Showing posts from September, 2007

Got it!

I still can't really believe it, it's getting real: almost a whole year in Nigeria! Last week I finally heard from the Research Council and it looks like they actually fund me for this trip! Am I happy? Of course, ina jin farin ciki sosai! More then just happy. Actually europhoric to the degree of being useless for the first couple of days after I heard the news.

Well, as its sinking in I'm of course also getting nervous and a slight bit scared: such a long time, the first time ever I won't be home for Christmas! Honestly, I think it would be unhealthy not to be at least a bit anxious in the face of such a big project and change. And also there is sooooo much to prepare: moving out of my flat, sorting through all my stuff and putting it in storage, sorting out the bills, dealing with the agency, booking the flights, making appointments for the last vaccinations, getting the visa, organising a farewell something, ... and reassuring my mum that Nigeria is not a war zone.

Oh, and just to prove that I'm so certainly the right person for a project like this: I actually managed to bin my invitation letter (yes the one I need to get my visa!) together with the rest when sorting through my paperwork! If that's not a good omen! (I'm being ironic here!)

But yeah, for better or worse, Nigeria, I'm coming!

Just came across this quotation ...

... the other day in Chika O. Okeke's PhD thesis. Its taken from a letter by Sir Julian Huxley in support of the remaining of the art department of the Nigerian College of Science, Art and Technology at the soon to be formed Ahmadu Bello University, rather than its relocation to Lagos:

"If I recollect right, the Ashby Commission recommneded the transfer of the deparmtent to Lagos, on the ground that there would be more contacts there. I gather that there have also been objections raised to the coninuance of an art school in a Moslem area. However, I wonder whether the athmosphere of Lagos would really be good for an Art School aiming at the fusion of African style and European technique, and trying to do original work. Lagos is very cosmopolitan. [...] There is the further point that the work of the School has, in general, I understand, been welcome in the Northern Region, and that it was inducing better attitude towards the role the arts play in modern life. In view of this, it might well be desirable to continue with the present arrangement, partly on the gournd that it has been successsful so far, and partly as one means of ensuring better cultural communication and appreciation between the regions." (quoted in Okeke 2004: 135)

"I gather that there have also been objections raised to the coninuance of an art school in a Moslem area" - Interesting. Not only with regard to the fact that most comments about (contemporary) art in the northern region I could originally find basically were in a similar vain - Islam as promoting a negative or even destructive attitude towards the arts. In particular Marshall W. Mount in his 1973 publication African Arts: The Years since 1920 comments very critically on the establishment of the art school in Zaria. And recently when I started telling people that I was particularly interested in contemporary arts in the north I received very surprised and discouraging reactions. So, how comes? I mean, there are apperently quite a number of HE institions offering art training in one way or the other and when I went there images of politicians still decorated almost every street I passed trough.

So obviously there is something going on in terms of the arts in the north. On the other hand, of course, I have heard quite a few times that the art market is not very developed, that attitudes towards the arts on the whole were not very favorable and conservative. However, to which extent religion actually plays a role here in contrast to, say, economic conditions, level of education etc., I can't yet say. And even if, there is still the question whether its just Islam. What about the attitudes of local Christians? But apart from that, what if attitudes towards the arts in the Muslim north were assumed to be that negative were the reason the art department, of all departments of the NCSAT, the art department was established at Zaria in the first place? (Pictures both: Zaria, June 2007)

But the second bit, that "the School has, in general, I understand, been welcome in the Northern Region, and that it was inducing better attitude towards the role the arts play in modern life" is even more interesting: Where in the north? - Just in Zaria or generally? And, by whom? - Emirs, business people, the religious establishment, or lay people? And, how was this "welcome" expressed? And, does "in general" indicate that there was in fact some local controversy about the department's establishment or the students activities?

... Interesting, very interesting. ...

Preperatory Trip June/July

During this summer I have been on a brief preparatory visit to Nigeria, spending a couple of days each in Zaria, Kano and Maiduguri.
This proofed helpful in many regards. During the last academic year, the first year of my degree and the one during which one is expected to read as much background literature on one’s topic as possible, I had faced two major problems: First, although there is a relative wealth of literature on contemporary Nigerian little has been written about contemporary artists in the Muslim north of the country, the one major exception being the modernist Natural Synthesis movement in Zaria in the 1950-60s. Secondly, it proofed harder than expected to establish contacts in northern Nigeria from the UK. Hence, after almost a year into my PhD I had achieved very little, at least in terms of knowledge about my actual topic, i.e. not the history of the region or the general history of contemporary Nigerian arts. Hence, the decision to go to Nigeria for a relatively short visit of three weeks before officially setting off for a prolonged period of fieldwork in the region.

Why contemporary northern Nigerian art?

I am currently undertaking a PhD at SOAS, London, on the state and development of contemporary arts in northern Nigeria.

My interest in Nigerian contemporary arts goes back to a visit in 2000 when I participated in a Hausa language course organised by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

group photo of us participants of the 2000 DAAD Hausa language course in Azare, Bauchi State, Nigeria, Left: me and my host family in Azare

During my time there I also visited the campus of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. There I not only came across the magnificent sculpture garden showcasing works by students of the local arts department but also, together with a friend, got talking to one of the lecturers there who invited us into his studio, showing and discussing some of his works. To my embarrassment I have to admit that, at the time, I was rather baffled by his art: it simply wasn’t what I had expected. I cannot recall what kind of art I had expected him to have produced and show to us, I suspect I even then didn’t know what I anticipated, but somehow something different – the same famous “different,” I guess, that almost everything coming from Africa here in Europe is generally expected to display. By that time I hardly knew anything about so-called traditional African art and still less about contemporary arts from the continent. I was two years into my Magister degree in African Studies at Humboldt University, Berlin, but African arts did not feature in our curriculum. But my studies must already have had transformed my way of looking at things somewhat as somehow this expectation on my part of this (in-) famous “africanity” in his work troubled me – it was quite shocking to discover that not only I knew hardly anything about contemporary African, or more precisely Nigerian, art but even worse: despite two years filled with seminars and lectures about African languages, cultures, literatures I had filled this void with the same blurry stereotypes we were busy criticising and deconstructing in our lectures and seminars. My reaction to this was to try and learn as much as I could about contemporary African arts.

Images of the sculpture garden at ABU

The following summer of 2001 was a good one for everything African in Berlin thanks to The Short Century. It inspired a number of events related to the continent and its cultures, among others a few smaller exhibitions of African arts. In my opinion the most impressive of them was of works by an artists group from Douala, Cercle Kapsiki. Academically, I and some friends used the summer to conduct some research on African artists living and practising in Berlin which we presented in the course of a project seminar. And while slowly learning something about African arts during this summer I discovered artists and artworks I really liked and that really fascinated me. So, when I was offered the opportunity to spend an exchange year at SOAS I took it and attended about every class on African art that was offered. By now completely hooked on the subject I then decided to take a masters degree at SOAS majoring in African arts.

Again I was lucky as 2005 was a particular good year for African arts in London thanks to Africa Remix and the Africa 2005 season organised by the British museum. There were several smaller exhibitions and talks about contemporary African art, which I attended as much as my commitments with the master programme allowed. At the end of the year I wrote my dissertation about Islam and Hausa Material Culture, based upon literature available in London libraries, a topic I partly chose because I was tentatively considering to undertake a PhD on contemporary arts in the northern region of Nigeria at the time, thus taking me back to the place that originally had sparked by interest in contemporary African arts. It, however, took me almost another year to finally make a decision and commit to another three years of study.