The British Council Workshop in Kano

Finally back in Maidguri and my back pieces are still hurting from the journey – the upholstery in these minibuses should be classified as instruments of torture and banned under the convention of human right! Well, or at least for these long journeys: I arrived at the motor park at around 7:30 – 8 am, got almost immediately onto a car, secured a comparatively comfortable seat (or so I thought), after an hour long row between the drivers and some guys from the motor park as well as an almost fight in the bus we must finally have taken off around 9 am. I arrived - back, arse, and knees hurting – at Andrew’s house around 4:30pm. How I love travelling in Nigeria! But I think it was worth it, at least as far as the workshop is concerned.

The workshop – well, I might have mentioned in an earlier entry that the British Council, Kano, in association with the Prince of Wales School of Traditional Arts, London, organised a series of workshops for local craftspeople on the subject of Islamic art. Well, this was the third one and the one during which participants worked – and still do work, as I left early – on pieces for an exhibition that is to be held in Lagos in February. In contrast, the first workshop focused completely on familiarising participants with the tools and principles of geometric designs as they can be found in classic Islamic arts all over the Muslim world and beyond. On an earlier meeting with participants many told me that before the workshop they didn’t know how to use a compass at all, they can produce rather complex geometric designs accurately – and, in fact, Ibrahim has already taken up teaching those skill, the first student being me.




I originally thought it a curious set-up, the British Council getting Fosuwa Andoh and David Barnes, both artists based in the UK and in one way or the other associated with the Prince of Wales School of Traditional Arts, to teach Islamic designs to local craftspeople, the majority of whom are Muslims themselves. And, in fact, I still think it is curious. However, like usually things are more complicated then it initially appeared; the coming about of the course much more complex.

In fact, the real curious thing is not that the two of them in association with the British Council set up a course teaching skills to local craftsmen – for a moment leaving aside that these are of all things Islamic designs being of all people taught by Brits - but the response by students and staff of the Department of Art and Industrial Design at Kano State Polytechnic where this workshop took place. Time and time again the participants, in particular those working in the department’s pottery studio and just outside it, were surrounded by students from the department admiring their skills. Don’t get me wrong these guys know what they are doing but … I mean, these students come from an environment were decorated calabashes are available aplenty but watch Farouk work as if they never have seen anything alike before; these are students of a department where textile design and pottery are being taught as part of the curriculum but they are baffled by Sadik and Murtala’s work at the throwing wheel as well as Hannatu’s batik. In fact, one of the lecturers said it himself: There is something really sad and weird about Fossua and David having to come over to teach a local audience to appreciate their own artistic traditions! And here we are again at the point Abdullah of the Islamic Art Gallery in Maiduguri already raised: locally produced art works are, for one reason or the other, not really appreciated here, imported works preferred.

Oh, and just a last word, this is already a long entry again but I haven’t even mentioned what the participants think about the course: I am under the strong impression that they consider the instructions and workshops to benefit them. On the one hand, this is certainly a room for them to experiment and further develop their skills and, for sure, participating in the exhibition in Lagos can only be beneficial for their reputation and, hence, business. On the other hand, the designs that were suggested during the course seems to be very well taken on by their costumers, as least this is what Sadik (ceramics) suggested, and not for their association with Islam but as design innovations. Also, Salisu (leather work) explained, that customers appreciated the ability to correctly reproduce successful designs thanks to having learned to work with compass and ruler. And, this is not even taken in account that a crafts association has been formed through the workshops, CADDAK, that hopes to pass on their knowledge and raise the standing of local art traditions. And, hopefully, hopefully some of those art departments at institutions of higher education decide to invite them for workshops to pass on their skills but most importantly enthusiasm for what they are doing.

So, yes, in a nutshell: Although I haven’t yet quite digested last week’s new information I do think it was worth going to Kano even though on a private level … well, let’s not get there and spoil it all by complaining about the attitude of some male lodgers at the Tourist Camp towards women from the West, or rather me in particular. Guys, just because in Friends and similar TV programmes everybody hooks up with everybody else doesn’t mean that just because I’m white I just can’t wait to get to sleep with you!!! In fact, that is a rather gruesome idea … brrrrhhhhh. And even if my favours were up for sale (after all I’m officially engaged and looking to marry in a year’s time or so, hence, officially not available anyway), do you really think a falafel would be enough?! Come on that requires deep dark eyes, respect, a refreshing smile, respect, a good sense of humour, compatible values, strong dark hair, respect, creativity, the ability to intellectually challenge and entertain me, good manners, one of those voices that sound of deep oak woods, respect, no potbelly, the ability to listen (as in ‘zuhören’), a minimum amount of charm, respect, no arrogance and oga-behaviour, that good and safe feeling in your company … … … and last but not least, that certain sparkle … and respect. Which you certainly don’t have for me because otherwise … oh, and even sooo plumb! (And did I mention old? You should have known better! At least as far as manners are concerned!!!)

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