Showing posts from February, 2008

National Gallery of Arts

In Maiduguri the keeper of the local branch of the National Gallery of Arts (NGA), Mr. Edore, had suggested I check out the archives and storage of the NGA in Lagos. He also explained that I would need to obtain clearance from the Head Office, if possible the Director General, in Abuja. Hence, before I went to Abuja I contacted their public relations officer and finally met with her the day after I arrived. She was very kind and helpful and introduced me to the Head of Curatorial Practices. He in turn wrote me a letter of introduction for the keeper in Lagos.
Once in Lagos, I went to the National Gallery. I was taken around the exhibition – which unfortunately only displays a limited number of works at the moment as the second exhibition floor is currently being renovated – and allowed access to the library, the storage of works and their files about works and the artists represented in their collection. Especially, the latter proved to be an interesting source about some of the better established artists from Zaria for which their contained extensive CVs. So much that I ended up spending almost three days making use of their facilities.

Terra Kulture

Terra Kulture

The advantage of flying to Lagos was that, despite a delay of about an hour, I arrived in good time to check out the exhibition at Terra Kulture still the first day. Practically, the exhibition venue was only 2 minutes drive from the apartment and Zico’s driver, who knew the place, dropped me there and picked me up again an hour later. Terra Kulture, by the way, seems to be a really lovely venue. On the ground floor there is a restaurant and on the second floor a quite big exhibition space.
The exhibition was entitled ‘Celebrating the Traditional Crafts of Northern Nigeria’ and showcased works produced during but also independently of the British Council/Prince’s School of Traditional Arts Workshop. They were beautifully showcased and, good news for the participants, a good number had already been sold. Unfortunately I had missed the opening of the exhibition for which all the workshops’ participants as well as Fossua and David, the course facilitators, had come down to Lagos. By the time I arrived most of them had already travelled back. Only Sadiq had stayed behind to attend to the exhibition and its visitors as well as represent CADDAK, the craft organisation formed by the course members.
Sadiq suggested that the feedback for the exhibition was very positive, something a member of the gallery staff confirmed. In fact, many visitors – Nigerian as well as expat – were surprised that Northern Nigeria had such beautiful art and craft traditions. This probably harks back to the general assumption expressed to me by many people that the north does, supposedly, not have any viable art traditions – and by implication meaningful contemporary arts. In fact, however, this exhibition and the works presented seem to have allowed CADDAK to make contacts with the local Chamber of Commerce who offered to assist them financially to attend and present their works at trade fairs.


I’ve never been in Lagos before and had heard some not too encouraging stories about the dangers and pitfalls of this city. So, when one of Nabil’s best friends, Zico, offered to host me I was actually really grateful and relieved. Not only because this would save me quite a lot of money as accommodation in Lagos is really expensive but also because I offered that his driver could be me up at the airport – yes, airport. Both, Nabil and Zico strongly urged me to take a plane to Lagos rather then a bus as I had originally planned and with all that money for accommodation saved I had run out of arguments. So, I spend my first few days at Zico’s place at Victoria Island and, wow, what a change after four months without much power supply or running water!!! I mean, can you believe it: a proper shower with hot water! Well, and air condition, a well filled bar, a dart board in the lounge, a household help and a driver. Oh, and the guys were not only pretty nice and entertaining, they also took me out for dinner and a proper night out on Saturday! Only … I don’t know whether its my East German upbringing, all those socialist values coming through, or just that servants are not part of the lifestyle of anybody I know or … I don’t know, to me there is something weird about this kind of expat life style the guys introduced me to. I can’t really put my finger on it but … I mean, one of their friends actually told me that he’s in Nigeria for a few years now and has never taken suya (barbequed meat Nigerian style, delicious) and that’s not because he’s vegetarian or so! Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed getting some extremely nice Indian, Chinese and Tex-Mex food as a change from my usual diet of local dishes and the occasional Lebanese treat but … and also it was great to spend a whole night out chatting with the guys and dancing but having security escort you back to your car because it is not safe to go on your own kind of leaves a bitter after-taste. I mean, at the end of the day the insecurity of Lagos has a lot to do with the enormous gap between rich and poor in this country. I mean, this gap also exists in Maiduguri but somehow it appeared more clearly to me in Lagos – come on, a house help, a driver, security at the gate, air condition, outings which are paid for in 10.000s of Nairas on the one hand, piss poor beggars at the road side on the other hand, that just rubs it in. I don’t know, I don’t think I could live like that … and yes, I know that’s quite hypocritical in a way to say that because not only did I absolutely enjoy having European standards again for a few days (and chances are I will go back to them at the end of this year anyway) but even in Maiduguri I’m better off, enjoying a better life-style then many Nigerians and there I don’t really think about it …
Anyway, after a few nights, the guys got a short notice visit from some business partners and because the company pays for the apartment I had to quickly move out. Looking back that was actually quite funny, how Zico didn’t know how to tell me and ended up calling Nabil in Maiduguri to call me back in Lagos and break the news to me. And, how I then started to ring all the hotels in my guide book – and of course, the only one I actually got through didn’t have any room for the same day – and already saw myself sleeping under some bridge when Zico’s driver came to pick me up because I had to leave before my calls had achieved anything. In fact, they had already found a hotel for but neither Zico nor the driver had told me, so for two minutes I had a proper panic attack … anyway, the hotel turned out to be good value for money and was right back in Nigeria – I mean, streets bustling with traders and food stalls around it, bucket showers, cockroaches, air condition but the window doesn’t close anyway, suya, fried yam … what a change from Victoria Island and a pretty welcome one in a lot of regards. It took me a bit out of this bubble that expat life in Lagos appears to be to me. This is not to say that I’ve experienced anything close to the ‘real’ Lagos of most people based there – there were too many areas, especially at the mainland I didn’t go to, partly for lack of time (which I mainly spent at the National Gallery and about this more another time) and because I was told it would be pretty dangerous to go there on my own – even more so at night, to the extend that I was seriously told off for going out in the dark on my own to buy some dinner from a suya stall two corners away from my hotel, an area I was told was otherwise safe enough. But it certainly accorded me some independence and flexibility that I never feel I quite have if I’m staying with somebody else – and giving that there was a lot of things I felt I had to do in Lagos, a lot of places to go to – this was actually quite good.


I’ve been in Abuja for a few days before but didn’t really enjoy it last, so apart from a chance to see Ella, a friend and recent graduate from the Department of Creative Arts here in Maiduguri, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. Even more so as I was hoping to attend the opening evening of the exhibition at Terra Kulture of the works that have come out of the British Council workshop in Kano I attended before Christmas. The exhibition entitled ‘Celebrating the Traditional Crafts of Northern Nigeria’ was held at Terra Kulture, a culture centre with restaurant and exhibition space on Victoria Island, Lagos. But couldn’t leave Maiduguri early because I was hoping to attend an event at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) branch here on 16 February and stopping over in Abuja made it impossible to reach Lagos in time. In the end I could have easily left earlier as the Saturday Art Club at the NGA didn’t take place, but that I only found out at the day itself. Anyway, I spent three nights in Abuja where I stayed with Ella and her family. And, while my primary objective had been to obtain a letter of clearance from the head quarters in order to use the archive and storage of the NGA in Lagos – being in Lagos anyway for the exhibition I can as well make the most of this say - Ella and I also visited some more art related places – in particular, the exhibition at the Arts and Culture complex and signature gallery. In addition Ella also tried to show me some of the places in Abuja she likes and/or thought would interest me. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time but still managed to get some lovely Italian style ice cream – the first proper ice cream I had since I’m in Nigeria –, go out one evening for snooker and some drinks, in effect the first time in months that I stayed out longer than my nine o’clock curfew here in Maiduguri, and visited some of her friends and family that are based in town … oh, and as they have a pretty reliable power supply where Ella stays in Abuja I also managed to watch most of the second serious of Ugly Betty, and if you’d seen how I was glued to that serious in London you’d know what that meant to me!!! So, yes, while I’m still not really a fan of Abuja this time I really enjoyed my stay – basically, thanks to Ella!

Lorry Painters in Maiduguri

Lorry Painters in Maiduguri

There are three main motor parks in Maiduguri and close to each of them there also appears a place where lorries are repaired and, assumingly, painted. And with painting lorries I don’t just mean spraying them in some colour but producing these wonderful designs that for me distinguish lorries and trucks here in Nigeria from those on German or English roads. [Just to give you an idea of how beautiful these trucks are check out some of my pictures: …] Generally the whole business of lorry painting is associated with Jos but since I am here I have seen trucks that appear to have been painted in numerous other places, in fact, every bigger centre of trade appears to have at least some lorry painters. This is at least the impression the signatures and contact details lorry painters practically often leave on their designs convey.

Anyway, it appears the there are no lorry painters at Tashin Kano, one of Maiduguri’s big motor parks. When we asked for them one evening last week workers there didn’t even really know what we were talking about – and my friend who accompanied is fluent in Hausa, so it wasn’t an issue of language. And, in fact, on Saturday an artist based close by confirmed to me that there actually are no lorry painters based there.

However, after that frustrated evening trying to find them at Tashin Kano I discovered a lot of those beautifully decorated trucks in a side street of West End Roundabout in an area where a lot of traders appear to be based. I took quite a few snaps, most importantly I came across one design that appeared to be executed in Maiduguri. Next day I returned with a printout of this particular motif and started asking around whether anybody knew the guys. And, luck being on my side, the guy who owned the truck pop up, took me down to Tashin Baga and helped me find two lorry painters. Another one was introduced to me on Friday when I was asking for one of them and nobody could locate him. And, finally, I also came across the one who did the body work of the motif I had printed out and turns out he’s in his seventies and must have been in the business for decades. Problem is I will need a translator to speak to him and I’m running out of time.

Anyway, I managed to talk to three of them … or rather I had a proper interview with one of them, the two others … well, basically I spend the morning being dragged around by them and shown off to different local officials and the afternoon to get them talk to me and commission some works while they spent the money I gave them to by (non-alcoholic) drinks on getting drunk around me. Anyway, while it’s not been a particularly pleasant and efficient afternoon I think I still managed to get some relevant information out of them and to commission them to each execute one of their designs on canvas for me. Today I was able to already collect two of them, another one – inshallah or by God’s grace – on Wednesday.

The interesting thing is that only one of the three lorry painters is originally from Maiduguri, and by this I mean that he was born and brought up in the town. In fact, it appears that he is a graduate of the Creative Arts Department at the University of Maiduguri. The other two did not only grow up outside the town and state but also had there training there – one in Kano and the other one in Jos. So, there might be some interesting links between the different places, maybe it might even be possible to come up with some kind of family tree.
Again, I haven’t left a message here for a while, so, instead of a long text and explanations maybe just a few snaps of the final exhibition at the Department of Creative Arts, Unimaid.

Since, then I’m actually more around town, trying to talk to the guys in the numerous art shops around town. Just yesterday I was hinted at one by the former head of the arts department at the local college of education, and actually, finally, finally, a proper calligrapher. He appears to be all about town as well so its been a bit tricky to make an appointment with him but hopefully tomorrow morning …

In fact, let me also add one or two images of works by students of Kashim Ibrahim College of Education here in town. The only comment I want to make for the moment: when looking at them pls. bear in mind that many of them might not have had any art education before they joined the college, and I really mean none at all. Although theoretically art is compulsory subject in primary and junior secondary school many schools don’t teach it. Why? Well, lack of funding in the form of art rooms and art materials goes a long way to explain it. But there is also a lack of qualified teachers. And, understandably somehow, with the limited resources many headmasters seems to prefer to use the available funds towards technical and science education. So, as a matter of fact, many qualified art teachers seem to end up teaching other subjects or leaving the profession at all. A sentiment, by the way, many parents seem to share. So, yes, many of the students joining the college’s art department might not have had any art instructions at all … and of course, this might show in some of the works. Or, like a graduate of the Department of Creative Arts at the University of Maiduguri put it: With such a late start, how can (northern) Nigerian artists be expected to compete with Western artists who got their first art instructions in nursery, kindergarten or latest primary school?

Oh, and just to quickly contradict the impression that I’m pretty depressed here: I’m not. Most of the time I’m actually enjoying it (just think of all the delicious food around here … just say: suya!!!). And come on, does that look like I’m not enjoying myself here?

And some of the stuff that frustrates me I would actually find quite funny if it wasn’t me myself being involved in it. And wait until I’m back in good ol’ Europe because by that time I will think they’re funny and get onto your nerves with them!!! But more about this another time.