francis as it certainly did for Hauber in the early days of the developing internet.      

Ethics is not just part of Francis’s thinking; it is also part of Anatsui’s discourse on sankofa and reclamation as he states:

All of Africa is undergoing a period of turmoil. […] It is to this predicament that my attempt in my works to use decadence and destruction as elements of creation and reconstruction addresses a message. I hasten however to reiterate that regeneration and growth are not automatically consequent on break-down. Conscious effort, and intact chambers of memory to provide that grog of experience which strengthens the new form, are requisites (Anatsui, 1993, p. 39).  

               

Here, Anatsui’s “message” becomes an ethical one as he stresses that renewal through sankofa is only possible through “conscious effort.” A particularly prescient aspect of ethics that the “Netizens” series addresses, which is perhaps more pressing for third world countries like Nigeria, stems from the means by which Francis acquires his material.  Transistors, circuit boards, wires and whatever other raw materials that goes into his work are all salvaged from trash heaps. By actively seeking out these materials, he is calling attention to their source, thereby raising the issue of e-waste, a term that refers to any potentially hazardous electronic waste. 

Indeed, e-waste is a major problem in Nigeria, but how does it reach the country given the sparseness of technology there?—the answer lies in exportation.  Companies in the developed world who need to dispose of their electronic waste often look to the developing world where dumping and pollution laws are not as stringent.  They sell the waste to traders within these countries at a fraction of the cost it would take to break down the waste and recycle it (Schmidt, 2006, p. A234).  These local entrepreneurs are willing to buy the waste because the people who sell it also sell a few serviceable electronics along with the waste that these merchants are able to sell at higher retail values to the local population.  However, they must take the useable with the unusable, which is estimated to be about 75% of all the goods sold.  Furthermore, an estimated 45% of all computers to enter the Nigerian market are second-hand computers sold as a result of these transactions (Schmidt, 2006, p. A235).  It is also estimated that approximately 500 tons of e-waste enters ports in Nigeria daily (Carney, 2006).

Besides the damage it does to the environment, this waste is harmful to people.  It invariably leaks into the water table, contaminating local water supplies.  When piles of this trash become too unmanageable, the waste is often burned, releasing these toxins into the air where they can cause further health risks to those living nearby.  While there are informal industries that employ needy people to recycle these materials—there is no shortage of labor here either, given that large Nigerian cities such as Lagos are overcrowded with a limited number of legitimate jobs to go around (workers can make around $2 a day performing such activities)—they are unable to maintain proper health code standards and as such, workers often recycle e-waste at the expense of severe health risks (Carney, 2006).

Given the extreme dangers to health and life that the e-waste trade causes, how has it continued to flourish unchecked?  First, e-waste is not subject to the same kind of international tariffs and regulations as other hazardous waste, nor does it fall under the restrictions placed on new electronics.  E-waste enters into these countries as regular waste, and therefore, it is very difficult to trace its source.  However, research has shown that the majority of e-waste entering Nigeria comes directly from the United States and countries in the European Union (See Fig. 9).

It must be emphasized that trade in e-waste is a black market activity, governed by informal networks, rather than by visible governmental regulations.  In “Cities as Frontier Zones: Making Informal Politics,” Saskia Sassen is optimistic about the possibilities of informal networks for working against corrupt governmental systems, providing services that nations cannot or will not offer (2007).  Brian Larkin discusses these networks as they relate to Nigeria using the term “piracy infrastructure,” which includes industries such as pirated videos, so-called “419” internet scams, and which can be expanded to include e-waste. This form of infrastructure has nearly replaced all other forms of infrastructure in Nigeria, and for Larkin, it allows the country to compete on international networks of information sharing that the country would otherwise be restricted from due to a material infrastructure that is prone to frequent collapse (2004, pp. 289-293).  

While both Larkin and Sassen discuss these informal networks as providing an infrastructure that was previously lacking, they do not address the ethical implications behind these networks, which do provide vital services, such as second-hand computers, but at a tremendous cost that has nothing to do with economic necessity. Instead, the ethics of globalization that Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses in relation to his definition of “Cosmopolitanism” is more appropriate in considering his works (2006, pp. xi-xxi). While Appiah’s term is problematic in its assertion of a set of values that should be universal, it is useful as a way of considering a framework for assessing the effects of global issues such as e-waste in ways that do not merely provide a pragmatic justification for these practices. Although Appiah’s model does not provide direct solutions to the problems inherent in these global networks, it does provide space for communication, which would indicate the opening up of these networks, rather than relegating them to the margins as “shadow” industries. 

These conversations have been started in the form of international e-waste reforms, with the most significant being the  Basel Convention, which was drafted by Basel Action Network (an NGO committed to limiting e-waste that is also responsible for collecting much of the data on e-waste) in 1989.  Under this accord, countries would be held accountable for dumping e-waste in the developing world, and would instead, through taxes and other measures encourage companies to recycle e-waste rather than selling it.  The convention would also place classification restrictions on what can and cannot be termed e-waste, with provisions flexible enough to handle waste produced as a result of heretofore unknown future technologies (Basel Convention, p. 8).  Thus far, sixty-five countries have ratified the convention, including Nigeria, the United Kingdom and France.  However, the United States, one of the biggest producers of e-waste in the world, has still not ratified the convention.  Currently, as long as waste leaving the country is shipped with the intent to recycle, it can pass inspection and be shipped anywhere in the world.  Since e-waste is technically recycled or reused in countries like Nigeria, it is allowed to be shipped in spite of the health and environmental costs that such recycling and reuse activities entail (Schmidt, 2006, p. A235).    

The problems of e-waste are exacerbated by a worldwide culture of obsolescence and an overall lack of technological literacy.  In Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America, Giles Slade chronicles the history of disposable commodity in the United States, which developed out of marketing strategies designed to ensure a continuous market for products that would need to be replaced every so often after breaking down. Rather than fix the broken products, they were merely disposed of and replaced. This strategy has gone so far as to produce a culture that replaces products faster than they break out of a persistent validation of the “new and original over what is old, traditional, durable, or used” (2007, p. 265). While advertisers are often blamed for the creation of such a culture, Colin Campbell takes a much more nuanced position, arguing that consumer behavior is just as much to blame for our obsession with the new and that manufacturers are in some ways responding to a need (as quoted in Slade, 2007, p. 267).  Whatever the root cause of throwaway culture, it has shifted from being a peculiar American trait to being a worldwide phenomenon, at least, in the developed world (Slade, 2007, 267). Of course, one of the downsides of all this rapid consumption is massive amounts of e-waste that it generates as consumers throw away perfectly useable phones, computers, mp3 players, televisions and other devices in favor of new, more “cutting edge” devices. By reminding us of the ethical imperative that we have to maintain our virtual community as citizens of the net, Francis reminds us of our responsibility to our physical environment as well. His works force us to reconsider our fixation with obsolescence in light of the destruction it causes.

This is not to say that no work has been done to improve the knowledge base on e-waste and its effects. The national Committee on Technological Literacy—which states in its mandate that “Americans are poorly equipped to recognize, let alone ponder or address, the challenges technology poses,”(Slade, 2007, p. 280)—has begun to implement changes to the K-12 curriculum in the hopes of facilitating a more technologically aware population (Slade, 2007, p. 280).  However, the problems that e-waste poses are perhaps too large and too immediate to wait the generational period that is needed to produce such a literate group.  This education can come elsewhere as well, and the informative power of art is perhaps one avenue for it.

Indeed, Francis’s work addresses the issue of literacy in relation to technology.  In a work from his “Netizen” series (fig. 8), circuit boards are placed alongside pictographic markings arranged in a grid that allude to uli and nsibidi script.  Markings of this kind were prescribed by Uche Okeke and others at the University of Nigeria Nsukka as a way of defining a specific style that would move towards a unified identity of contemporary Nigerian art as part of Okeke’s program of Natural Synthesis, which I touched upon earlier. While Francis is alluding to this philosophy of art making which would have been an integral part of his training, his work is more than an assertion of artistic solidarity or national identity.  The importance of uli for Francis’s work is in its connections to written language, and more specifically, written language that is no longer understood.  While there are still some practitioners of these techniques, they are increasingly dwindling as Nigeria modernizes, and the language is now mostly known to scholars (Ottenberg, 1997, pp. 1-17). 

By situating these markings side-by-side with the found circuit boards, the work sets up an analogy between the two forms.  The circuitry still contains information encoded within it that is no longer accessible to anyone, just as these languages which are only partially understood have lost much of their ability to convey information.  The work also speaks to a language barrier between cultures, whether past and present, West and South, or rural and urban.  This is not a matter of literal language translation, but of cross-cultural translation and the barriers that are erected as a result.

While the process involved in seeing both portrait and grid is not as present here, the process of changing orientations is. One must change orientations to “read” either section, even if that reading is frustrated or impossible.  A shift in orientation is necessary for bridging the gap in technological literacy in both the United States and Nigeria—for those in the U.S. this means tempering our drive for new technologies with an understanding of the material implications of e-waste, whereas, for Nigerians, many of whom have firsthand experience with the threat that this waste poses, a need for better telecommunications infrastructure is necessary to profit from technology use rather than suffer from it. It is an ethical imperative that stems from sankofa and the responsibility of the “netizen.” Acting on this imperative necessitates an understanding of the relationship between image and material, as well as between the local and the hypermobile.  In both cases, it involves combining an understanding of what is on the computer screen with the material that is behind it, and it is this process which Ike Francis calls our attention to in his works. However, this understanding is tempered by the problems inherent in technological illiteracy and invisibility, whether through the problems of cross cultural translation or their marginalization through their location within informal “shadow” networks.

 

 

References

 

Appiah, A 2006, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, W.W. Norton & Co, New York.  

 

Anatsui, E, Personal email correspondence with the author, August 25, 2009.

 

Anatsui, E 1993, “‘Sankofa: Go Back an’ Pick,” Third Text, vol.23, pp. 39-52.

 

“Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal,” 1989 viewed November 11, 2009, <http://www.basel.int/text/con-e-rev.pdf >.

 

Binder, LM 2008, “El Anatsui: Transformations,” African Arts, vol. 41 no. 2, Summer pp. 24-37

 

Carney, L 2006, “Nigeria fears e-waste ‘toxic legacy’.” BBC, sec. Africa December 19, viewed December 10, 2009. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6193625.stm>.

 

Ferguson, J. 2006, Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World, Duke University Press Durham, North Carolina.

 

Francis, I 2008a, “A Global Face,” March 2, viewed November 16, 2009, <https://ikechukwufrancis.wordpress.com/>.

 

Francis, I 2008b, “Of Netizens and Citizens,” March 2, viewed November 6, 2009, <https://ikechukwufrancis.wordpress.com/>.

 

Graham, S. 2002, “Communications Grids: Cities and Infrastructure,” in Global Networks: Linked Cities, Routledge New York.

 

Hauben, M and R. 1997, Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, IEEE Computer Society Press, Los Alamitos, Calif.

 

Larkin, B 2004, “Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds: Nigerian Video and the Infrastructure of Piracy,” Public Culture, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 289-314.

 

MacBride, S 2008, “The Immorality of Waste: Depression Era Perspectives in the Digital Age,” SubStance vol. 37, no. 2, 2008, pp. 71-77.

 

McCormick, PK 2002, “Internet Access in Africa: A Critical Review of Public Policy Issues,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, vol. 22 nos. 1 & 2, pp. 140-144.

 

Ottenberg, S 1997, New Traditions from Nigeria: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group, Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington

D.C.

 

Sassen, S 2007, “Cities as Frontier Zones: Making Informal Politics,” Second Moscow Biennial. Viewed December 10, 2009 <http://2nd.moscowbiennale.ru/en/sassen_report/>.

 

Schmidt, CW 2006, “Unfair Trade e-Waste in Africa,” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 114, no. 4, April, pp. A232-A235.

 

Silvius, S “The Best (and Worst) ISPs,” PC World, viewed December 10, 2009. <http://pcworld.about.com/magazine/2306p080id120341.htm>.

 

“Studio Visit: Ike Francis, 2009” 234Next.com,  July 17, viewed November 16, 2009  <http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/ArtsandCulture/Art/5436576-147/story.csp>

 

Appendix

 

 

 

 

Figures. 1-4: Ike Francis, “8 Faces and a Village Square,” 2003. Mixed Media. Images taken by I Francis

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figures 5-8: Ike Francis, “Emergent Netizens.” 2008. Mixed Media. Images taken by I Francis.

 

 

 

Figure 9: “Known and Suspected Routes of e-waste Dumping.” Source: < http://www.pcij.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/e-waste-dumping-routes-large.jpg>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

03
Sep
12

TOTEMS OF CANDOUR: A Travail of Light

            TOTEMS OF CANDOUR; TRAVAIL of LIGHT

By Okoronkwo Ikechukwu Francis.

this is actually a curatorial statement for Prof. Frank Ugiomoh’s retrospective exhibition in the University of Port Harcourt on 31 august 2012.

Introduction

It probably would appear a myth now that Professor Frank Agboyoa Omoh Ugiomoh is a sculptor and print maker. In this exhibition entitled Totems of Candour, a retrospective exhibition, we present some of his creative work. Why a retrospective exhibition? Why not retrospective exhibition, considering that he has always practiced art and has participated in many joint and group exhibitions? Exhibitions are unique to the artist hence, we dare to consider Ery Camara’s observation that; “Exhibitions are indeed articulate speeches, they are not superficial shows within a frame.”1 in other words, the work of art as text flows into the articulate speeches of the artist either in textual form as essays, or in corporeal form as a sculpture or print. This value of the work of art is synonymous with light as metaphor. In this regard, Totems of Candour redefines the illumination that dispels darkness.

Over the years, Ugiomoh’s engagement as an art historian, art critic and a thinker who thinks thoughts appear to have overshadowed his ingenuity as a studio artist. Indeed in the year 2000 the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) conferred on him the rank of a studio master. The work on display in this exhibition spans more than three decades and attest to the wisdom of the SNA. The work here includes; sculptures, prints and drawings that are explicit containers of experience.

Because the work of art is axiology and therefore a repository of values, it always demands interrogation and re-interrogation in order to keep its flame alive within the neighborhood of consciousness.  A work of art, no doubt, is a multi-layering of meaning that requires a balance of interpretation between its form and content.  In this curatorial work we have set out precisely as mediators to re-present Ugiomoh’s work as encrypted imbrications of national stories awaiting deconstruction and to be experienced again and again. The above objective poses some challenges, which are noble though, but not undemanding.

We mediate these complexities associated with our mission by engaging the art pieces from the point of view of acolytes whose responsibility it is to lead desiring observers through a cleansing ritual in preparation for the rite of passage. Given this kindred spirit between master and acolytes, the task above appears rather congenial. In this context, we are looking at artworks that appear to be trapped in a hermeneutic equation which puts in context Ugiomoh’s training as studio artist, art historian and philosopher. We may not be concerned afterall with the issues of periodisation of styles. This is not within the purview of our present assignment.

Totems of Candour, is a collection of work in diverse media such as; sculpture, painting, print-making, etching, etc. In this body of work, we traverse time frames that span through his developments as an art student in the University of Benin, to the present as a professor.  The title, Totem Of Candour recalls Wassily Kandinsky’s understanding regarding the artists as a member of his/her society, who sensing the pervading darkness uses Art “to send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the obligation of the artist.”2   The above re-echoes Langdon Gilkey’s assertion that:

Art opens up the truth hidden behind and within the ordinary; it provides a new entrance into reality and pushes us through that entrance. It leads us to what is really there and really going on. Far from subjective, it pierces the opaque subjectivity, the not seeing, of conventional life, of conventional viewing, and discloses reality.3 (70)

 

Analysis of work

Events in 1979 left many Nigerians forlorn and despondent when the country was declared bankrupt by its then military ruler. The outrage jolted the young Ugiomoh from his rest in the hostel at the University of Benin straight to the studios thereby, giving credence to the German philosopher Kierkegaard who identifies the saturnine disposition of an artist as being catalyst to the creation of art. In the text, Kierkegaard observes that the poet and by extension the artist, is “an unhappy man who in his heart harbors a deep anguish but whose lips are so fashioned that the moans and cries that pass over them are transformed into ravishing music.”4 Agony of the Beloved, a seated female figure in patinated brass is reposed in a traditional mourning position. The piece is reminiscent of Henry Moore’s bulky geometric shapes with subtle and sinewy transitions stopping abruptly, instigating an invocation of sudden halt in motion.  Is it not possible that Ugiomoh laments a halt or immobility that has befallen the country in 1979 with the proclamation of the military ruler inveigled deeply in corruption?

The piece is executed in cast brass and seems to have influenced other sculptures by sharing stylistic affinity and conceptual linearity which Will to Survive, Fattening Room Woman, Waiting 1, Waiting 2andTribute to Uche Okekeseems to have in common. The quintuple set appears to be arranged within a logical sequence thus; Fattening Room Woman referring to an earlier statement credited to General Yakubu Gowon who once announced that Nigeria is so rich and that its problem is how to spend its wealth. Unfortunately the country detoured just few years after this declaration of abundance in General Olusegun Obasanjo’s régime to warrant his statement which is a negation of the former military ruler’s optimism. This is also suspicious when we remember that in 1977, two years earlier the same country treated Africa and its Diaspora to a lavish festival (FESTAC) which though, well thought of was only a conduit for self gratification for some of its key players. Agony of the Beloved: Irony of Nigeria’s Situation thus presents the paradox of our country’s saga in this sequence, Waiting 1 and 2 point to the interregnum between the time of Nigeria’s abundance and draught. Resilience, which is a basic quality of Nigerians, seems to be the dominant theme in Will to Survive while Tribute to Uche Okeke, posed in a given contentment or calmness re-directs the mind to the open ended narratives of the Nigerian condition to be resolved by Nigerians. To see these works on display is enough to suffice that for Ugiomoh, Art encodes experiences into frozen sculptures only to release the latch of its cocoon thereby opening the portals of memories so that humans can investigate the past from today’s perspective and negotiate the future from lessons learnt thereof. Could this be his reference to a spiralate paradigm of the python’s panoptic eye view in his Inaugural Lecture? The artist simultaneously sees behind while also looking beyond the present and at the same time belongs to his time. This is also what the Ashanti of Ghana liken to in the bird SANKOFA.

Totems of Candour is framed by two works; one a brass plague made in 1989 entitled Image of Candour and Totems of Candour in mixed media wood and metal sculpture 2012. In an interview with Professor Ugiomoh, he asserts that “works of art of African origin are largely shrouded in myth and a high level of superstition. This is understandable considering that African culture had grown to maturity before the invension of writing in Egypt about 3,000 BC.” Inspite  of the mythical status that now envelops African art, they remain great resources of knowledge that demand recovery. This according to Ugiomoh, “is the reason for the theme of my recent work, which consist of seven totem pole.”

Another medium of sculpture presented in this exhibition are the group of carved ebony wood with metal components. There appears to be an existence of inter-connecting metaphors of man’s apprehension of its place on earth with an awareness of its relationship with transcendental forces which are impenetrable, when we mull over the work in this group.  Lagbaja, Masquerade as a tragic figure alludes to the sublime implications of our collective interactions; Mother and Child celebrates the bridge between the present and the future; the known and the unknown, the familiar and the strange and relationships which exist between things seen and their intuitive reflections. Praying Mantis is a swipe on a nation who has taken to a vocation of praying without adopting the necessary attitude of solving its problems. A later musical reference to this situation where the Nigerian surrenders its will to God is parodied by ‘The Pulse’ in the track entitled “Sote”. “We go pray sote/Monkey go win Miss World sote/Limousine go be Nija taxi/I go dey pray sote /Satan go de halla Amin sote/Goat go pursue lion sote/Fish go de fear water sote /Pikin go breastfeed mama sote”5 In this track we are reminded of a nation in denial of its will to take its destiny in its hands except to invoke or expect from God the impossible. The Prelate takes man back to the immanence of the transcendental in everything we do. The piece reminds one of the pious demeanors of Pope John Paul II who was the reigning pope at the time The Prelateand Praying Mantiswere rendered.  Although this piece is not a mimetic depiction of the Praying mantis, Ugiomoh has only related to the theme conceptually. It is made from ebony wood and it is a masterpiece in geometric proportions. The piece is as dark as the African skin, slender and graceful yet harboring an undertone of stability. An examination of the top section reveals an elongated pyramidal shape, with a cyclopean eye, almost at its mid-section, with a strip of copper stretching almost to the top. Below it is an oval negative space, which also accommodates a band of textured surface.

A structural reading of form from this group reveals elegance as an important element in their composition. This   also may symbolize reverence and aspiration towards the Wholly Order. It is noteworthy to say here that most often sages appear gaunt due to their detachment to mundane aspirations and ascetic living style, which tend to imbue them with divine illumination.  In ancient times, gaunt figures have been associated with apotheosis of hermits as living oracles of their time, separate from ordinary people. Is it possible that the artist was merely tapping into his aspiration for a future placement within this elite few who treasure knowledge and how it can be used to improve the world other than be attracted to ephemeral pleasures.

The five afore-mentioned artworks share same medium in common. Their style is similar; however, they are distinguished as mixed wood sculpture with attached copper sheet plates. The introduction of brass and copper plates with repouseed designs point to the artist’s influence derived from African sculptures especially of reliquary figures from Gabon in Central African. The introduction of embossed copper into his work locates them as mixed media sculptures and makes them easily recognizable as African in origin.

The print series of Festival 1 2, 3, 4,  and 5,The  Great Palaver at Dawn,  Mother and Child, Coronation, and The Carrying Hands; Ode to Femininity locates the artist going beyond the translation of forms in three dimensional format to interrogating issues using two dimensional  art. His Teacher, Solomon Irien Wangboje master print maker did to a very large extent influence this experiment in this medium.

Of interest in the Sculptures exhibited here Is the portrait of  Felicia who was a model in Ugiomoh’s  undergraduate days other work that belong to the period are Torso of a Female Modeland some drawings that show the artist as coming from a solid background where thoroughness is a watch-word.

Evaluation

Works of art generally serve among other roles, as avenues of the artist’s expression of self within a given time frame and location. The work here presents very interesting ambivalences of both being allusive and yet elusive.  The intricate knotting however leaves dissimulated portals for easier assessment of the artist’s intention but it does not foreclose objective encounter by a respondent as is vital in any artwork. These plastic denouements are self illuminating and evocative of fireworks at a festive period. Indeed Totems of Candour celebrates the first inaugural lecture of a Professor from the Department of Fine Art and Design. Thus the exhibition is heraldic of coming of age of the University of Port Harcourt’s Art School which though in its movement towards maturity has promises of future sparkling petals.

CONCLUSION

The work presented here remain a light that emanates from experience leading to re-excavation of past presented as metaphors in presentist dispositions while pointing its rays in search of the ideal future. In summarizing this curatorial project is a starting point that points to the fact that an artist must reflect in his or her work internal dynamics using appropriate elements as a vehicle to reach others. Leo Tolstoy gives a sensuous description of such a phenomenon as “a means of intercourse between man and man.”6 in another work Okoronkwo Ikechukwu observes that “art constitutes a bridge between man’s two different worlds (The inner and the outer) and thus this is communicated to others as art.”7. Ugiomoh using his patrimony as a cultural negotiator has contributed immensely as a producer and negotiator of culture.

Endnotes

1        see Ery camara. “ Essential Undertaking in the Field of African Art” in Dak’Art 2002 International Exhibition Catalogue. Page 17

2        Wassily Kandinsky “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” in Art Creativity and the Sacred. Apostolos-Cappadona( ed.) 1984. P5

3        Langdon B. Gilkey.“Can Art Fill the Vacuum?”  op.cit p188-192

4        Ibid.

5        Sote is a sound track made popular by the Nigerian musical group THE PULSE

6        see Leo Tolstoy in “What Is art” Alexander Sesonke (ed.)1975

7        okoronkwo Ike francis, in his M.F.A. project report submitted to the Fine and Applied Art Department of University of Nigeria Nsukka. 2001 p5.

 

References

Apostolos Cappadona, Diane. (ed.) Art, Creativity and the Sacred. New York. 1984

Camara, Ery.( 2002). Essential Undertaking in the Field of African Art. In Dak’Art Biennale 2002 Catalague. Dakar 2002.

Gilkey, Langdon. (1984). Can Art Fill the Vacuum? In Diane Apostolos- Cappadona(Ed.) Art Creativity and the Sacred. 187-192:The Crossroad Publishing Company

Okoronkwo , Ikechukwu Francis. (2001). Towards Verbal/Visual Metaphor: Poetry As Resource Base for Painting in Studio Context. Unpublished M.F.A.studio Project report submitted to Department of Fine and Applied Art. University of Nigeria Nsukka.

Tolstoy,Leo.(1975). In Sesonke, Alexander. (Ed.) What is Art New York: Oxford University Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

03
Sep
12

interconnecting metaphor series

interconnecting metaphor series

virtual experiences

03
Sep
12

DAK’ART 2012: A CRITIQUE OF ARTISTIC TRAJECTORIES

Dak’Art 2012: A Critique of Artistic Trajectories and Politics of Power

by okoronkwo ikechukwu francis

Introduction

In this paper I undertake a review of Dak’Art 2012. An engagement of this kind is considered pertinent when we realize that the Dak’Art Biennale has come to be a globally rated event. It is proper to articulate how Dak’Art has fared in its objective.

Biennales are avenues to showcase the novel and to read the barometer of progress in the practice of art in the continent. The Dak’Art biennale has two separate platforms being the: Main International Exhibition and the Off platform comprising of numerous individual exhibitions organized by artists and curator. I have witnessed the Biennale of African Contemporary Art popularly referred to as DAK’ART for three consecutive times since 2008 when I participated as an artist under the aegis of the Nigerian National Gallery of Art’s off platform. In 2010 I made the list for the main international platform and only recently participated in an adventurous outing by the Pan African Circle of Artists in the off platform of 10th edition of the biennale.  Considering the above, I am equipped simultaneously as both artist and an observer of the Dak’Art Biennale.

Dakar as a city in Senegal has a unique historical significance of being a nexus between Arab, European merchants and local Wolof traders. The city has through the colonial and post colonial period been a centre for intellectual activities in the former French colonies. It maintains this position of a rendezvous of cultural and intellectual activities, despite hosting one of the most horrendous sites of the infamous slave trade in Goree Island, off the coastal city. Dakar “stands out as a shaper of history, it shapes not just the history of capitalist and late capitalist networks in the sub-region, it also represents a collective voice struggling to emerge as a veritable alternative to the imperial centres of power.” (Nwafor 2012:5).

Historical Perspective

In the 1940s, Leopold Senghor synergized with Aime  Cesaire and Leon Damas to enunciate the concept of Negritude as a deserving response to the yearning and needs of Negroes within the continent and the Diaspora. The thrust of this intellectual movement among other aims was to assert and valorize what is believed to be distinctive African characteristics, values, and aesthetics. Negritude was simply reacting against a prevalent current in the West that Africans lacked rational reasoning capable of instigating its development. Negritude as ideology however, favours dialogue and exchanges among different cultures. The emergence of the activist –poet, Senghor, as the president helped set a solid foundation of cultural and intellectual direction for the new country in 1960. The above history foregrounds Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, the main host city of Dak’Art biennale.  This is the ideological frame in which the biennale can be located. Presently it is believed to be one of the most authentic art spaces with its focus on the African Artist within Africa and its Diaspora.

Dak’Art is a project geared toward maintaining space for recognition, enhancement, sharing and dissemination of the visual art of Africa and its Diaspora. It is a platform for the verbalization of the African aspiration in a bourgeoning global milieu. It has brought together the best from Africa and its Diaspora to form a passage of acceptance into other international art events elsewhere. From 1989 to the present time the biennale has served as an important platform for emerging and established voices from the African continent. It is a very vital platform for power negotiations in this contemporary time.  “Dak’Art takes into account the Senegalese government’s desire to promote culture as crucial to its national development agenda, and the importance of creating a sustainable postcolonial pan-African cultural institution with a global frame of reference in Africa.” (Nzewi 2012).

Controversial Status

Africa presents interesting and pitiable readings when viewed through the prism of its long suffering via centuries of slavery, colonization, neo-colonization and domestic colonization. These continue to manifest themselves through a new reconfiguration called globalization.  Recent manifestations engendered by visionless and lootocratic rulers who are patronized by so called advanced economies of the world have deepened the fortune of most countries in the continent. Whereas the intellectuals and artists in pre-Independence Africa and the Caribbean reacted against Western Narcissists and their schizophrenic arrogance, today’s African artists through their work tend to point their creative arrows back at their  own leaders who through greed and ineptitude have pushed the continent into more dangerous malaise of domestic colonization.  The images of the Biennale points to the above direction.

The Biennale has played host to over 500 activists within the dynamic culture machine comprising of: artists, scholars, curators and other cultural actors since it was inaugurated. However, the issues of autonomy and authenticity of the African still loom around its laudable trails. Could it be said through its 10th edition that the biennale has been able to present an objective mirror to Africa and others which show the continent according to a clear interpretive ability? Concerning the Biennale’s scope, Kasse notes that:

“African production should open up further by asserting a certain specificity which will become its identity and move towards that dimension of art considered as universal communication medium and which is at the heart of Kantian aesthetics: the beautiful is not for all but is a beauty shared together. It is a medium and a meeting place” (Kasse 2008:26).

 The above is not removed from the Senghorian notion of Negritude as an integrationist tool for navigating within a common global/cultural space. Maybe this accomodationist inclination of its founding father provides the ambivalences that trail Dak’Art till this day.

However, Seck in another development wonders if the mirror in which Africa is seeing itself is “shattered”  he exposes the lopsidedness of globalization of economies when he asserts that:

 “this new configuration of the world, due to the effects of unfair trade and unequal trade and unequal power relationships, inevitably contribute to creating porous borders, jeopardizing local production, blowing up social structures, debasing local values and trivializing the specific and special assets of diverse cultures” (Seck 2008;216)

 The Dak’Art Biennale according to Nwafor is: “complicit with colonial indexing insofar as it uses colonial tropes, techniques and lexicon for African purposes of artistic articulation” (Nwafor 2012: 5). There will be no gain saying that this art event has survived two decades of its life through sponsors from Europe and most especially France.  Total autonomy, if one must be sincere, is lacking as the piper must play according to the payer’s tune. To this extent the Biennale has been majorly criticized.

There have been murmurs from some African countries that are grossly under represented. They question the parameter for inviting more artists from some African countries like South Africa while some gets none. The probable answer is that a country whose government participates in the league of sponsors gets more slot than one that does not contribute.  Notwithstanding, whatever side one argues for, African countries should rise up to the challenge by seeing the festival as a Pan African project while adopting a stance of “cognitive differentiation (I know why I am not the other) and affective opposition (my difference allows me to project myself into the other, recognized and accepted as my other)” (Kasse 2008:26).

From the foregoing, is the Biennale truly a mirror then? Could it be said to be refracted mirror, a shattered mirror or just a plain mirror? Is Africa speaking its own voice or re-echoing a rehearsed script with? And is there a need to groom our voice to sing our own song? These and many other issues come to view as we consider the western assumptions that Africans cannot sustain any program towards its development.  Curators of the 2012 Dak’Art biennale might have had the above issues in mind.  In most of the works presented for the exhibition, curators engaged inter-zonality and used separate dynamics to engage a visual pluralogue of the African voice irrespective of racial, religious or cultural coloration. The Dak’art Biennale has managed, albeit with challenges, to maintain a biennale that is consistent in its timing and position. 

Trajectories

An attempt at sorting and rearranging the artists’ trajectories does not suggest sameness of experience, but it locates similarities in seemingly dissimilar social grid. To what extent has the African artist, using important platform like the Dak’Art Biennale, represented his/her culture, or declared his/her view of him/herself? Has the African artist communicated effectively without being a subaltern voice on issues concerning self? It is then pertinent to take a closer look at the works and the curatorial direction for proper understanding of these trajectories.

Dak’Art 2012 has shown a curatorial direction that tries to cover a wide gamut of what could be defined as contemporary art. This goes from traditional mimetic paintings to conceptual and installation art work, sculptures, performance, photography, video arts, mixed media and even light and sound installations. The lead curator Christine Eyene, opened up that they decided not to make a Western-style selection. Concluding her Curator’s note, she asserts that: “if circumstances do not make it possible for me to showcase this wide range of creation at Dakar 2012, the fact remains that the Biennale is an ideal platform to welcome new African artistic practices of the 21st century” (Eyene 2012: 15). With difficulties encountered in determining what defines a contemporary African art resolved or unresolved the consequence is that a selection of artists that represents Africa in its specificity of experiences was showcased from the Biennale’s lists of 42 artists from 22 countries in Africa and the Diaspora.it appears that we can extrapolate this list of artists presented at Dak’Art Biennale,an aggregate of what the African artist is telling the world about their condition.

ROMARIC ASSIE’S ‘La table a palabre’ is oil on canvas. The painting has a simple design a circular portion (a bargaining table) painted with nuances of white colours as the major source of light. On top of the table are to be seen identity tags, documents, the Ivorian flag and a vase with flower. Five men are sitted around these symbolic elements, evidently politicians. Note that the content of the painting is at first explicit enough as the style is pictorial and descriptive of its content. The faces of the personages in the painting are so expressive that one can imagine vividly the subject of their discussion. A reader can also feel the pervading mistrust in the atmosphere which suggests a clandestine undertone under the veneer of diplomatic hood. The painting is an extrapolation of intricacies involving conflict resolution in Africa in particular and the world in general. The genealogy of most wars in Africa can be traced to the greed or selfishness of its pseudo leaders who come to the round table armed with private agenda to enrich self, remain in power longer than is necessary. The antagonists to the government come also to find ways to wrest power.  Eventually the peace of the place is compromised. The above situation is reflective of the multiple problems plaguing African countries. The artist notes that: “This work addresses the difficult issue of socio-political crises in the world and Africa in particular, and the manner in which to resolve them”. It writes the story of war-torn Africa, impoverished Africa, stunted or underdeveloped Africa whereby sit-tight leaders see leadership as a patrimony that should never be relinquished even at the threat of death or generational annihilation. In the above concatenation of events, Assie says that “unfortunately during roundtables to negotiate peace only the partisan interest of belligerents and facilitators prevail. Agreements that are signed are primarily for the sharing of the country’s wealth and ministerial posts.”

This situation calls to mind a pathetic venality of the African rulers who though are mere puppets dancing to the pulling strings from the West, has erroneous belief of ego and self will. For Chinweizu, this lootocrats  are not “ the least insulted by the fact the world’s other men amusingly see them as powerless children, dressing up in their parent’s discarded clothes and comically carrying on as if they were responsible adults” (Chinweizu 2011;48). The scenario presents a situation that is simultaneously pathetic and annoying. It tends to give credit to centuries long devastation of continental and Negroid psychology by the West. (See fig.1)

 

YOUNES BABA-ALI’s “Horn Orchestra” is an interesting intervention with sound as a metaphor of both revulsion and attraction. The medium is contemporaneous to the extent that it is new and almost inconspicuous as an art piece. The work under review is part of a series he has called “sonic attack” In an earlier discussion between the artist and this writer he claimed to have explored this theme in a workshop he attended. A viewer may walk past this piece without the slightest idea of walking past an art piece. The sound installation consists of 10 car horns hanging from a ceiling. The horns remain silent until it is triggered by moving presence.  Its shadow sensor activates a blaring sound which calls attention to such presence. The art addresses political issue in an uncanny and metaphoric way of involving both victim and perpetrator. It  presents a post-modern discourse of paradoxes when we consider the level of interest Islam  and its adherents generated immediately after September 11th 2001 incident in the United States. There has been a sustained debate which I believe Baba-Ali is alluding to. In a symposium, during the 2010 Dak’Art Biennale by Sallah Hassan entitled; Contemporary Islamic Art and Global War on Terror the erudite scholar drew attention to this prevailing stereotyping of people and an eventual objectification of same as potential harbingers of terror.  He said that his “talk is to look at the contradictory way with the paradox of the way people look at Muslim people this days, especially before 9, 11. Which is labeling Muslims as terrorists or potential terrorists, they treat them with despise, they treat them as if they exist outside the law.”  There arises a multi layering of metaphors and narratives from victims of stereotypes, xenophobia, segregation based on colour, race, status and other social stigmas.

What makes Baba-Ali’s work interesting is not only its metaphor which is based on otherness but also the fact that the piece transcends known tropes of visuality, which it extends to audio thereby opening new frontiers for the expression and appreciation of art. He writes in the Dak’art catalogue that his practice is situated:

In the development of simple and basic interventions as well as in the construction of much more sophisticated systems. By diverting every object from their original function, he makes them independent and transforms our relationship to them, emphasizing a commitment made to reveal the relationship usually based on power or possession that we have with things.” (Dak’art 2012; 34)

The above interconnecting issue extends not only to religion. It is an open template which accommodates human quest for superiority. (See fig2)

KATIA KAMELI’s “Untitled” video, 2011.Kameli’s video installation is to be located within feminist construct and plural identity. Kameli is an Algerian by birth. She lives in Paris where she engages art as a tool for expressing conceptual issues on plurality of identity with other related issues. The video started when she crawled out from an improvised ramshackle made from disused cartons built around a street corner. She picks up remnants of same discarded cartons and fashion from it a placard with no written inscription on it, picking up the blank placard from the surrounding floor she stands unobtrusively on the road where other widows who have done the same joined her. Their number swells in an instant as many more women join the group with blank expression on the faces but which is in tandem with the blank placards to communicate to the viewer’s conscience what written text or articulate speech could not do. This is a case of eloquent silence.  In Kameli’s work this silence is shrilling, it is deafening with the coldness of razor blade piercing our innermost sub- conscious with eternal truth through a non-verbal media. Like ellipses we have the answers ready in our mind. The video seems to agree with Aniakor that the “role of the writer and by extension the artist is to raise a people’s consciousness of the truths and contradictions in a society through a lofty vision and ample literary techniques shown in the spell binding language” (Aniakor 2011; 80. Emphasis mine). The women in Kameli’s art live at the fringes of their society and from that point they protest such repressive condition.

As observed in the Dak’Art 2012 catalogue, “Her work is inseparable from her own experience, from her plural identity. Protean, it expresses the in-between through which the sign of belonging is rejected in favor of multiplicity.” Her work negotiates issues from a third paradigm of hybridity making possible a third position as an alternative space. The “Untitled” video art records a feminist voice responding to the plight of widows, the eloquence of their seemingly silence in a culture that excludes them from being seen and being heard. The art packed with is shrilling non-verbal speeches and very articulate in visual metaphor as the women declares their immanence. It can also refer to events of the Arab spring in Middle East North Africa (M.E.N.A.) by seeing women as a vital group in the negotiation of secured future within their country, the muted placards seems to say millions of words louder than uttered or written words could say. (See fig3)

MAMADY SEYDY “Celui qui ne sait plus ou il va, doit-il retourner d’ou il vient?” (‘The one that does not know where he goes must return where he comes from?’) is an installation of multiple sculpture pieces with therianthropic figures (half human, half animal). Other images in the installation are: a fuel pump that is not spurting oil, wool and rug. According to Nzewi, in an article written for Universe In Universe of June 2012, Mamady’s installation is “largely inspired by a fuel shortage crises in Senegal, in 2008 which resulted in endless queues at gas stations, the installation explores humanity’s animalistic when dealing with existential struggle for survival.” Beyond Nzewi’s allusion to a certain fuel shortage in Senegal in 2008, one finds it comfortable to locate Mamady Seydi’s work within an allegorical presentation of Nigeria and its recurring fuel crises. Intertextuality as handle for deconstruction can be applied here. As Aniakor argues, “the novelist has no monopoly of meanings in his novel…, you may read a book to help you understand another book” (Aniakor 2012:12). Reinforcing this point is the fact that the organized confusion of humans losing their humanity to adopt bestial qualities have come to be a constant picture in Nigeria occasioned by regular and unprecedented fuel crises. The structural paradigm in the installation piece interconnects many African countries including Senegal though this tends to be located more in Nigeria. The choice of white wool on top of green rug thus creating a visual design of green-white-green is reflective of the Nigerian national flag. If the situation of fuel shortage should be personified and made to assume nationality of a country, I believe, it will be a Nigerian. Furthermore with the advent of internet, satellite radio and television stations and other fast communication media, world spaces are condensing to the extent that information spread in a breath-taking speed. That being the case, Mamady might have assessed this constant event that happens in Nigeria. (See fig4)

 

HERVE’ YOUMBI’s triptych conceptual photography “Au Nom Du Pere” is self explanatory on the condition of sit-tight African leaders who see public office as a family heritage that must run from father to son and so forth. It is a presentation of the artist himself as the president of a country seated on the presidential chair at the state house with all paraphernalia of statehood. At first, it was him alone. This condition metamorphosed to him and his infant son (apparently taking tutelage in preparation of a possible hand over of mantle.) An interesting version of this second panel, apart from the son, is an introduction of his first photo at the state house. The last of the sequence is the huge presidential throne with the son alone on the right corner of the seat which leaves a space large enough to accommodate another person. In this final stage, the image of the father looms ominously at the background. The implication of the above picture in African politics and crises is obvious. The artist states in the biennale’s catalogue: “In Africa, the act of reviewing the constitution and rigging elections has become a sport for the power hungry heads of state. When they pass away, one of their sons is settled in their place. Inspired by wind of anger and freedom of the Arab Springs, ‘In the name of father, son and holy constitutional monarchy” the above description is a vicious jinx which many African countries have been embroiled in, typical examples are: the recent Arab Spring uprising in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, earlier events in countries like D.R.Congo, Sierra Leone just to mention just but a few. The host country of the biennale narrowly escaped a cathartic downslide of event.

The greed of African leaders coupled with imperialist’s power play may have sustained the looming darkness which many countries in Africa find themselves. According to Chike Aniakor: “with the attainment of political independence, the post-colonial response to the emergence of African nationalism against the backcloth of colonial patrimony did leave post colonial countries in Africa in a deep trauma if not historical twilight” (Aniakor 2011:66) There is a pejorative connotation of the power game with an implication of a bleak future for Africa in the global encounter of cultures and its further developments. (See fig5)

 

Conclusion

At the new exhibition hall are to be seen crowds of mixed race, nationalities,  divers interests, chatting convivially, asking questions, negotiating spaces, interrogating important issues, exchanging business cards and even trying to understand others. The significance of the above scenario within the specificity of cultural patrimony is huge as it attests to ongoing cultural negotiations that will surely determine the direction of future positioning. “Art  is not a creation ex nihilo but a product to address, in one way or another, the needs that societies identify, continue to identify and express” (Kasse 2008:24). African condition, given its bumpy history, is unique and through a psychodynamics of environment must leave in the artist a special experience which must inform his/her expression. The African artists hence have exteriorized their experiences through Dak’art as a veritable platform, what remains is the active participation of stakeholders to sustain and rescue it from possible erosion through intrusion from dangerous interests.  

Dak’Art ought to be a site for the demonstration of African creativity. It is important to debunk the position of Jules Romain that, “the black race has not yet produced, will never produce, an Einstein, Stravinsky, a Gershwin” (Njami 2008: 36). Rising from the ruins of what remained of centuries of emotional emasculation of the African through slave trade, colonialism, post-colonialism and ongoing neo- colonization, the African artists must remain vocal in reasserting the humanity of the African.  

In view of the above undercurrents, Dak’art Biennale as an African platform (inspite of the polemics on its sponsorship, and allegiance), provides for readers of African socio/political situation an analytical grid for understanding the metaphors of Mamady’s ‘The One That Does Not Know Where He Goes, Must Return Where He Comes From” , Assie’s La Table A Palabre” Baba-Ali’s “Horn Orchestra”, Kameli’s “Untitled” video installation, Youmbi’s Au Nom Du Pere  and even other works shown in the Biennale that has not been mention in this critique like: Chika Modum’s ‘Isi-Aka’ orKimanja Wanja’s ‘You Have Not Changed’ these works find resonance through their different media. Dak’Art provides for the African artists a launch pad for further interventions into global artistic landscape. Thus vilified, African artists have made bold to mount the global art space with an unbridled effrontery as can be seen through these artworks, what is of issue here however is not only the authenticity of his voice as contributing to an ever growing documents in post-modern art discourses but also  the semiotics and semantics of the African.

It is plausible to say here that in spite of any controversy the African artists through the Dak’Art Biennale’s platform has spoken of the African condition in a way no other outside party can express given the authenticity, uniqueness and understanding of the African society because the African artists like any other occupational or interest group are stakeholders to current cultural negotiations and enterprises in the global sphere. They are part and parcel of their societies and hence understand its internal dynamics. It then can be deduced that the Dak’Art Biennale is very vital in the development of Africa in a global scheme of things.

 

References

Aniakor,Chike. (2011) Global Changes in Africa and Indigenous Knowledge: Towards Its Interrogation and Contestations. In Sam Onuigbo (Ed.), Indigenous Knowledge and Global Changes in Africa: History, Concepts and Logic, Nsukka: Institute of African Studies, 55-108.

Aniakor, Chike (2012) “Africa and the Politics of Postcoloniality: Knowledge,Its Production, Communication and the Music of Violence” Pan African Circle of Artists Dak’Art 2012 off exhibition catalogue, 10-13.

Chinweizu. (2011) “African Studies, Indigenous Knowledge and the Building of a Black Superpower in Africa.” In Sam Onuigbo (Ed.) Indigenous Knowledge and Global Changes in Africa: History, Concepts and Logic.  34-54.

Eyene, Christine. (2012). “On the Process.” Curator’s note, In 10th Biennale of Contemporary African Art.  14-15.

Kasse ,Magueye. (2008). “Africa and the Metaphor of the Mirror.” In the 2008 Dak’Art. Afrique: Miroir?,24-28.

Njami, Simon. (2008) “Alice Versus Narcissus.”  In the 2008 Dak’Art. Afrique: Miroir?,36-40.

Nzewi, Ugochukwu Smooth. (2012) Universe In Universe of June 2012

Nwafor, Okey. “Africa and the Politics of Postcoloniality: Reading Contradictions”  Pan African Circle of Artists Dak’Art 2012 off exhibition catalogue (Dakar 2012)

Seck, Sidi. (2008). Shards…and What If the Mirror Got Shattered?In the 2008 Dak’Art. Afrique: Miroir?, 216-221

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

03
Sep
12

DAK’ART 2012: A CRITIQUE OF ARTISTIC TRAJECTORIES

Dak’Art 2012: A Critique of Artistic Trajectories and Politics of Power

by okoronkwo ikechukwu francis

Introduction

In this paper I undertake a review of Dak’Art 2012. An engagement of this kind is considered pertinent when we realize that the Dak’Art Biennale has come to be a globally rated event. It is proper to articulate how Dak’Art has fared in its objective.

Biennales are avenues to showcase the novel and to read the barometer of progress in the practice of art in the continent. The Dak’Art biennale has two separate platforms being the: Main International Exhibition and the Off platform comprising of numerous individual exhibitions organized by artists and curator. I have witnessed the Biennale of African Contemporary Art popularly referred to as DAK’ART for three consecutive times since 2008 when I participated as an artist under the aegis of the Nigerian National Gallery of Art’s off platform. In 2010 I made the list for the main international platform and only recently participated in an adventurous outing by the Pan African Circle of Artists in the off platform of 10th edition of the biennale.  Considering the above, I am equipped simultaneously as both artist and an observer of the Dak’Art Biennale.

Dakar as a city in Senegal has a unique historical significance of being a nexus between Arab, European merchants and local Wolof traders. The city has through the colonial and post colonial period been a centre for intellectual activities in the former French colonies. It maintains this position of a rendezvous of cultural and intellectual activities, despite hosting one of the most horrendous sites of the infamous slave trade in Goree Island, off the coastal city. Dakar “stands out as a shaper of history, it shapes not just the history of capitalist and late capitalist networks in the sub-region, it also represents a collective voice struggling to emerge as a veritable alternative to the imperial centres of power.” (Nwafor 2012:5).

Historical Perspective

In the 1940s, Leopold Senghor synergized with Aime  Cesaire and Leon Damas to enunciate the concept of Negritude as a deserving response to the yearning and needs of Negroes within the continent and the Diaspora. The thrust of this intellectual movement among other aims was to assert and valorize what is believed to be distinctive African characteristics, values, and aesthetics. Negritude was simply reacting against a prevalent current in the West that Africans lacked rational reasoning capable of instigating its development. Negritude as ideology however, favours dialogue and exchanges among different cultures. The emergence of the activist –poet, Senghor, as the president helped set a solid foundation of cultural and intellectual direction for the new country in 1960. The above history foregrounds Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, the main host city of Dak’Art biennale.  This is the ideological frame in which the biennale can be located. Presently it is believed to be one of the most authentic art spaces with its focus on the African Artist within Africa and its Diaspora.

Dak’Art is a project geared toward maintaining space for recognition, enhancement, sharing and dissemination of the visual art of Africa and its Diaspora. It is a platform for the verbalization of the African aspiration in a bourgeoning global milieu. It has brought together the best from Africa and its Diaspora to form a passage of acceptance into other international art events elsewhere. From 1989 to the present time the biennale has served as an important platform for emerging and established voices from the African continent. It is a very vital platform for power negotiations in this contemporary time.  “Dak’Art takes into account the Senegalese government’s desire to promote culture as crucial to its national development agenda, and the importance of creating a sustainable postcolonial pan-African cultural institution with a global frame of reference in Africa.” (Nzewi 2012).

Controversial Status

Africa presents interesting and pitiable readings when viewed through the prism of its long suffering via centuries of slavery, colonization, neo-colonization and domestic colonization. These continue to manifest themselves through a new reconfiguration called globalization.  Recent manifestations engendered by visionless and lootocratic rulers who are patronized by so called advanced economies of the world have deepened the fortune of most countries in the continent. Whereas the intellectuals and artists in pre-Independence Africa and the Caribbean reacted against Western Narcissists and their schizophrenic arrogance, today’s African artists through their work tend to point their creative arrows back at their  own leaders who through greed and ineptitude have pushed the continent into more dangerous malaise of domestic colonization.  The images of the Biennale points to the above direction.

The Biennale has played host to over 500 activists within the dynamic culture machine comprising of: artists, scholars, curators and other cultural actors since it was inaugurated. However, the issues of autonomy and authenticity of the African still loom around its laudable trails. Could it be said through its 10th edition that the biennale has been able to present an objective mirror to Africa and others which show the continent according to a clear interpretive ability? Concerning the Biennale’s scope, Kasse notes that:

“African production should open up further by asserting a certain specificity which will become its identity and move towards that dimension of art considered as universal communication medium and which is at the heart of Kantian aesthetics: the beautiful is not for all but is a beauty shared together. It is a medium and a meeting place” (Kasse 2008:26).

 The above is not removed from the Senghorian notion of Negritude as an integrationist tool for navigating within a common global/cultural space. Maybe this accomodationist inclination of its founding father provides the ambivalences that trail Dak’Art till this day.

However, Seck in another development wonders if the mirror in which Africa is seeing itself is “shattered”  he exposes the lopsidedness of globalization of economies when he asserts that:

 “this new configuration of the world, due to the effects of unfair trade and unequal trade and unequal power relationships, inevitably contribute to creating porous borders, jeopardizing local production, blowing up social structures, debasing local values and trivializing the specific and special assets of diverse cultures” (Seck 2008;216)

 The Dak’Art Biennale according to Nwafor is: “complicit with colonial indexing insofar as it uses colonial tropes, techniques and lexicon for African purposes of artistic articulation” (Nwafor 2012: 5). There will be no gain saying that this art event has survived two decades of its life through sponsors from Europe and most especially France.  Total autonomy, if one must be sincere, is lacking as the piper must play according to the payer’s tune. To this extent the Biennale has been majorly criticized.

There have been murmurs from some African countries that are grossly under represented. They question the parameter for inviting more artists from some African countries like South Africa while some gets none. The probable answer is that a country whose government participates in the league of sponsors gets more slot than one that does not contribute.  Notwithstanding, whatever side one argues for, African countries should rise up to the challenge by seeing the festival as a Pan African project while adopting a stance of “cognitive differentiation (I know why I am not the other) and affective opposition (my difference allows me to project myself into the other, recognized and accepted as my other)” (Kasse 2008:26).

From the foregoing, is the Biennale truly a mirror then? Could it be said to be refracted mirror, a shattered mirror or just a plain mirror? Is Africa speaking its own voice or re-echoing a rehearsed script with? And is there a need to groom our voice to sing our own song? These and many other issues come to view as we consider the western assumptions that Africans cannot sustain any program towards its development.  Curators of the 2012 Dak’Art biennale might have had the above issues in mind.  In most of the works presented for the exhibition, curators engaged inter-zonality and used separate dynamics to engage a visual pluralogue of the African voice irrespective of racial, religious or cultural coloration. The Dak’art Biennale has managed, albeit with challenges, to maintain a biennale that is consistent in its timing and position. 

Trajectories

An attempt at sorting and rearranging the artists’ trajectories does not suggest sameness of experience, but it locates similarities in seemingly dissimilar social grid. To what extent has the African artist, using important platform like the Dak’Art Biennale, represented his/her culture, or declared his/her view of him/herself? Has the African artist communicated effectively without being a subaltern voice on issues concerning self? It is then pertinent to take a closer look at the works and the curatorial direction for proper understanding of these trajectories.

Dak’Art 2012 has shown a curatorial direction that tries to cover a wide gamut of what could be defined as contemporary art. This goes from traditional mimetic paintings to conceptual and installation art work, sculptures, performance, photography, video arts, mixed media and even light and sound installations. The lead curator Christine Eyene, opened up that they decided not to make a Western-style selection. Concluding her Curator’s note, she asserts that: “if circumstances do not make it possible for me to showcase this wide range of creation at Dakar 2012, the fact remains that the Biennale is an ideal platform to welcome new African artistic practices of the 21st century” (Eyene 2012: 15). With difficulties encountered in determining what defines a contemporary African art resolved or unresolved the consequence is that a selection of artists that represents Africa in its specificity of experiences was showcased from the Biennale’s lists of 42 artists from 22 countries in Africa and the Diaspora.it appears that we can extrapolate this list of artists presented at Dak’Art Biennale,an aggregate of what the African artist is telling the world about their condition.

ROMARIC ASSIE’S ‘La table a palabre’ is oil on canvas. The painting has a simple design a circular portion (a bargaining table) painted with nuances of white colours as the major source of light. On top of the table are to be seen identity tags, documents, the Ivorian flag and a vase with flower. Five men are sitted around these symbolic elements, evidently politicians. Note that the content of the painting is at first explicit enough as the style is pictorial and descriptive of its content. The faces of the personages in the painting are so expressive that one can imagine vividly the subject of their discussion. A reader can also feel the pervading mistrust in the atmosphere which suggests a clandestine undertone under the veneer of diplomatic hood. The painting is an extrapolation of intricacies involving conflict resolution in Africa in particular and the world in general. The genealogy of most wars in Africa can be traced to the greed or selfishness of its pseudo leaders who come to the round table armed with private agenda to enrich self, remain in power longer than is necessary. The antagonists to the government come also to find ways to wrest power.  Eventually the peace of the place is compromised. The above situation is reflective of the multiple problems plaguing African countries. The artist notes that: “This work addresses the difficult issue of socio-political crises in the world and Africa in particular, and the manner in which to resolve them”. It writes the story of war-torn Africa, impoverished Africa, stunted or underdeveloped Africa whereby sit-tight leaders see leadership as a patrimony that should never be relinquished even at the threat of death or generational annihilation. In the above concatenation of events, Assie says that “unfortunately during roundtables to negotiate peace only the partisan interest of belligerents and facilitators prevail. Agreements that are signed are primarily for the sharing of the country’s wealth and ministerial posts.”

This situation calls to mind a pathetic venality of the African rulers who though are mere puppets dancing to the pulling strings from the West, has erroneous belief of ego and self will. For Chinweizu, this lootocrats  are not “ the least insulted by the fact the world’s other men amusingly see them as powerless children, dressing up in their parent’s discarded clothes and comically carrying on as if they were responsible adults” (Chinweizu 2011;48). The scenario presents a situation that is simultaneously pathetic and annoying. It tends to give credit to centuries long devastation of continental and Negroid psychology by the West. (See fig.1)

 

YOUNES BABA-ALI’s “Horn Orchestra” is an interesting intervention with sound as a metaphor of both revulsion and attraction. The medium is contemporaneous to the extent that it is new and almost inconspicuous as an art piece. The work under review is part of a series he has called “sonic attack” In an earlier discussion between the artist and this writer he claimed to have explored this theme in a workshop he attended. A viewer may walk past this piece without the slightest idea of walking past an art piece. The sound installation consists of 10 car horns hanging from a ceiling. The horns remain silent until it is triggered by moving presence.  Its shadow sensor activates a blaring sound which calls attention to such presence. The art addresses political issue in an uncanny and metaphoric way of involving both victim and perpetrator. It  presents a post-modern discourse of paradoxes when we consider the level of interest Islam  and its adherents generated immediately after September 11th 2001 incident in the United States. There has been a sustained debate which I believe Baba-Ali is alluding to. In a symposium, during the 2010 Dak’Art Biennale by Sallah Hassan entitled; Contemporary Islamic Art and Global War on Terror the erudite scholar drew attention to this prevailing stereotyping of people and an eventual objectification of same as potential harbingers of terror.  He said that his “talk is to look at the contradictory way with the paradox of the way people look at Muslim people this days, especially before 9, 11. Which is labeling Muslims as terrorists or potential terrorists, they treat them with despise, they treat them as if they exist outside the law.”  There arises a multi layering of metaphors and narratives from victims of stereotypes, xenophobia, segregation based on colour, race, status and other social stigmas.

What makes Baba-Ali’s work interesting is not only its metaphor which is based on otherness but also the fact that the piece transcends known tropes of visuality, which it extends to audio thereby opening new frontiers for the expression and appreciation of art. He writes in the Dak’art catalogue that his practice is situated:

In the development of simple and basic interventions as well as in the construction of much more sophisticated systems. By diverting every object from their original function, he makes them independent and transforms our relationship to them, emphasizing a commitment made to reveal the relationship usually based on power or possession that we have with things.” (Dak’art 2012; 34)

The above interconnecting issue extends not only to religion. It is an open template which accommodates human quest for superiority. (See fig2)

KATIA KAMELI’s “Untitled” video, 2011.Kameli’s video installation is to be located within feminist construct and plural identity. Kameli is an Algerian by birth. She lives in Paris where she engages art as a tool for expressing conceptual issues on plurality of identity with other related issues. The video started when she crawled out from an improvised ramshackle made from disused cartons built around a street corner. She picks up remnants of same discarded cartons and fashion from it a placard with no written inscription on it, picking up the blank placard from the surrounding floor she stands unobtrusively on the road where other widows who have done the same joined her. Their number swells in an instant as many more women join the group with blank expression on the faces but which is in tandem with the blank placards to communicate to the viewer’s conscience what written text or articulate speech could not do. This is a case of eloquent silence.  In Kameli’s work this silence is shrilling, it is deafening with the coldness of razor blade piercing our innermost sub- conscious with eternal truth through a non-verbal media. Like ellipses we have the answers ready in our mind. The video seems to agree with Aniakor that the “role of the writer and by extension the artist is to raise a people’s consciousness of the truths and contradictions in a society through a lofty vision and ample literary techniques shown in the spell binding language” (Aniakor 2011; 80. Emphasis mine). The women in Kameli’s art live at the fringes of their society and from that point they protest such repressive condition.

As observed in the Dak’Art 2012 catalogue, “Her work is inseparable from her own experience, from her plural identity. Protean, it expresses the in-between through which the sign of belonging is rejected in favor of multiplicity.” Her work negotiates issues from a third paradigm of hybridity making possible a third position as an alternative space. The “Untitled” video art records a feminist voice responding to the plight of widows, the eloquence of their seemingly silence in a culture that excludes them from being seen and being heard. The art packed with is shrilling non-verbal speeches and very articulate in visual metaphor as the women declares their immanence. It can also refer to events of the Arab spring in Middle East North Africa (M.E.N.A.) by seeing women as a vital group in the negotiation of secured future within their country, the muted placards seems to say millions of words louder than uttered or written words could say. (See fig3)

MAMADY SEYDY “Celui qui ne sait plus ou il va, doit-il retourner d’ou il vient?” (‘The one that does not know where he goes must return where he comes from?’) is an installation of multiple sculpture pieces with therianthropic figures (half human, half animal). Other images in the installation are: a fuel pump that is not spurting oil, wool and rug. According to Nzewi, in an article written for Universe In Universe of June 2012, Mamady’s installation is “largely inspired by a fuel shortage crises in Senegal, in 2008 which resulted in endless queues at gas stations, the installation explores humanity’s animalistic when dealing with existential struggle for survival.” Beyond Nzewi’s allusion to a certain fuel shortage in Senegal in 2008, one finds it comfortable to locate Mamady Seydi’s work within an allegorical presentation of Nigeria and its recurring fuel crises. Intertextuality as handle for deconstruction can be applied here. As Aniakor argues, “the novelist has no monopoly of meanings in his novel…, you may read a book to help you understand another book” (Aniakor 2012:12). Reinforcing this point is the fact that the organized confusion of humans losing their humanity to adopt bestial qualities have come to be a constant picture in Nigeria occasioned by regular and unprecedented fuel crises. The structural paradigm in the installation piece interconnects many African countries including Senegal though this tends to be located more in Nigeria. The choice of white wool on top of green rug thus creating a visual design of green-white-green is reflective of the Nigerian national flag. If the situation of fuel shortage should be personified and made to assume nationality of a country, I believe, it will be a Nigerian. Furthermore with the advent of internet, satellite radio and television stations and other fast communication media, world spaces are condensing to the extent that information spread in a breath-taking speed. That being the case, Mamady might have assessed this constant event that happens in Nigeria. (See fig4)

 

HERVE’ YOUMBI’s triptych conceptual photography “Au Nom Du Pere” is self explanatory on the condition of sit-tight African leaders who see public office as a family heritage that must run from father to son and so forth. It is a presentation of the artist himself as the president of a country seated on the presidential chair at the state house with all paraphernalia of statehood. At first, it was him alone. This condition metamorphosed to him and his infant son (apparently taking tutelage in preparation of a possible hand over of mantle.) An interesting version of this second panel, apart from the son, is an introduction of his first photo at the state house. The last of the sequence is the huge presidential throne with the son alone on the right corner of the seat which leaves a space large enough to accommodate another person. In this final stage, the image of the father looms ominously at the background. The implication of the above picture in African politics and crises is obvious. The artist states in the biennale’s catalogue: “In Africa, the act of reviewing the constitution and rigging elections has become a sport for the power hungry heads of state. When they pass away, one of their sons is settled in their place. Inspired by wind of anger and freedom of the Arab Springs, ‘In the name of father, son and holy constitutional monarchy” the above description is a vicious jinx which many African countries have been embroiled in, typical examples are: the recent Arab Spring uprising in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, earlier events in countries like D.R.Congo, Sierra Leone just to mention just but a few. The host country of the biennale narrowly escaped a cathartic downslide of event.

The greed of African leaders coupled with imperialist’s power play may have sustained the looming darkness which many countries in Africa find themselves. According to Chike Aniakor: “with the attainment of political independence, the post-colonial response to the emergence of African nationalism against the backcloth of colonial patrimony did leave post colonial countries in Africa in a deep trauma if not historical twilight” (Aniakor 2011:66) There is a pejorative connotation of the power game with an implication of a bleak future for Africa in the global encounter of cultures and its further developments. (See fig5)

 

Conclusion

At the new exhibition hall are to be seen crowds of mixed race, nationalities,  divers interests, chatting convivially, asking questions, negotiating spaces, interrogating important issues, exchanging business cards and even trying to understand others. The significance of the above scenario within the specificity of cultural patrimony is huge as it attests to ongoing cultural negotiations that will surely determine the direction of future positioning. “Art  is not a creation ex nihilo but a product to address, in one way or another, the needs that societies identify, continue to identify and express” (Kasse 2008:24). African condition, given its bumpy history, is unique and through a psychodynamics of environment must leave in the artist a special experience which must inform his/her expression. The African artists hence have exteriorized their experiences through Dak’art as a veritable platform, what remains is the active participation of stakeholders to sustain and rescue it from possible erosion through intrusion from dangerous interests.  

Dak’Art ought to be a site for the demonstration of African creativity. It is important to debunk the position of Jules Romain that, “the black race has not yet produced, will never produce, an Einstein, Stravinsky, a Gershwin” (Njami 2008: 36). Rising from the ruins of what remained of centuries of emotional emasculation of the African through slave trade, colonialism, post-colonialism and ongoing neo- colonization, the African artists must remain vocal in reasserting the humanity of the African.  

In view of the above undercurrents, Dak’art Biennale as an African platform (inspite of the polemics on its sponsorship, and allegiance), provides for readers of African socio/political situation an analytical grid for understanding the metaphors of Mamady’s ‘The One That Does Not Know Where He Goes, Must Return Where He Comes From” , Assie’s La Table A Palabre” Baba-Ali’s “Horn Orchestra”, Kameli’s “Untitled” video installation, Youmbi’s Au Nom Du Pere  and even other works shown in the Biennale that has not been mention in this critique like: Chika Modum’s ‘Isi-Aka’ orKimanja Wanja’s ‘You Have Not Changed’ these works find resonance through their different media. Dak’Art provides for the African artists a launch pad for further interventions into global artistic landscape. Thus vilified, African artists have made bold to mount the global art space with an unbridled effrontery as can be seen through these artworks, what is of issue here however is not only the authenticity of his voice as contributing to an ever growing documents in post-modern art discourses but also  the semiotics and semantics of the African.

It is plausible to say here that in spite of any controversy the African artists through the Dak’Art Biennale’s platform has spoken of the African condition in a way no other outside party can express given the authenticity, uniqueness and understanding of the African society because the African artists like any other occupational or interest group are stakeholders to current cultural negotiations and enterprises in the global sphere. They are part and parcel of their societies and hence understand its internal dynamics. It then can be deduced that the Dak’Art Biennale is very vital in the development of Africa in a global scheme of things.

 

References

Aniakor,Chike. (2011) Global Changes in Africa and Indigenous Knowledge: Towards Its Interrogation and Contestations. In Sam Onuigbo (Ed.), Indigenous Knowledge and Global Changes in Africa: History, Concepts and Logic, Nsukka: Institute of African Studies, 55-108.

Aniakor, Chike (2012) “Africa and the Politics of Postcoloniality: Knowledge,Its Production, Communication and the Music of Violence” Pan African Circle of Artists Dak’Art 2012 off exhibition catalogue, 10-13.

Chinweizu. (2011) “African Studies, Indigenous Knowledge and the Building of a Black Superpower in Africa.” In Sam Onuigbo (Ed.) Indigenous Knowledge and Global Changes in Africa: History, Concepts and Logic.  34-54.

Eyene, Christine. (2012). “On the Process.” Curator’s note, In 10th Biennale of Contemporary African Art.  14-15.

Kasse ,Magueye. (2008). “Africa and the Metaphor of the Mirror.” In the 2008 Dak’Art. Afrique: Miroir?,24-28.

Njami, Simon. (2008) “Alice Versus Narcissus.”  In the 2008 Dak’Art. Afrique: Miroir?,36-40.

Nzewi, Ugochukwu Smooth. (2012) Universe In Universe of June 2012

Nwafor, Okey. “Africa and the Politics of Postcoloniality: Reading Contradictions”  Pan African Circle of Artists Dak’Art 2012 off exhibition catalogue (Dakar 2012)

Seck, Sidi. (2008). Shards…and What If the Mirror Got Shattered?In the 2008 Dak’Art. Afrique: Miroir?, 216-221

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

03
Sep
12

interconnecting metaphor series

interconnecting metaphor series

virtual experiences




Hello !

Hey folks, you are welcome to the personal blog of Ike Francis. I am basically a mixed media person which I think owes to my training as a sculptor in the University of Port Harcourt and painting in the university of Nigeria Nsukka. I explored the possibility of creating paintings as a devolution of emotional content from an already written poetry to a painted poetry as plastic poetry.

Contact

plastikpoetri@gmail.com