Responses and Feedback Pls.

It is about two months ago that I have been approached by a member of this year’s research student conference here at SOAS to contribute a paper. So, without thinking too much about the consequences I sent in an abstract. It reflected some ideas at the back of my mind that I still hoped to develop into an argument for one of my PhD chapters. Since, I have realised I just don’t have the data. But, maybe I can ask your help to at least address some of the issues at the back of my mind. And, all I would like to ask you is to let me know (in a private email maybe – - or a short comment below) what you think the image at the back of the lorry means/signifies. I am, of course, aware of the limitations of such a little online survey – gaskiya mana, I should have asked those questions while I was in the field – but maybe you can nevertheless give me some food for thought?

But maybe I own you a little bit of background:

Some of my research into contemporary arts in northern Nigeria was concerned with the decorations and painting work executed on lorries travelling within and beyond this vast region. I spoke with lorry painters in Maiduguri and Kano. – To my huge disappointment and continued embarrassment I never had the time to go to Laranto and talk to those working in this most famous of Nigerian lorry art workshops. – On one or two occasions I spoke with patrons (not enough I know but I just didn’t happen to meet more of them in the workshops nor did I know how else to approach them). And, of course, I took many pictures in order to document various motifs commonly encountered on lorries. About some I asked questions. About others I didn’t. Some because I naively assumed I understood them, others because I didn’t quite know how to approach the subject with friends and acquaintances. Yet others I asked about but the results of my inquiries were particularly enlightening.

And with regard to the below image, well, I just missed the point. Only once I returned to the UK and had stumbled across a similar image elsewhere I realised how wrong I had got it. Since, various people here at SOAS have seen it in different contexts. Many of them have offered interpretations – or rather, as some of them seem to consider the art work depicted an artefact and source of information about northern Nigerian society, shall I say conclusions? – I am not quite convinced by.

I am having a far too high opinion of (northern) Nigerian lorry painters and their patrons to doubt that (unlike me) they were aware of this particular symbol being (also) the coat of arms of Saudi Arabia. What I am, however, not quite convinced of (and this has been suggested by some in my immediate academic environment) is that painted on (northern) Nigerian lorries this motif remains just a symbol of the Saudi Arabian state and expresses an alliance (of whatever kind) with the country. This might well be the case. However, as I only realised the association of this symbol with Saudi Arabia I did neither collect evidence for nor against this interpretation. So, all I am left with is my inherent suspicion towards such seemingly self-evident conclusions.

I will not be able to conduct further fieldwork before I present my paper or even have to submit my PhD thesis. I then cannot make any conclusive statements in neither of them. However, in the paper I am anyway much more interested in making a point about the importance of context, i.e. the intentions of producers and patrons as well as the interpretations of local audiences, in the interpretation of images – especially if we want to consider them as sources about the cultures and societies from which they derive. And for that I need some opinions that might help me to challenge the interpretation put forward by my colleagues here. For that purpose I was wondering whether I could convince/beg the Nigerians/Nigerianists among you might be able to contribute some interpretations of the motif. What do you think does it signify in a (northern) Nigerian context? Please! Don Allah.

Thanks in advance and na gode.


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