Sunday, 24 June 2012

Occupying ArtSpace RoundUp #3

Adolphus and I
Jumoke, Didi and Ayo

Joel and Sola

The ArtSpace Roundup held yesterday at the Goethe Institut. It was the first opportunity to present and discuss the Silent Majority Project to the public.  Didi Cheeka was also at the event to discuss a documentary he's making on the violence going on in Northern Nigeria--based on his theory of migration and socio-cultural ecology.

The Silent Majority Project is a collaborative endeavour between four artists. The first level is between a painter and a photographer, another between a photographer and a poet, and the last level integrate the ideas of the four artists in the work of a videographer.

Two poem from the Silent Majority project.

A dream that stands have known many waters
And hope learns to swim in bellies of waves
It sets a smile on the mind of the sea
Walks on stilt and carries faith into men’s future
Where time ferry dreams into new waters.

Dreams brought us here, and we arrived
With no enthusiasm for things that stir thoughts:
 Currents, currencies, concurrently drift us
Into consonance, where we learn to be dreams.

I would not at this time express the challenges and joys of working with another artist as it is not the intention of this blog entry. Perhaps, I was ready to work even under inevitable circumstances. My belief is that art in any form should become a ladder for others to climb into creative realms beyond the creators’ imagination, and this would aptly describe the journey of the Silent Majority Project that began with Sola Otori (Painter/Photographer) in 2005.

Sola met Adolphus (Photographer) at an event, and he expressed his desire to start a creative enterprise where he can enhance the creativity of the Almajiri children that are found mostly in Northern Nigeria. At this time, he was serving as a Youth Corper. 

It took two years for the project to get considered, and it was in 2009 that any work would even start on it. It also moved to the South-West of the country after Adolphus suggested the first project should be in Makoko—an area he was a bit familiar with as a journalist. They made several trips to Makoko--spanning nine months. At this period, they succeeded in teaching some teenagers in the community, photography skills and also bringing other artists to inspire them. They did this without funding from anywhere or anyone.

On my part, it happened that I needed to work with a photographer, as I was expanding my understanding of the human condition. At first, I began initiating my idea with Toye Gbade photographer, but he needed to work on other projects at the time—so I sought out my friend, Jude Anogwih at  the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CAC) and he introduced Adolphus to me.  The instant we met, we found a meeting point. Adolphus loves what he does. He lives photography. 

After our first meeting, I felt all I needed to do was interpret the Urban Space of Makoko through Adolphus’ photographs and Sola’s video camera, but I found myself making some journey to Makoko and even performing poetry on the water while interacting with the inhabitants.  There was a whole lot I learnt from this interaction. 

The outcome of their workshop was that some of the students are using their skills effectively: two of them were entered for the Etisalat Amateur Photography Competition, and were shortlisted among the best 25 nationwide, one of the students from the project is now employed as a part-time photo studio photographer while pursuing his academic ambition, another works in a Maternity Home where she’s developing a photography project.

The latest on the project is that Joel Benson (Videographer) is now making a documentary of the project.  The Silent Majority project  reiterates that ideas  would stand on their own, only when we make them feel their feet and tell it to walk.  

Thanks to Ayo Arigbabu (Architect and Publisher of Dada Books) and the Goethe Institut. Yesterday, became  the first time, the four artists involved would get  together to talk over the project. 

One question which came up many times yesterday in different shades, was the reason behind the project.  I believe this comes from the suspicion with which anyone presenting the ‘slum’ of any particular place in Africa is being viewed at this time. It appears, there is a new ‘concern’ that artists should ‘brand’ the continent and introduce people to the refurbished Africa. There's even growing outright condemnation of this kind of art, as it appears to be favourably in line with what the West wants. 

It is however sad that those who are genuinely concerned about the welfare of their people—some of them having grown up in places even similar to that which is portrayed in their work, may be discouraged from expressing the abject contempt and the disregard with which the existence of a people are viewed and then neglected by the appropriate authorities. There are indeed artists who have few interactions with Western needs--of imaging, and are simply concerned with expressing what the environment throws (and/or) threw at them. Doing otherwise would in fact be conditioned and writing for patronage. 

So, this project for Adolphus, Sola, Joel and I is integral in getting a deeper level of human understand Makoko beyond the real versus media propagated poverty enshrined in it.  The choice of Makoko other than the many ‘slums’ which abound in Lagos is simply because it captures even more than anything, a distant yet interesting imagery on our minds—and at varying times.

Makoko itself is a city. Moss Hart in his play Act One did write that, “The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream. For those who did, it unlocked its gates and its treasures, not caring who they were or where they came from.” Makoko is a city that exists despite the inexistent social infrastructures. It has called for attention, reaching far across the borders of this country—actually it is one of the most visited NGO attractions, but the people we met are men, women, children with dreams like you and I.

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