All posts tagged: Art

A Glimpse of Chennai, and its Photo Biennale (Part 1)

Twenty-four hours prior to hopping into a plane for a fifteen-hour journey, I had no idea I would eventually be making it to Chennai. My Nigerian passport seems to be the gift that keeps on giving where it has to do with being a document that, rather than aid mobility, actively facilities its restrictions. I was informed by the Indian embassy that holders of a Nigerian passport will have to wait six to eight weeks for their visas to be ready. What for! Many applicants of other nationalities are simply applying and printing out their visas online almost as fast as they are in and out a self-service photo booth. “Nigeria did not colonise India!”, I would find myself muttering time and time again. Anyway, all of that was eventually bypassed thanks to the relentless push by the organisers of the Chennai Photo Biennale by whose invitation I would be partaking in “Light Writing”, the International Conference on Photography. Chennai is in South India – if I am to be precise, I would say Southeast …

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 …

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 …

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.

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 …