There will be more stylized artworks. Finally, it will be total abstraction. The world has gone mad. The script becomes more and more complex by the day that shows that it is so- it is the bane of contemporary existence! We are the noise. We live the noise. The little things don’t matter much anymore. The artist of today tries to recreate these feelings, the intensity of white noise creating static. We will be famous for showing the zeitgeist of now. Here, it starts from Lagos, the centre of the hullaballoo. Occasionally one makes sense of the nature of things, and winks knowingly at the other. It’s a standpoint that differentiates Sense and Nonsense; a time gap too. The millennial took over while I slept. In a daze, my contemporaries are playing ‘catch-up’. The gift is prophetic, making loud declarations. Art must be understood in the context of its time. Of course some ‘art’ are not meant for now.
‘More cattle?’, a recent collector asked yesterday. the voice was one of wariness, as though a certain boredom had crept into an otherwise very enthusiastic, excited life! I felt a bit like I was staring too much into the sun, and the rays were blinding.
The feeling was momentary. When I started the series ‘A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills’, I had one thing in mind. Many months later, the idea has grown on me. Staring, investigating the same subject concurrently has yielded fruits. Other ideas have come up. I see myself being led in directions I hadn’t thought of. I see now with more clarity than at the beginning. Time brings the stimuli of the other instances of life.
It is an eye-opener to focus on a subject for a long time. The form has shown up in many ways, but generally, the images are created with a mindset to suggest movement. More cattle will come. The troubling issue(s) that led to the beginning of this series continues to trend in our communities. From my studio’s balcony overlooking Trinity field on one side, the cattle are being led out to graze. Their stall is close by, beside the abattoir in the new market in my village Oguta.
I feature this article by Odun Orimolade DEVOURING MONSTERS: THE COSUMERIST CANNIBALS OF MAY OKAFOR’S APPLE TRAY INSTALLATION, written for May Okafor’s exhibition Of Consummates and Cannibalism at The Revolving Art Incubator, Silverbird Galleria, Lagos.
Beasts of desire…
The installation “…Of Consummates and Cannibalism” by May Okafor addresses a systemised infiltration of the Nigerian commercial environment and society by extension. Off the beat Okafor assumes the stance of a satirist observing and in very Nigerian fashion challenging our status as a nation that is cannibalizing our future. In this she traces the evolution of our desires that have led us to blatant consumerism and how this trajectory has led us to the state of recession we are confronted with in contemporary Nigeria. Also how our over dependence on foreign goods and services plays out in our current situation. Okafor decries how we as a nation hardly export anything to the countries that we bequeath our economic reserve by promoting foreign education, health, technology, entertainment, food, and all other plethora of minuscule needs or wants we may have.
The Apple fruit is the case study subject for Okafor’s visual discourse. In this she engages current trends in the open Nigerian fruit market as reference point for other local goods and commodity markets in the society. The apple is a fruit that is entirely imported into the Nigerian local market and in Okafor’s words has “become even more common than oranges and other home grown fruits”. Everything about it then is alien and instead of being exotic, it is as mundane and common as home-grown fruit in its popularity. As such the apple-packaging product (which becomes waste in a country that also has challenges in waste management) becomes material and a metaphor for consumerism and cannibalism. The Styrofoam apple packaging crates as the main material of the installation addresses the seemingly careless disposition of the nation towards importation and consumption of foreign goods.
Strangely enough, a lot of these products have nothing to do with direct advertising. Instead, they are based on social orientation. Majority of the Nigerian citizens are still under the colonial chains. This is such that what comes from outside, no matter what it is, is perceived to have better value and to be trusted than the domestic ones. This Okeke describes as not allowing people to think. Here mass consumption of foreign goods is drowning mass production of local goods. This makes people complacent and germinates a continued dependency that incapacitates (Okeke 2015).
May Okafor uses a visual that employs ideas of the insatiable anthropophagic to demonstrate how an archetypal metaphorical subject of cannibalism appears in Nigerian daily life. This she approaches in the critique of social striving for consumerism that is anchored in a want for foreign goods and services. She postulates an ethical decadence that damages national development through an orientation of blind consumerism in favour of non-Nigerian goods and services. The prevalence of this kind of consumption is projected in the spread and the movement of her site-specific installation. The installation connotes the depth of developmental handicap that lies within the apparatus of orientation that fuels this consumer idealism. The installation visualises a bewilderingly poor minded society that results from an illogical and unconstructive drive to consume and acquire. The installation could be apprehended as an intensely dismal allegory depicting wastefulness and denied gumption in the weaving of our post colonial history as a nation. In this the accomplishments, knowledge and understanding that wisps as part of our pre colonial history become fables of a different people. These qualities are inapplicable in our modern day development where we are largely dependent on external accomplishments and cultures while eating out avenues of progressive internal exploration. Through her work, Okafor presents a mirror that affirms we are cannibals of foreign consumerism. We have adopted a consumer culture of unconscionable appetite for imported items with the equivalent local ones suffering negligence and large scale derision.
The results are grotesque, much like the literal definition of cannibalism. In her work, Okafor links the object of the package to cannibalism through the consumption of the commodity. This she uses as a reference for all other consumables in goods or as services within the Nigerian market.
As a people, we succumb to the mental attitudes related to the phenomena of pleasure and euphoria that does not add up to satisfaction. We easily become addicted to things of vainglory rather than positive sociocultural/ socioeconomic things. This describes the counterfeit culture that is in fierce battle with self sustenance, sufficiency and self approval that revolves around the consumption of foreign produce huge quantities and cheaper prices. In this case the physical product not what feeds the need, rather it is the fact that it comes from outside the locality. It feeds the delusion of lack of self worth, while feeding into the concept of mediocrity and fuelling this hunger to ‘be like’ or elevate by adoption. The deception is that it only panders to the feeling of being better or attaining some elevation in the adoption of something foreign as an after effects of self loathing that may be accrued to demoralisation through the influence of a colonized mental state. These social challenges are associated with the arguments of decolonization.
With her installations, Okafor highlights this self deception and beguilement by popular culture that has overrun the Nigerian market and by extension the society. This is a developmental wealth destruction that has a very parasitic effect on national development. As a nation, our craving for foreign goods have made us import items that we have better alternatives to in our local environment. Thus the gains are privatised and the loses entirely socialised as we embrace the negative aspect of our import consumer culture.
The physical installation imbibes a constellation of forms similar to that of tadpoles cut from the Styrofoam apple crates. This Okafor intimates that by nature tadpoles become cannibalistic when there is inadequate food or space. This trait is likened to the infiltration of imported goods in the Nigerian open market and how they completely overrun locally made goods. The organic swirls and turns of the installation echo the unpredictability of the corruption that fuels the spread and growth of the kind consuming products that beguile our populace out of miss-orientation.
Meaning is garnered from the very material of the apple tray itself as much as the development of form that Okafor pushes with action of cutting. This performative quality that is embedded into the process of the installation brings the closeness to the issue in individual experience of the activity. The action to disseminate through cutting or the development of new form from pre existing form advocates re orientation and re shaping of the value system and channelled thought processes concerning the issue at hand leaning to the idea of restructuring of dispositions to the ideas behind the actions that create the installation and the reference to contemporary Nigerian consumerism. The form here follows function and lends a subjected honesty to the generation of the resulting form. This is helped by the evidentiary quality of the material used. It adjuncts the plausibility that it does not just represent but the sensual experience navigates the audience through the experience developing new knowledge and reflection by interaction.
In relation of the material to the subject in itself the composition, it poses characteristics of that which does not degenerate fast. This reference lends itself to the strength of the orientation of the consumerist culture. On the other hand it is also has the characteristic of being a very highly flammable substance that would disintegrate and could likely expand in its reach of destructiveness. This speaks to the idea of eradication alongside concepts of adopted imported ideas that do not favour the development of the Nigerian economy. This is supported in Derrida’s reaction to the issue of material in the process of deconstruction and the value of its etymology and beginnings within the issue of the discourse itself. He was of the opinion that every structural phenomenon has a history and the structure cannot be understood without understanding his genesis. This brings us right back to the apple and its place in the Nigerian market as a position point for all other goods and services that occupy dominating positions in the flow of the commercial industry. Through the chopping, cutting and shaping of form, Okafor mixes cynicism with productivity to create an enlivening aura for the required reflection desired for re orientation. The installation ambiguously removes the tray object from its functional context at the same time retains a contiguous alley to that function in itself and the broader extensions of meaning and the realities that it highlights.
The site specific nature of the installation opens up for a fundamental condition of free-flowing intensities for expression; it also underlines the mutative quality of the issue being addressed in that it permeates a plethora of areas of commercial activity in the Nigerian society. The developed form is allowed to grow into any length to which its materiality can extend at the same time existing within the impetus of the artist as a communicative system where she can curb and puppeteer her visual narrative.
Okafor’s installation aims to cut and rework perceptions of what has gradually invented itself as a norm within our social culture. This she does by exposing its ferocity and generative qualities in consuming the hopes of progressive development and self approval within an over bearing pressure of influence through past colonial states, pop culture and systematic orientation. Her presentation of the blatantly apparent yet unseen evidences and reconstructing their manifestations in their occupation of local commercial space, forces a review and reflection of their means and access within our environment. The ruins of the deconstructed Styrofoam tray in the installation create avenues for new intensities of experiencing the mundane and apparent and challenge a notion of human agency that fortifies the monsters that we allow to feed on our society.
Cazeaux, C. (2014). Review of Beistegui, Aesthetics After Metaphysics: From Mimesis to Metaphor British Journal of Aesthetics 54(4): 499–504.
Dominy, JJ. (2015) Cannibalism, Consumerism, and Profanation: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the End of Capitalism. The Cormac McCarthy Journal. Vol. 13, No. 1 pp. 143-158 US: The Pennsylvania State University Press.DOI: 10.5325/cormmccaj.13.1.0143.
Brunette, P. and Wills, D. (1994) Eds. Deconstruction and the Visual Arts: Art, Media, Architecture. UK: Cambridge University Press.
Nicolaides, A. (2012) Globalisation and Americanisation – the hijacking of indigenous African culture. Global Advanced Research Journal of History, Political Science and International Relations Vol. 1(6) pp. 118-131Global Advanced Research Journals.
By Odun Orimolade, 2017
(This article was published with permission. Odun Orimolade is recipient of several academic awards, including the Prof. Y. A. Grillo award (1998), Nigerian Cards Ltd Award (1998), Rector’s Award for Academic Excellence (1998), Jeromelaiho and Associate Award (1998), Insight Communication Award (1998), Fasuyi Art Prize (1998) and Conrad Theys Bursary Award, South Africa (2011)
It was a sunny afternoon in Maboneng
I passed by two friendly lovers
That mingled with the shades
Overhead loomed gigantic portrait of bare-chested Nelson
Poised as though ready to take on Amin
It was a beautiful portrait
But again, should I envy a man in his prime
After helping him regain his father’s throne,
Myself, a fellow prince?
To all casualties of Xenophobia, dead and yet living. 28/02/2017.
Many times in the past I have painted cattle in different ways. At a time, I used them as a symbol of how providence and good fortune comes from a higher being, or luck. That was in a work I called Cattle on a Thousand Hills, a paraphrase from the bible where God talks about owning and being the provider of wealth.
There is another significant artwork titled ‘The City Eats Grass’, an artwork that talks of rural/urban migration of sorts that harms the economic landscape. The rural areas that used to be productive spaces become empty as people migrate to the urban spaces in search of greener pastures. The urban spaces are so devoid of greenery, and thus imply a lack and foreboding of hunger and loss of agricultural activities that will support lives.
Pastoral tales are as old as the act of human survival. In prehistoric times, primitive man painted bulls and scenes of the hunt, and capture. Picasso, who comes from a culture that has the bull featuring in a local pastime, made a lot of artwork with the bull as subject or matter. He pushed the idea by connecting the bull to other representations in other cultures, to other myths. In Nigeria, the Fulani cattle herdsman was a popular subject at the birth of western styled painting.
In the nineties, as a student union activist fighting the corrupt leadership of the time, Olu Oguibe made the drawing The Beast Had The Face of Someone I Know, alluding to apocalyptic references in the bible, connecting the satire to General Ibrahim Babangida who ruled Nigeria at the time. Instead, the bull’s head had the pasted face of the gap-toothed military dictator.
Recently, the upsurge in Fulani herdsmen attacking and maiming members of their host communities to suppress them has shifted the attention of the nation. Now, the leadership is sponsoring a Grazing Bill in the National Assembly to allow reserves of grasslands all over Nigeria. The hypocrisy of it is in the fact that the sitting president is a professed owner of some of these cattle. He also is employer of his fellow Fulani who have been creating terror and murdering villagers from North to South. The national outrage is that these terrorists are not being called to order. It seems that the leadership is biased in its treatment of this menace of herdsmen.
All came together after a visit to the Walter Battiss exhibitions that ran concurrently at Wits Arts Museum, and at the Origin Center of the University of Witwatersrand. The line drawings took me back to my own origins, in Nsukka, the Uli School.
Cattle have come up again in my work. They are being painted to show their movement, the trail of blood they leave behind. They move as though they are suddenly become sacred, owning the ‘so-called silent spaces’ of Nigeria. The cattle suddenly threaten the existence of the 5 percent who feel unrepresented at the centre of power. The beast gains preeminence even in this dearth of farming and other agrarian activities that will support our development and elevate the scarcity of homegrown foods. In protest, I had stopped eating cow meat. Now, I paint ‘moving cattle’ in protest of the importance they are being given over human lives and existence. The numbers will grow, from ‘Cow 1’ to maybe a thousand. In defiance, cattle have become subject matter. Maybe the nation will notice, that men matter more. Farmlands matter, too. Nigeria shouldn’t have sacred cows. It is as simple as that.
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.
We have been deceived as a nation. Corruption is not the number one problem facing any nation. This sentence presupposes that there is, in fact, a nation in existence. So, the first problem facing a group of people who come together to form a nation is for them to have a unity of purpose and a sense of belonging. Everyone that comes together to form any nation must feel that they receive an equal treatment. Everyone must be represented equally and power must be decentralized and lie in the hands of the constituent units.
For years, I have been angry at the founding father of Nigeria who represented my side of the nation-Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. I now realize that my anger was based more on selfishness on my part, than any other thing. In my thinking, and unlike his contemporaries, it looked to me that the man truly wanted Nigeria to be a federal government. People from all parts of the nation were to receive a fair share of the largesse. Power was not meant to remain at the center.
Nigeria, alas, all nations will suffer when the members of the constituting unit feel alienated, disenfranchised and subjugated from power. We cannot claim to be one when there is so much power at the center, and that center is headed by one member from the six geographical zones, and that member prefers to perpetuate the injustice of appointing authority and creating other sorts of imbalance by selecting to favor the ‘percentage’ that nominated him to power!
I see how Goodluck Jonathan got it right-he wanted everyone to feel represented at the center. The greatest corruption is the injustice of creating an imbalance in the delegation of powers from a biased center that holds all authority to heart. A fight against corruption is not the first way forward for any nation. There has to be a nation first, before we think of getting things right. I have had brainstorming sessions with my friend Claire Bell (www.consciousnesscafe.com) Claire bears two passports- that of her native Scotland, and that of South Africa. She has seen three referandums called by nations- the most recent one that led to the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union being the most recent. We talked about why nations could disintegrate.
Since the Nigerian civil war, South-eastern Nigeria has been cheated, and suppressed by the centre. They have not received a fair share of the national cake, so to speak. The so-called problem when Mr. Goodluck Jonathan came to power was that he wanted to practice the faulty structure of federalism on the ground. It is to his credit that he called for a Sovereign National Conference during his tenure. He should have finished the good work by implementing the proposals from the conference before letting another power-hungry man take over authority. That was the disservice that Jonathan did to the nation.
A nation must first be created, must first exist, before the people unite in purpose to develop that nation. We must feel we matter. There is no such thing as a separate ‘5%’ in the polity. Nigeria must first apologize to Biafra for the injustices and unfair treatment from the years after the war to the present day. A reconciliatory committee must be set up to openly speak of the evils perpetuated the civil war that led to the death of millions of people. Then, and only then, should we sit to discuss the state of the union? Why don’t we have a referendum, like other nations have had? Why should the people not be given the power to question their participation in the union? A lack of unity of purpose is the greatest failure of any nation. The greatest problem with Nigeria is her practice of a flawed federalism.