Line is everything- gestures loaded with a complexity of meanings. These are multiple influences and references flailing in all directions as in dance, with the intent of revealing the greatest conflict inflicting the human spirit. The nuances of Time and Space transcended by the triumphs of the human spirit, fusing both together in new dimensions deeper in the recesses of consciousness. There is a hesitance borne out of awe, of all the dignity, the glory of living in these times, the melancholy of our times. Form and Context will never again remain the same. Effectual result goes beyond the way to go there. The creative knows these things. Maybe that is why stands apart as both observer, and artificer, dancer and song.
(In honor of Obiora Udechukwu, and those following).Buy the new book at http://www.skira.net/en/books/obiora-udechukwu
Of course X is for xylophone, and a word mentioned in this video on Youtube! Mathijs Lieshout runs the 13th Floor Gallery, with spaces at Commissioner Street, and in Ansteys Building, in Johannesburg. Aha, for the second time, ‘X’is in the newsline. This post is about the opening of the exhibition Harzardous Diction at the 13th Floor Gallery, Commissioner Street, Johannesburg. Truly, in a land where silence was (is)the go-to code on so many issues: Language, Diction, and every other form of communication in Society is watched with suspicion and bias. But the silence hasn’t helped change stereotypes ever. So lets talk about everything from ‘A’ to ‘Zee’. It ought to be an inclusive narrative, not about ‘the other’ and capital ‘I’.
Click here to watch the video interview aired on SABC- https://youtu.be/VATrX3YD6rI. Also, see the show which begins today, February 26th, and runs till March 7th, 2017. Layziehound works with Matthews Tshuma, James Shield, Goodlord Shoyisa, Azael Langa, and Ntsika Dulwana on the exhibition. Addendum: I am the NIgerian artist mentioned towards the end of the interview. I am part of the team on another project To Build by Mathijs Lieshout- http://www.mathijslieshout.com. PS: Communication gets more complicated by the day. One must make out time to listen, then get involved.
A work of art can have a line of thought that suggests, an energy that moves you. It is fleeting, like a lingering kiss from a waking dream. The work represents the body of an artist’s history, his ‘matter’ in a way that reflects all that he struggles with. It can be torture being so personal, unveiling before the same raping public. In brief moments of tranquility, one remembers that everything must pass away in time. Abstract art puts words to the deepest emotions in such a concrete way. The message is obvious to the extent of causing laughter. Such an emotion does not suit the moment of execution, of course.
Some months back, I promised a friend that the series A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills will be pushed till I have a thousand artworks! Not being the most meticulous person/ artist, I have not been counting. I could always stop at some point and ask anyone to also add the number of ‘cattle’ portrayed in the pieces as ‘individual cattle’! ‘They say the system works but we wont let it(sang Tracy Chapman) I am still looking for that system. There is a formal redirection towards a disintegrating world, where bedlam reigns and colour Red is the new Green. Reality is a horror movie of whirling beasts floating in space. Its all bullshit, really. Await another life, or wake up screaming.
In secondary school I did not really worry about the Art class assignments. Other things preoccupied my mind- playing around the small stream on the road leading to the staff quarters, or just wandering about in the huge patch of land beside the staff quarters where we also dropped bomb (defecated), slept, or just dodged being part of clean up exercises. Life was too interesting to waste it in class. It was the memories of life that I relayed in my artwork. The colors, the emotional stimuli all gave meaning to form and representation.
In university days, I found an easier way around it. Each assignment or exam question seemed like a hide and seeks game. The lecturer taunted the students to do a kind of mind reading, to find out what he thinks. I would search for all possible answers for most of the duration of the exercise, and in a few minutes I will be done. In the real world, the intent has not changed much. One will be on point more often, if one stays with the prevailing current. The work can depart from there into dreamland. Success comes at a price. Positions must be interchanged on the road.
The manager of Zanzibar Lounge, in Ikenegbu, Owerri had seen some of the work I had done for Full Moon Hotel, Owerri. Full Moon Hotel prides itself in its timeless, archaic classical ambience. The manager trusted that I am ‘artistic’ enough to ‘do something’ for the walls of the lounge. I was delighted at the thought: to be allowed the freedom to express myself in the top floor lounge above a busy street. As far as the eyes could reach, one could see the houses and trees in neighboring towns. The ceiling of the lounge pointed upwards to the sky. I was delighted.
Zanzibar Lounge and restaurant is one of Owerri’s well-kept secret, and for some obvious reasons too. It is situated in a seedy part of town, with neighboring residential houses sharing walls, and a parking lot that opens to the road. That road exits into the expansive, open highway of Wetheral road that leads out of town. Those that climb up the fleet of stairs to the restaurant are surprised by the ambience of cloudy greys mixed with oranges, and of course, the suggestive lounge that opens out to a stunning view of Owerri. That was were I would ‘write’.
I had to paint on the walls. The work had to help guide viewers to think lofty thoughts, to savor the pleasures of life beyond the daily chaos. That seemed to be the idea behind the space, with its high ceilings pointing upwards to the skies. In recent thinking, the works of Victor Ekpuk and Victor Ehikamenor come to mind. One was executed on a wall in the US, while the other filled a room at this year’s Dak’Art, in Senegal. Victor Ekpuk references the sign writings of the Southern people of Nigeria in his work (Nsibidi), while Victor Ehikamenor has delved into his subconscious to ‘write’ pure forms that fill his blue-lit ‘Prayer Room’. Victor Ekpuk’s wall painting of note, Meditation on Memory can be seen at the Wifredo Lam Center, US. It is interesting to note that both artists’ works revolve around the theme of contemplation/ soul-searching/ spirituality. I intend to investigate the intricacy and richness of language/communication/and symbolism.
Having recently seen the works of the cave men in an exhibition at The Origin Center, in South Africa, my mind still thrilled at the way Sign, Symbol, and the Signifier merge into one communicative ‘abstract’. This became a startling impression and inspiration.
As an adolescent in secondary school, I kept a scrapbook filled with popular brand symbols, logos and catchphrases. Each page was shorthand. Aha, that is the word. In the recesses of my mind were memories of Lynn, my nanny. She attended a Commercial school in the mornings and came back with stories and books on shorthand. I recall a book called Pitman’s Shorthand. Lynn was receiving training that would make her employable as a secretary to take dictations, etc. Those were the days prior the invention of the electric typewriter. Those were the days when I got ‘born-again’, and spoke in ‘tongues’ for the first time. The books of bible story by Jehovah’s Witness painted a good picture of writing in ‘tongues’ in the story of Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall that warned of the destruction of the kingdom. Mene, mene… a finger from heaven wrote on the walls. (The Bible, Daniel, Chapter 5)
In university, my fascination with the theories of Carl Jung knew no bounds. I felt ideas could be locked in automatic writings and ‘dream’ symbols. Interpreting the works of the surrealists was a delight. Again, I was in a school renowned for its reinterpretation of ancient Igbo sign writing. Uli to me was the opening of doors to personalized communication that connected kindred spirits. It was a suggestion- one went ahead to create a natural synthesis using one’s traditional background as a springboard for conveying and interpreting contemporary experience.
After all the ‘experience’ of cultic sign writing (Uli, Ekpe, Adinkra) that came with the training at Nsukka, I appreciated the way language can become a tool for communication. In a religious sense, sign writing can be like the word-pictures of the Book of Revelation in the bible, written to be interpreted by ‘initiates’ (sic- Let him who has understanding know…) Sacred knowledge was thus shared among the persecuted Christians as stories ‘in plain sight’. Thus, in 2003, in South Africa, a foreign land away from everyone and everything I was used to, I gained the ‘power’ of a personal language. I wrote long stories that flowed out like some form of shorthand based on how fast my frenzied hand could write out the ‘form’ of the sound of the word! Pure genius!
Once upon a time in Onitsha, the famed market-city of South Eastern Nigeria, there were walls leading to the Niger Bridge. They were walls of shops, and fences. A mad man made these walls his canvas, using white paint to write bold text of phrases, using different fonts and varied capitalization. The wordplay was amusing. Students in universities wrote thesis on these graffiti. Everyone wondered at the source, inspiration and creator. The phrases and disjointed text reminded me of Fela and socio-political criticism.
Zanzibar Lounge gave me the walls to ‘write’ again. I played on text, ‘recollected’ hieroglyphics, and the formal beauty of text from unfamiliar foreign languages. It became a babel wall of languages. These experiences all became more recognizable as part of my contemporary reality. Shorthand writing has disappeared to be replaced by the acronyms of SMS in our Internet age. Concise, fast speech must convey meaning. There is no time to be wasted now. So, I suggest you visit the lounge in Ikenegbu sometime soon. There is a message or two for you on the walls. Only the viewer has the codes in his psyche to unlock the ‘meaning’ of the symbols of contemporary living. Language has several interpretations. There are visual, and implied meaning, text, related text and context. It’s the duty of communication to convey the soaring of the human spirit.
The tragedy of citizenship in a country that does not reward her children becomes more obvious when one leaves that country, to another country. Seriously, what are the benefits of being a Nigerian citizen? What government policies give a citizen advantage over any other person? What basic utilities or amenities do we enjoy? What reasons do I have to be proud of my nation?
These reflections could be coming from a hangover from dancing to House music all night at Kitchener’s Bar, in Johannesburg. It was a Friday night, and my friend Bukosi had advised that that was the coolest place around. So I walked down Joubert Street through Park Station to the place. This is not so much about my night out as it is of the people (person) I met there.
Since I came alone, I mixed freely till I met Nomfundo, a tomboy South African girl who introduced herself as a former nerd and wizkid. I stayed with her, dancing the bobbling rock that goes with House music. The music seemed like a never-ending sound that had little vocal accompaniment. My Nigerian mentality waited in vain throughout the night for some vocals or familiar Nigerian music. I jumped up and down sporadically danced till we left around 3am in the morning. It kept the cold away.
Nomfundo and I talked about many things. She wondered why the rest of Africa wants to come and stay in her country. ‘We are a young democracy,’ Why wouldn’t everyone else (other African nations) let them (South Africa) grow their economy to benefit her citizens? The Zimbabwean or Nigerian will come into the country and take up jobs at half the salary that a South African citizen would take. The South African had a better appreciation and self-worth, than people from some of these African countries, she said. True, as here, things seem to work for the citizens.
Nomfundo took me to issues of religion. Nigerians seemed to be quite religious, yet they would do anything to acquire wealth. We seemed not to have a conscience, she said. I recalled her first exclamation when I told her that I am a Nigerian, ‘Where are my drugs, ‘she shouted in laughter! She then told me the pathetic tale of her stepsister’s death at the hand of a Nigerian. She believed the sister was murdered so that the husband could get her insurance benefits. I think our Nollywood movies do not help matters. Nigerians are portrayed as ritualists and corrupt in many of these films. The rest of the world is watching it.
South Africans are quite vocal. They seem to protest about anything, and everything. Their rights must be respected, at all times. This is one country where a sitting president has been convicted for mismanagement of public funds, and is in the process of refunding the money to the government. The rule of law works here!
It is not farfetched to see how things work in this country. After decades of apartheid, the people came to terms with their history by creating public hearings where the victims and the perpetuators of injustice faced each other. All over South Africa, the government has erected monuments and institutions to preserve the history and lessons of their darkest period. The youth must know what led to the building of the nation, the sacrifices of the founding people.
Nigeria had her own Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission set up to do something similar in the mind of the masses to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to help deal with what happened under apartheid. The Nigerian commission stopped short. It seems that the Nigerian-Biafra civil war and the injustices from the period- the unjust government policies against the Southeast and South-South peoples doesn’t count in the conscience of Nigeria. What about the abandoned property laws set up in places like old Rivers State, which saw many pro-Biafra citizens forfeit their lands and properties?
It is a sad joke that the National war museum, with its archives, is located solely in Umuahia, and nowhere else. It is as if the Federal Government wants to keep the lessons of the civil war close to the heart of the Igbos. The terms of surrender, and declaration of a ‘no victor, no vanquished’ people portrays a false picture of the state of affairs. The nation continues to be run as the private property of a certain tribe and part of Nigeria.
Governments in Nigeria have been run like private businesses. One cannot point to tangible advantages one has of being a citizen. The people are so shocked, that they no longer complain or protest against the government. The so-called social critics have all been bought over, and the press reads more like a government release. For their sanity, fir their lives, some of Nigeria’s best brains were lost during the brain-drain era. The citizens who should form the middle-class would rather run away to other countries to work and live. The suppression of free speech; suspension of rulings of the judiciary; corruption; marginalization; poor infrastructure and unavailable utilities, among others, are some of the reasons for this exodus.
Why, for instance, should a nation with a huge unemployed population accept that the landlords rent out their houses for yearly leases? The economy has been crafted to favor the super-rich alone. The common-man cannot assess financial loans, and everything from education to personal property is paid for on a ‘cash and carry’ basis. I am still thinking hard to ascertain what my Nigerian citizenship has brought me.
Every time one crosses the border; one bears the shame and corruption of past political leaders. The Nigerian citizen is seen through the prism of a faulty system. The saddest part of it all is that no one is crying, no one is protesting the immorality, partiality and corruption of our times. Like a puppy beaten to submission, Nigerian people no longer fight for their rights. The will is gone. The will to remain faithful, too, is gone. The green passport is more of an obstacle. As a citizen, I must insist on my rights in this nation. I cannot do this from a foreign land. That is why I must return.