Author: Emeka Okereke

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 …

Black Portraitures: Whose Black is it?

Some days ago, I joined a host of brilliant and beautiful artists, scholars, writers, cultural operators and art enthusiasts of African descent (about 900 of them) in Florence to discuss topics related to the narratives and realities of Blacks. This ambitious undertaken was put together by New York University (Tisch School of Arts and NYU Florence) under the coordination of Professor Deborah Willis, Professor Awam Amkpa and many others. It is important to note that this came on the heels of a previous conference of equal intentions held in Paris in 2013.  In the backdrop of artistic and architectural opulence underlined by the impressiveness of NYU’s Villa La Pietra, the ever-present legacies of the Medici dynasty and warm temperatures that got everyone spotting the best of their lean clothing; Florence promised a perfect host more than any other city. But beyond the atmospheric, the conference is taking place at a time when many thousands of African immigrants are drowning in the shores of Italy, the disquietude of Xenophobia in South Africa, the upheavals in the …

Once Upon a Time in Cold Berlin – Part 2

Before I delve into the reason that prompted a return to this subject, it is imperative that I continue from where I left off in Once upon a Time in Cold Berlin – Part 1. As we would normally do at the debuting episode of a new season, let’s go back memory lane! 1. I traveled out of Nigeria for the first time in 2003, and since then I have not stopped. I am one of many Nigerians who are usually harassed and humiliated even before there was a reason for it – and usually for no reason other than my “green passport”… 2. In February 2010, one of my trips within Europe was brutally cut short and I was forced out of the continent. What did I do? I exceeded my visa for a period of eight days! I was stopped at the Schonefeld airport in Berlin by the Polizei (German federal Police), as I arrived from Paris. What followed next was a journey through the nightmares of so many immigrants and deportees of …

We Must Find Another Way To Win: a brief reflection on Selma, The Movie

In Berlin, I finally got the chance to see Selma. Sitting in the theatre, I went into oblivion before a torrent of advertisements and teasers – no popcorn, no beer (in Holland and Germany beers are allowed to go with your popcorn in Cinemas – a good enough reason not to go the cinema in France or Nigeria where it’s all soft drink). Eventually the movie kicked off. Like many movies of this kind which before getting to see them have been inundated with hypes and buzz, especially with its controversial outing at the Oscars, I usually come in with a certain level of apprehension coated with cynicism. Nevertheless, I brazed myself for the two-hour journey through this reenactment of a history we’ve come to know as pivotal in the repositioning of Black American narrative with regards to legislative rights. In the first few minutes, I found myself paying too much attention to the artifacts that are often the consequences of attempts to set a movie within a certain era, be it in the past or the future: the almost-forced accent and dress codes of the 60’s Alabama and Washington; …

Exploring a Void – “The Middle Ground”

In my previous writing, A Border Philosophy, I discussed the nature of a border, as something porous but concurrently has the tendency to be a vacuum as a result of the various positionings of what it tends to separate. In taking that argument further, I propose to discuss this vacuum as a space that is no longer a space of nothingness but an In-between or an “Interstitial” space (Bhabha, 1994) – within which the negotiations of many intersecting factors give form to the nature and potency of a given border condition. Often times when we make references to a border, it is in relation to an outward physical quality that imposes one form of limitation or the other – be it in our everyday lives or in the more institutionalized context of borders between nations. A visual rendition of a border might lead us to conjure a thick mass of matter the size of one’s imagination obscuring further vision or the possibility of a more distant horizon. It could also come to us in form …

To Be or To Have – That is the Question

It was Christmas of twenty fourteen. My first Christmas in Amsterdam. I was not ready for the laidback-ness of the city. Even the tourists seemed to be taking it easy as the streets were scanty. I spent a better part of the day with with my family and later with a good friend. I couldn’t help but pause at the sudden realization of what a rare blessing this has been. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the kind who thinks of Christmas as the special day to give and receive good vibes, positivity and all the other names we call it – no, everyday is special in that sense. But there is an aura that comes with Christmas, we know this from childhood. Take away all the gluttonous tendencies and consumerists sentiments, one is left with that childlike impulse of just being. Everything strikes an unforgettable chord inwardly. I guess this was how after so many years I still retained the smell of Christmas air as I knew it from back then. Our lives …

Movement is the Word

Sometime ago, I came across Mo Ibrahim’s keynote address at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Tshwane, South Africa. I listened as he pronounced that (and I paraphrase) ‘there will be no progress on the African continent until there is free movement of cultures, capital and people across borders.’ From his words, we can deduce that in many different sectors, not just in the arts, the freedom – or the lack of it – associated with movement plays a major role in the discourse on how to forge ahead in a continent burdened by the downsides of abundance and possibilities. This much is clear. But what seems rather foggy in this mad rush for movement and exploration of possibilities, is the question of direction. Where are we heading? Are we transcending limitations or are we merely circulating within them? These questions have come to form the driving force behind the endeavours of artists and thinkers who champion ‘movement.’ Perhaps the aim is not to arrive at a definite answer. Perhaps it suffices that the questions …

A Border Philosophy

I was in conversation with a friend, breaking down thoughts around the question of borders. My point of deperture was that borders are not a stand-alone entity. It does not exist in a void, though they are of themselves a void – an illusion of tangibility. they are vacuum made tangible by the pressure that ensues from the negotiation of our differences. In one of Ursala Biemann’s film “performing the border“, the protagonist was heard saying that there will be no border if there are no “crossings”. The very notion of crossing carries within it the constituent character of a border. We can equally call this “the necessity of traversal” inherent in that which is the heartbeat of nature: movement.

Dreams are Alive

For the past two weeks I have had an impossible itinerary (a word I have used a tad too often lately). I have been criss-crossing continents and cities to an extent that I am oblivious to the components and intricacies of space and time. Now I am in Paris. I always think of Paris in a love-hate manner, never conclusive of  what I make of the city. At most, I am constantly aware of my affection for this city. It was the first city I visited and lived in when I came to Europe. It formed my first impressions of Europe, of the West, of the white race. And if one would go by the adage that “First impressions matter most”, then one might as well summarise any expression of disdain or scepticism for this city as a mere secret admiration. But “matters most” does not necessarily imply “loving most”. I would say that Paris was where my consciousness and insecurities of being regarded as the “other” became tangible and for that it will always …

From Accra With Love

It suffices to say that I am in Accra as I write. Yesterday we were out to Tawala beach where we convened as part of the IB Accra Project workshop. The idea is to have a sort of laid back afternoon reading and discussion around the works of some important thinkers and contributors to the African Critical Theory. We did – we read the likes of Reiland Rabaka, Mia Couto, Bonaventure Ndikung, and Emeka Okereke. We opened up on the topic of what is African? We deliberated on various point of views as to what Africa is, and what makes us Africans. Indeed, it was an interesting conversation session. I could invariably term it a feedback session for myself. It was rewarding to hear a few people caught within this African reality talk about how they perceive themselves in it. Take for example, Samuel Kolawole talked about finding the human essence rather than what labels we give to ourselves, be it African or whatever. Therefore to him Africa is a term still unresolved and to …