Presentation at the Borno Museum Society

Alright, finally some impressions on my first research paper presented in Nigeria, ever. Its now almost a week since the presentation but because it came about on such short notice I spent so much time last week preparing, i.e. in front of the computer, that I had a strong desire to stay away from it for a few days … alright, the whole truth is, in addition I did some typing for some friends and (host) family who had to hand in assignments and by Saturday I was so tired that I left half of my equipment at the internet place, in fact, a quite important part: the power cable. This is the second time I left something essential in that place and got it back – last time it was my purse – and I seriously start to wonder whether I do have a whole set of guardian angels, plural because there must be at least one fully occupied with looking after all the things I loose and forget all the time!
Anyway, getting back to the presentation: You probably haven’t heard of the Borno Museum Society yet but they do have regular lecturers and occasionally publish really interesting books with regard to regional history and culture. Last week it was my turn for the presentations. “Contemporary Arts in Northern Nigeria – Research Notes.” I had been told in advance that attendance to the lectures fluctuates a lot depending on the topic, speaker and time of the academic year but could be anything between 10 and 50 people. To be honest, after I heard the 50 I became very reluctant to hand out any of the invitation letters I was given. I mean, 50 people is quite a daunting number, isn’t it. Especially if you are not familiar with them and the ground rules of the lecture series. And even more so, if you are expected to talk about a department of this very same university at which you’re giving your talk. And even worse, if the head of this department is chairing the session. I was even more discouraged when I first entered the lecture hall, or rather the conference room of the Centre for Trans-Saharan Studies, and found that the whole arrangement was very formal, rather for 50 than for 10 people and no way to rearrange anything to make it feel a bit more intimate. However, in the end only about 15 people turned up, most of them about 15 to 30 minutes late.
So, I started my presentation about 20 minutes late and actually made my way through it without any major complications, in fact there were not even the usual complains that I was speaking to quickly! (Not sure whether I’ve really become slower as a result of the teacher training with the WEA last year or these people are just used to quick speakers.) However, the questions at the end were … how do I put it? Challenging?
Some of them were to be expected, for example, I was very well aware of the fact that I hadn’t yet paid sufficient attention to the crafts in the region. Others came a bit to my surprise but mainly because I never had thought about it - like the request to include primary and secondary schools into my research. This makes of course a lot of sense if you think that this is were art education starts and children are prepared or discouraged from taking the subject further. However, at the same time there are probably thousands of primary schools in the region of northern Nigeria and I can’t really think of how I could ever choose a representative sample. And, of course the question of religion or rather Islam and arts was raised.
This was to be expected as I am talking about and trying to conduct research into the arts in a dominantly Muslim part of the country. And, obviously, I am interested in any argumentations with regard to that relationship. But, it should be equally obvious that as non-Muslim and not even an expert in Islamic arts I’m less than qualified to have an own opinion with regard to what is permitted or not. ence, I’d really like to hear all the different arguments, those of artists and art teachers but also local Muslim scholars. (However, with regard to the latter I’m not quite sure how best to make the contact.) And, maybe, but only maybe, by the end of this year I will be able to have a more clear idea about the relationship between arts and Islam or rather how it is understood here in northern Nigeria. – And with regard to that, I will have to have a more detailed discussion with some of the members of the audience to better understand their view and the arguments it is based upon.
So, yes, at the end of the day it was a good and intellectually stimulating experience – and it surely helped to refocus me after the holiday break. However, I have just been asked to present another paper or even the same one in another context and I have to confess the little scare in my tummy is right back with me!


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