Good Morning Newspaper Procrastination

No, despite living in London I havent watched the Royal Wedding. Instead I tried to combine pleasure and work by taking my laptop to the balcony to soak up the sun while typing away at my article. Or so the theory went. The truth is that not much work was done that weekend. Not for a lack of trying. Honestly. Each morning I got up with the intention to work hard. I started the day with a healthy diet of tea, muesli and the news. And then the news got the better of me. And, here I am today wondering how to finish this article on deadline

But, again, habit got the better of me and I started the day with the news. And, of course, I came across a number of articles Id like to take time to reflect upon. But, lets face it: Thats a luxury I dont have with a deadline looming. Lets be honest: An intellectual exercise it might be, but its also just another excuse to procrastinate and not face the peer reviewers. So, instead, of writing a nice and thought through blog entry, I have scraped together whatever self-discipline I have left and decided to just post an extract and a link.

ART OF THE MATTER: In the web of plagiarism

Next Magazine, By Mufu Onifade, April 30, 2011 10:27PMT

Last month, Abiodun Olaku, one of Nigerias most brilliant artists and seductive colourists, alarmed the world through his Facebook page. He posted a screaming protest on his wall: People, see what I discovered... This is the criminal activity of a young artist called Fagorusi Segun, whos been copying and doing only-God-knows-what with my paintings Hell be feeling the hot breath of my lawyers very soon!

What came to mind immediately was to search for the accused on Facebook. Lo and behold! There lay one of the pictures showing Segun at work, unbelievably plagiarising one of Olakus popular Gray Tunes painting series. There were other paintings with an eclectic transfiguration still from Olakus collection. The next question: who is Fagorusi Segun? He is a final year painting student at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, but beyond his location or affinity, Olakus alarm was strong enough to attract mixed reactions from many Facebook subscribers. Virtually all of them without exception know Olaku, but Fagorusi seems wallowed in obscurity. The reactions are as diverse as they reflect the perceptions of Nigerian society.

Read more here.

Update, 08 May 2011

Fagorusi Segun responds to the accusations of plagiarism in Next Magazine.

Given the economically damaging role of pirates in the industry, Mufu Onifade’s concerns are justified. Perhaps, in his and Olaku’s shoes, I might have done even worse. The work in question has a similar colour scheme but is not a copy. If you divide the two paintings into equal halves and consider the right side of mine to Olaku’s; you can hardly point out similarities. The left side could boast of only a 25 percent similarity: the road network of his is the opposite of mine, et cetera.

Thank you to the anonymous poster who alerted me to Segun’s article. I hope updating the blog post rather than publishing the link in the comment section does you justice.

And, since its Sunday morning, let me take a moment to add some thoughts.

First, maybe I should have taken the time to frame Onifade’s article when I reposted the first two paragraphs here. It uses a particular example of, naming (and shaming) a young artist in the process of raising the issue of plagiarism in the arts. In other words, what to me is one document in discourses about originality and artistic integrity has a personal dimension and, potentially, professional repercussions for the artists concerned that my particular perspective cannot account for.

Second, with hindsight I am struck by the legalistic language of plagiarism and copyright that frames both Onifade’s article and Segun’s response. Borrowing and copying are fundamental to processes of creativity. Where we draw the line between a copy and an ‘original’ reinterpretation of works that have gone before is as much a cultural as a political issue. It is highly contested (e.g. see this recent-ish discussion in the Arts Newspaper). It is also more flexibly shifting than we sometimes give it credit. We apply it differently in response to a variety of factors including historically particular cultural conventions and, let’s be honest, our personal and economic investment into particular works and traditions of art. After all, it affects an artist’s access to patronage and an art dealer’s asking power. This last point is (implicitly) acknowledged in the authors’ use of legalistic language. But that language cannot, by definition, account for the complexity and flexibility of processes of artistic creation and the ways in which we assess art works. Or at least, I don’t think so. I don’t think mathematical models of similarity are appropriate approaches here and in particular not to comparing two works of art that (as may be the case here) derive from the same tradition or genre and tackle similar subject matter. Such artists draw from a shared set of expressive and productive techniques. They may independently and without (conscious) copying derive at very similar works. Or not. In any case, formal comparison alone cannot account for these processes nor situate them within the spectrum between inspiration and intellectual theft. Or at least, I don’t think so.

There are reasons that I don’t think so and they as much reflect my intellectual engagement with the art historical literature I have read as my use of technologies (including blogger) that enable and thrive upon the recycling, responding to and rethinking of ideas and images from other (online and offline) sources. Equally, there are reasons that both Onifade and Segun chose to frame their articles in legalistic or technocratic languages (rather than, say, more philosophical approaches). – And that is where it gets interesting. That is the point at which I cannot help but see sources and starting points for discussions for the day that I return to Nigeria and get a change again to talk to Nigerian artists and art historians. Despite the fact that this limited perspective on the articles I link to, repost and discuss may not always do justice to the personal dimension of the issues they discuss.

Oh, and as were at it (yes, another minute I don't have to think about peer reviewers): There is an interesting article in Leadership suggesting that propositional material used in the recent election campaigns was to an unprecedented extent commissioned to printers outside of Nigeria.

For Ndubuisi of Prime Printing Press, Abuja, the Independent National Electoral Commission and other political office aspirants have forgotten Nigerian Printers and taken all the businesses abroad. For any election, the politicians must bring money for publicity and that is how we make our own profit but I think INEC and politicians went abroad to print their campaign and elections materials leaving us with no business this year. The 2003 elections were much better than this year. It is sad that what we can do here was taken abroad to be done at a more expensive rate.

Even during my limited experience in Nigeria, I could not but notice a fashion for all things foreign that also affected the arts. This is, of course, a problem by itself but further exaggerated by the comparatively low level of art patronage anyway (which is more than understandable if one considers the economic realities of the majority of Nigerians). Many of the artists I met struggled financially. The few who didnt derived significant shares of their income from commissions by businesses and, to an even larger extent, political organisations. Which is why I got a lot of sympathy for Okorocha Nyams position:

Going abroad to print campaign or election materials is not just untidy for these printers but also rubs off on Nigerias economy.

Though he acknowledged that going abroad to print election materials is for expertise and quality purposes, he posited that, the outcome is not favourable to Nigerians in terms of employability and development of the Nigerian printing press as we are in other words, helping another nation to develop its printing press and leaving our own in Nigeria to suffer.

Read the full article here.

I am instinctively wary of all talk of economic protectionism and cultural nationalism, especially of the kind that seeks to impose rigid and essentialised categories economic and cultural citizenship, but sometimes I wonder and then I think of the more or less successful buy local campaigns here in Europe and how they combined arguments about quality and quality control, ecological arguments from growing organic to carbon footprints, and a sense of local community (the better ones, focusing on locality eschewing ethnic or nationalistic ideas of belonging) and, come to think of it, the pride my Nigerian friends and acquaintances took in the work of NAFDAC

But, here I go again, getting lost in an argument I am not actually qualified to make instead of working on my article. So, let me find whatever self-discipline I have left in the face of the blue sky and sunshine out there and make an effort to finish this article. Today.

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