Author: Emeka Okereke

Is Amoeba Shapeless, or is Shapelessness a Shape?

I want to begin this reflection by taking some memory-steps back to my high school days when I was a science student. In our biology class, we were introduced to Amoeba, the shapeless, single-cell organism. As with most students of my age, the only character of this organism I really retained was its shapelessness. How can something be shapeless? I often wondered. The whole premise of materiality, or physicality is form. If something can be seen as much as touched, then it is bound to have a shape. Even as I write, I recall how “shapeless amoeba” became a derogatory expression often employed, as a joke or mean insult, to describe someone’s head whose contours are abnormally disproportionate. But I never got over this contradiction of something being shapeless. Many years after, and with the benefit of hindsight, I would come to understand that my life, almost in its entirety, plays out within the perimeters of this paradox. I will explain. Not too long ago, I was asked to give an artist talk on the …

Knowledge, Time and Futures of Super(s)heroes.

Is it possible to think from that silence (the silence created by coloniality of knowledge), to undo the colonial differences that “time” contributed to make and contributes to maintain?1 For well over two weeks, the cyberspace has been in a state of frenzy following the latest release of Marvel comics’ blockbuster superhero movie: Black Panther. What is it that makes this film different from the rest of the Marvel comics series? Well, let’s start with the most obvious: it is probably the first time in contemporary history that a movie of its calibre will feature almost an all-Black cast.2If you’ve seen any of the other superhero instalments, you can already imagine how huge a deal this is. I will not dwell on, or continue the rave about, how the dark days of Black are finally over. The internet it sufficiently littered with much of that. Please, be my guest. I am particularly interested in a broader question: how a movie that takes Blackness – and by extension Africanness – as a central theme got tangled …

“Water No Get Enemy”: A Thing or Two About Running.

I am in a different mood today. So I am going to write about running. But first, let me say that this post is not about grandiose achievements. It is about little steps. I have been running for months now. Although I cannot yet call myself a serious runner, I have learnt a thing or two about my body and mind since I took up running on a more regular basis. I am in Berlin. As I write, it is as cold as February can be. Despite the fact that there has been some talk about how this is one of the mildest winters ever, the temperature is at a range of minus two to one degree. In the week I arrived from Lagos – that was some two weeks ago – the temperature went up as high as 11 degrees. I thought then it was too cold to run. This week, I have been terrified by the thought running. This cold messes with my head big time. But yesterday, I summoned the courage and …

San Francisco: Back and Forth Across Place and Time

It’s been about ten days since I flew across the ocean and backward in time from Paris to San Francisco. It was a beautiful stress-free journey, one that put my anxieties for long-distance flights at ease. For some reason, everyone was particularly nice towards me. From the Airport in Paris through London Heathrow and the flight attendants of the long-haul flights all the way to the immigration officers at the San Francisco Airport (somewhat of a surprise considering the extent to which I am often harassed while traveling through airports). By the time I got to my hotel, I was exhausted. My eyes were heavy, not from sleep, I think, but from a sense of having survived the vortex of a time warp. By now, my internal clock was nine hours ahead. Everyone around me was working in slow motion. Or perhaps I was walking backward. I have been invited to San Francisco as a guest lecturer in the MFA Photography program at the Hartford University. I was to join the faculty in a weeklong …

Poétique du Lieu: au-delà du «Focus Afrique» de la Foire Art Paris Art Fair. Traduction par Janine Gaelle

Dans le train de Paris à Berlin, j’ai beaucoup réfléchi aux événements des jours précédents. C’était le dernier week-end de mars 2017, et la scène artistique parisienne était mouvementée. Paris a décidé cette année de suivre la grande tendance du moment: Focus sur le continent africain et ses artistes. De nombreux évènements, dont deux principaux – Art Paris Art Fair et 100% Afriques – , se sont vus décomposés en programmes satellites d’expositions et de conférences dans des lieux tels que La Villette, les Galeries Lafayette, la Galerie Des Galeries, La Colonie et bien d’autres encore. La foire Art Paris Art Fair, cependant, était la plus claire dans sa revendication de se concentrer sur l’Afrique en adoptant comme sous-titre «Afrique Invité d’Honneur». Dans une démarche bien intentionnée, il s’agissait de dérouler le tapis rouge aux artistes africains et de leur offrir une scène internationale où exposer et vendre leurs productions artistiques. Art Paris Art Fair s’est tenue au Grand Palais, haut lieu historique pourvu d’une salle d’exposition construite en 1897 en vue de l’exposition universelle …

Poetics of Location: Beyond “Africa Focus” of the Paris Art Fair 2017

Version  fraiçaise traduite par Janine Gaelle In the train from Paris to Berlin, I reflected on the events of the previous days. It was the last weekend of March 2017 and the Parisian art world was busy. This year, Paris decided to jump on the bandwagon of one of the most fashionable rave: the renewed focus on the African continent and its artists. The events, grouped under two main headings  – the Art Paris Art Fair and 100% Afrique – were further broken down into satellite programs of exhibitions and talks in such places as La Villette, Galeries La Fayette, Galerie Des Galeries, La Colonie and many more. The Art Paris Art Fair, however, was the most literal in its claim of focusing on Africa by adopting “Africa Guest of Honour” as its subtitle. In this, the well-meaning intention was to give African artists a world stage and the corresponding red carpet to showcase and sell their artistic productions. The Art Fair took place at the Grand Palais, a large historic site and exhibition hall built in 1897 in preparation for the Universal …

On Permanently Temporary Lives: Reflections on Somolu/Bariga – Lagos

In the first quarter of 2016, I made an off-handed decision to find some semblance of coordination in the otherwise chaotic over-the-place kind of life I have led for a long time. This decision could easily have been inspired by the sheer weariness from answering questions like “where are you based?” that often serve as openers to conversations. Not that it mattered much what image people had of me, but at some point, I began asking the same question to myself – “where are you based?”. It was not in a bid to find a fixed answer. As a matter of fact, just as nature abhors a vacuum, I abhor anything that attempts to permanently occupy a vacuum. I can invariably say that all my life, I have been hopping from one box to another in order to escape the very notion of finality. I am not wired to think of life in any way order than a perpetual journey of which all who are born will die on the road. The question of where …

Africa: A new game of “Scrabble”

We are in Amsterdam. We have been invited in the context of the 5th edition of the Unseen Photo Fair/Festival which takes places every year. We are African artists, curators and cultural operators. I have been scheduled alongside these proactive African cultural CEOs and Artistic Directors to speak in a panel. The panel in question is called ‘Platforms in Africa’. A couple of days ago, I was interviewed by a writer from Volkskrant, a very popular newspaper in The Netherlands with a readership of about 270,000. The content of this interview revolved around the most sensational perception: the sudden attention and renewed fixation on ‘Africa’ So here we are to discuss our various initiatives. We are set to go. After rounds of gruellingly long introductions by the moderator which made the whole affair seem like a live performative reading of the “About” page of websites and artists bios, we run out of time. I was disappointed to say the least. I have been invited one time too many to this kind of panel discussions, that …

A Photographer’s Note (I)

These notes are jottings inspired by the reading (and being in the sense) of John Berger’s Understanding a Photograph. Sometimes I paraphrase or quote the said author, and other times I form thoughts of my own that elaborate as much as extend certain remarkable impulses: 1. Something propels me to photograph. It is there or it isn’t. What is this? That’s the big question. I do not know. Some say it is intuition. But has intuition not been exhausted in definition? So much that by now I should know for certain? Perhaps it’s a thing. The only thing that I am. 2. Oftentimes I ask myself why I photograph. Times like this I  resort to looking at images in general – mostly of others, but also of mine. I look through images shared on social media (since the aim of sharing here is to engage socially) by many professional/amateur photographers. I realise that there is a tendency to beautify. To take what we already know and present them in the form of consumerist beauty. One that …

What to Make of Differences in the African Experience (1)

In Berlin, I had the pleasure of catching up with some longtime friends and colleagues. Luckily it was in a low key Nigerian restaurant that allowed for conversations in off-pitch tones and wild laughter. On the table was a Nigerian and a Cameroonian who had been living and working in Berlin for 20 years or thereabout; two Ghanaians who just flew in for a performance—one of them of Romanian origin; a Nigerian who arrived Berlin from Libreville; and myself, a Nigerian who just got in from Amsterdam. There you have it: a heterogeneous mix of Africans that immediately trumps a simplistic notion of Pan-Africanism. It was the perfect setting for an impromptu debate about what Africa, or blackness should and should not be. It was a rich conversation, cutting across many historical pointers but geared towards one question: How do we change the status quo and inspire progress that breaks away from the pitfalls of neocolonialism? A departure point for me was to scale back to the time of Kwame Nkrumah, the symbolical figure of Ghana’s independence and a key pioneer of the concept …