All posts filed under: Essays

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 …

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 …

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 …