Unite for Parkerplace Abidjan.

Greetings to all you beautiful people and reggae lovers !
The ParkerPlace Abidjan needs you to help them survive through the Coronavirus crisis. Closed since March 18th 2020, we have no Financial support to continue paying our musicians and staff. We have initiated a solidarity chain to try to raise funds in order to assist our musicians and their families.
Twice a week, we create a live /direct show on our Facebook page- Parker Place Abidjan! Please visit , like and share. If you want to donate, this will help , 1 euro , 10 euros
It does not matter. If 1000 people give 1 euro each that makes 1000 euros and that will pay for food for one week!
Jah guide and thanks for your support !!

Just click on this link
To access the page for donating

http://www.leetchi.com/c/chaine-de-solidarite-parker-place

Lockdown New York

Here’s the story of my life during this pandemic written by Okey Uwaezuoke in today’s ThisDay Newspapers- https://okeysworld.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/in-new-york-and-smack-in-a-pandemic/

Flying over the Confluence in Oguta

We all love a good spin. From childhood, we are taught lessons through stories. The Igbo hyphenates stories- we are good with proverbs. From Achebe down, some of us have been able to expand and weave stories that elaborate on the meaning of these proverbs. Maybe that was how we had the birth of the African novel. The African folklore is full of superstition, mystery and scientific phenomena, which get easily misinterpreted. We swallow it all, hook, line and sinker! The story of the Oguta Lake and Ulashi river confluence is an example. We as natives love the idea of being custodians of such a wonder of nature. One such story is about how the deities of the two bodies of water that doesn’t mix (in a logical way, at least) are a couple deity of the husband Ulashi and wife Ogbuide who quarrelled over something I can’t remember. Does anyone ever really remember the beginning of quarrels in supposedly long-term relationships! Anyway, the two deities fight is still ongoing, and the waters can’t mix. Till date, I haven’t heard of any human who went swimming around the confluence. Maybe it will get on National Geographic one day, though the terrain is in the Niger-Delta area where militants patrol. From the novels of the renowned author Flora Nwapa, we get glimpses of Oguta and the Lady of the Lake, as devotees call the mermaid. Recently I acted in Agwaetiti Obiuto, the movie adaptation of Onyeka Nwelue’s Island of Happiness. The novel opens with this line-

Every year, thousands of people travel to Oguta – a town in the heart of Imo State to ride across the Lake, where there is a Confluence.

The stories around the Blue Lake are many. There is a tradition of throwing a coin into the Lake as a prayer for a peaceful and rewarding journey to the other side. There are days when the worshippers of the Lake Goddess do not go to fetch water; and there are stories of sightings of Ogbuide the water mermaid taking on the form of a beautiful, long-haired woman to visit the local markets. I must have heard some of these stories in a half-hearted way. The memories are deep-seated in bedtime stories, where the child drifts off to fantasyland or Neverland. Such stories brought dreams of me swimming through the lake at top speed like the man in the series The Man From Atlantis, and more recently like Aquaman. Some of my happiest memories of childhood were lived in festive periods in Oguta with all the family members present. My father taught me to swim by throwing me shoulder-high from the ferry into the lake, and watching me struggle to stay afloat. That was how I learnt to swim. Yearly, a seasonal flood swells up the lake and submerges our farmlands on the other side. Animals like hippopotamus, manatee, crocodiles and other deep-water animals have been cast to shore. The devastation of crops causes a yearly economic disaster that spreads through the shores of the Niger River, where Ulashi connects. Houses by the lake get destroyed also. This tragedy is felt in most of the communities of the oil-rich Niger-Delta regions of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the undocumented landscape makes it difficult to dispatch search and rescue teams or provide aid to farmers who are locked away from land by the swell! Yearly, people die when the floods come. Also, the destruction of farmlands causes an increase in the price of food crops in the village. I have wondered so long about how the confluence in Oguta will look from the sky. When my drone went up from the shore where our boat berthed, the camera revealed an amazing landscape that hasn’t been explored. I am excited at the thought of flying closer to document these and other landscapes all across Africa. With my camera and drone, I must delve deeper. The boat will help give access. Water is everywhere, leading down to the Atlantic. It’s a beautiful landscape, and my village is a great tourist destination. The homes are ordered nicely and line up by properly made roads.  But I must warn you- all the great infrastructural developments like electricity, and pipe-borne water that was enjoyed many decades ago is now non-existent. You are welcome to visit my family house (the bright ceiling at the crossroads beside the big, partly burnt field in the drone shot of my village above). We will swap places at starting the electric generator every day to charge our gadgets and cool drinks in my small fridge. I think we can give you a week of pure fun here. We will have a picnic daily at the lake, swim and visit the confluence. We will also see the shrines of Ogbuide and Ulashi. Oguta is calling. In some ways too, it is a cry for help. Things have to get back to shape. There was a time when holidaying there was the trip. Now it is more adventure than chill.

Click here to purchase Flora Nwapa’s masterpiece Efuru- https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Efuru&i=stripbooks-intl-ship&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

The picture above is from a scene in Onyeka Nwelue’s movie Akpaetiti Obuito. I am pictured (backing the camera) being confronted by the corrupt community leader.

Also, Onyeka Nwelue’s book- https://www.amazon.com/Island-Happiness-Onyeka-Nwelue/dp/1983955434

Blind to the Beauty

How can Oguta remain like this? We have this little paradise waiting to be cultivated. But we all run away from it for selfish gain. We turn our faces away as the waste of daily living is dumped into the lake. We fear to swim in the beautiful Blue lake because we have dredged deep into the heart of the earth. We fear for what lies deep within the troubled waters. The lake lies wasting in the dying sun while we are making plans to replace it. We return home with forex to build our shallow swimming pools in our backyard, and empty the dirty waters into the lake. Why won’t the lake be mad, and carry away the children of erring parents? Why won’t the forsaken lady seek her revenge? The water lily grows long and serpentine underneath, dancing in the slow waves, waiting. Nature will pay us back with what we give to it. Who will swim in the lake with me? The dredger in Umudei village. The litter at the shore. No one swims in the beautiful lake anymore. They travel on it to the neighbouring villages to trade. They stack bags of cassava pegged to the bottom of the lake for days, washing away all the cyanide and smell. That is why our akpu does not smell. That is also why Ihu Ohamiri stinks. But we are happy when we eat our cassava. You would think that you are eating pounded yam. The lake carries away all the stench.Every Christmas now, a church holds an end of year crusade in Mgbidi, a village on the road to Oguta. Their members wear this fluorescent yellow coloured posters that burn the eyes in the harmattan dryness.It is long since our people went mad. The ancestral gods have gathered dust at the corners. Worse, they are now firewood at mother’s kitchen. We found a new religion. We also found oil. Now nothing else matters but these two… not even other natural resources that our fathers lived on. No, oil is king. On Eke, the traders line up to buy produce from those who live across. Oguta people do not farm around their homes. Our farmlands lie on the other side of the lake. So Oguta looks more like an estate without greenery. The local governments in Nigeria have lost their autonomy. The state governors control the local governments. The people at the grassroots live with their waste, they live without social amenities like electricity and pipe-borne water. We live on borehole water that we must make to survive. We are our own government. We are no government. We know no government. We do things our own way. There is no way we can continue this way. We are blind to the beauty that is ours. We live like strangers in paradise. This is the new history we are writing for the children.

The Family House

Our home in the village sits at the crossroads where 3 roads meet. So it must be a magical place to live in. I remember waking up on some mornings to find a basket full of sacrifices on the road. My young friend Nonso is a thriving native doctor. I must ask him why this is important. The sacrifices seem to have reduced, since I put a strong searchlight in front of my house. I needed to light up the area, as some young vandals had come to steal the battery from the NDDC solar lamp post. Apart from playing soccer, people come to the field of Trinity High School to learn to drive. I have taught some friends on this field. The cattle sellers drive their cows to graze here also. From my vantage point on the second floor, I drew inspiration for some of the images in my series of paintings A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills. As night falls, people come there to smoke weed, etcetra… The vast space has allowed me to enjoy working on larger canvases. My latest canvas cannot even fit into the door to my studio, so I have to paint outdoors. I am free here. The spaces are for flying. The air is light. The lake is nearby. This is truly home.

Artist’s statement

Power Play and Other African Stories (for the exhibition Ballot Boxes and Beasts of Power)

DSCF6391wTravelling through Africa has familiarized one somewhat with the slow induction into native life. Being Nigerian, I already carry a baggage and move under the shadow of an uncomfortable stereotype. Thus, engaging with Abidjan, dissociating with negative stereotypes, while reviving an artistic practice is hard work. When I started painting, I kept travelling back and forth virtually. The Internet brought daily stories from home. I see a clearer picture of our troubles- leadership and corrupt political practices have hindered Nigeria for too long.

Ballot Boxes and Beasts of Power is mainly an exhibition of paintings about votes, power, leadership and politicians; and how their lives affect everyday life in Nigeria. On the one hand are the almighty politicians who turn to monsters in their quest for power; and on the other, I represent the most vulnerable people affected by the tragedy of leadership in any society- the women.

Discovering supply chains for my art materials took some time. At some point, I sent and bought materials from Nigeria. All the tools must be in place, at hand, before I start working. It is a performance of classical music where each instrument is ready and waiting for its time to be used. I am the composer, stringing thoughts with media, creating forms and marks. It is a delight when the only thing on one’s mind is to paint, to use media, and be affected by each media’s peculiar qualities. I try to explain this as part of the reason for the stylistic variations in my work. Each medium has properties. I have the mindset.89fb104c-ea9d-4ea0-b738-076ede3decf4 2

From trying to make sense of the reasoning behind party defections (where politicians who may have spoken glowingly about a political party the week before, suddenly turn round to castigate and disassociate from that party); to inspiring the masses to vote out these politicians whose integrity seems wanting; another body of work has been created with a view on 2019, the year for the next elections to choose a new government.

The antecedents have been unpleasant. There is a general perception that the government of the day has failed the common man. In the news in Northern Nigeria, you hear of Boko Haram maiming, kidnapping and sacking villages, of armed herdsmen perpetuating similar acts in villages in the middle-belt, destroying farmlands unchecked by an inefficient security service. The government response after some of these attacks is that these marauders and terrorists overwhelmed the security personnel on the ground.

Yet the nation could spare 33,000 security personnel for a state governorship election in Western Nigeria, a region that is deemed peaceful and away from all the violence in the news. The election has been reported as rigged, and the results from that election are being challenged in court by the opposition who claim to have evidence of rigging, ballot box snatching, intimidation of voters by security personnel, etc.

The stories from Nigeria are enough to keep one engaged. Staying in the moment, being contemporary means engaging actively in the stories of one’s times. It is documentary narrative, investigation and protests against the ills of the society in which one lives. The paintings in Ballot Boxes and Beasts of Power follow the news closely like daily commentaries on the state of the nation. Keeping up often becomes difficult when one has taken on the responsibility of playing out the drama. Art graphically illustrates. My work reads like the popular cartoonist Mike Asuquo’s illustrations, only in a much more robust abstract style. Also, the ambitious sizes of some of the pieces (some are over 8 feet wide) are in another league.

My work is dark humour, satire and a comedy of sinners and their casualties. Distorted bodies fill the space; sometimes these monsters have no feet- referencing the unguided, selfish and self-sustaining defections. In the series, I use sections and angles to suggest the cuboid of ballot boxes. Limbs appear and disappear irrationally into folds of cloth; tortuous colour is applied in rapid succession to suggest the mad furore of the season. As the series developed, it became more and more necessary to introduce women, positioned as vulnerable victims of dirty politics. They keep the family unit together and protect the infants from an unfamiliar, unfriendly world of adults breaking moral codes wantonly.

Thus it was easy to create works around my earlier series- Women of Nigeria and A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills series, as all these were contributory effects and implications of the power games in Nigeria. As the stories and body of work for Ballot Boxes and Beasts of Power grew, one felt freer to sit back and absorb the real present- the landscape of Abidjan poignantly rendered in some watercolours and a huge canvas. This distraction was a breath of fresh air, like a swimmer reaching upwards while fighting the waves of a fast flowing river.

Then other works about the people of Abidjan, the men and women happened. One’s interactions and struggles learning a foreign language have left impressionable marks. The vivid stories allowed one to rethink past sojourn in other African countries and the reception from some of the natives of those countries.

A rebranding of Africa is pertinent. The pre-Independence fathers of Africa spread the gospel of Pan-Africanism. At the dawn of independence of many African countries, they developed policies that presented Africa as a beautiful bride to the world. Post-Independence, Africa has suffered myriad wars, genocides and other turmoil caused by the uneasy unions of nations created by colonial masters who mainly seemed to be mapping their real estate. The chaos of peoples of diverse nationalities having to share, to be subjugated, has led to conflicts, despotism, and nepotism and corrupt practices that mired the image of Africa. Making sense of experience as a visitor means taking into cognizance the collective history of Africa- post-colonial past, slavery, colonialism and bad leadership. Formal education and the news media have strongly shaped the retelling of the story of Africa. African history has been negatively impacted by these two forces, seen in some quarters as agents of a perpetual colonialism on the continent.

DSCF5123As Chinua Achebe earlier said, Africans must begin to write their own stories. This idea is similar to what Uche Okeke, member of the Zaria Rebels and founder of the Nsukka School proposed in his essay Natural Synthesis. We should all go back to our traditions and use what we can to represent our contemporary existence. It is Sankofa, the Ghanaian word that translates to ‘go back and get it’. My series A New African History has been affected by some of these ideas, by firsthand experience in teaching and discovering that the educational system may not create the kind of positive mindset that will lead to an African Renaissance and self-sustenance of individual talent.

Then came the hugely popular Marvel Comics Movie Black Panther. The story of an African Hero and democracy resonated well with an international audience that has been tired of all the negative press about Africa. For me, that movie only scratched the surface at the potentials and opportunities for using the African image to change perceptions. My New African History series starts by celebrating real-life African heroes like Sundiata, Mansa Musa (Mansa Musa Travels), the pharaohs, civilizations and cultures like the ancient Benin Kingdom of Nigeria, the great walls of Zimbabwe, Timbuktu etc. In my travels to Francophone Africa, particularly in Senegal, some of the renowned scholars delved deep to make archaeological research to substantiate evidence of a glorious African heritage.

This body of work is only evolving, and of course one needs to dust history books and investigate the gaps in the narratives told by either missionaries or colonialists who communicated their response or perception of another culture.DSCF5329w.jpg

Galerie d’Art Houkami Guyzagn is housed in a three-storey building that includes rooms for artists at the top two floors, a bar/lounge on the first floor. There are a restaurant and gallery space for exhibiting artworks with offices. As the date of the opening of this exhibition draws near, my interactions with collectors, artists and other patrons of Galerie Houkami Guyzagn has enriched my understanding of the Ivorian (and my knowledge of French, hopefully) Suddenly my work veers towards painting portraits, making notes of the beautiful landscape of Riviera 2 with its undulating landscape.

The residency has been a rewarding period of artistic exchange and assimilation. My excitement can be evidenced in the large body of work created in the short time span. Other ideas are trickling into my subconscious, some of which I am working on tentatively in the collages. I also realize that any new work may not necessarily be the most powerful. But the beginnings are the best parts of the journey. The accidents are more, and there is much more passion. Stereotypes have not been formed yet.

My head is full of stories, of probing questions, or suggestions. Sometimes I present troubling images, sometimes screaming images. The energy is my blood flowing out in the plastic medium of painting. I am responsible for my actions. As a human, I own all the weakness you see. I present all the force of brilliant colour. Bear with me. My story is full of tears from thinking back to the motherland. Half the story has not been told. But I have started somewhere. Let’s see how you continue in the conversation.

The exhibition Ballot Boxes and Beasts of Power opens on September 13th at Galerie Houkami Guyzagn, Abidjan.

Of Facial Masks and Masquerading in My Work

IMG_1649webTill Uncle Akaraka’s death, his home was the resting place of Ude Ebube, Nwa Agbayaka the great ancient masquerade from my mother’s village Abatu. Tall, light-skinned and handsome, Uncle Akaraka seemed to live for the moments that Ude Ebube arises from the land of spirits to jolt our world. Akaraka would march out in swag, holding a large bottle of Guinness Stout in one hand and a stick of cigarette in the other as he walks alongside the masquerade; a sheathed machete slung sideways down his waist. Those are the moments that the village saw my uncle, apart from occasional sightings when he sits and looks out to the street from the balcony of his one-storey building. As an undergraduate student I made reference to the masquerades in my thesis ‘Colonial Influences on the Art of Oguta’, (to be found in the Arts department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka)

IMG_0176.JPG
Ajekwu masquerade of Umudei Village, Oguta, Imo StateL1150594web.jpg

IMG_4837.JPG
Ipu Afia Agu of two members of the Igbuu society, Oguta, Imo State, Nigeria

My hometown is made up of 28 tiny villages (more like clans, really). Each village has its masquerade(s). It is time to set the records straight about the masks in contemporary paintings, about the faces in my chaotic canvases.

Ude Ebube mmanwu-ihu-ekpo (spirit masquerade with the face of a mask) is like the masquerades found in the riverine communities in the Niger-Delta regions of Nigeria. She (mother to other smaller masquerades, some from neighboring villages) has taken the most prestigious titles for masquerades. She is a great spirit guided by a procession of three groups of people chanting praise songs- the first set of people are the youth in their boisterous dancing and parading; then there are the middle class followers who generally carry the medicines, the ofo, the magical hand fan that waves away evil spirits; then follow the old, the elderly who move slowly, gracefully with the great spirit. Age brings them closer to death, to the land of spirits from whence came Ude Ebube to celebrate with us, to rain blessings on her followers and admirers alike, to charge up the land of the living. Ude Ebube is an ancient spirit, and is guided by an old dibia, usually among the strongest in the land. As spirit, she knows everyone by name; she lives with the ancestors in the other world.

By writing I do not want to take away your interpretation of my work- I want to give you my memories. I grew up following the masquerades during the Christmas periods and in ushering in the New Year. All my childhood friends know that I will more likely abandon them at the drinking parlors to run after passing masquerades. Something in their performance resonated strongly. It went beyond ‘religion’.

IMG_3641-Editweb.jpg
By the Blue Lake, Oguta, Imo State, Nigeria

IMG_1629web.jpg

My young excitable mind often dreamt of these masquerades, of being chased by them through different disjointed towns to my village house. The dreams came even when I visited other lands. It was a tradition for Father to drive us to the village to celebrate the Christmas season. He loved our culture and people dearly, and would take us on rounds to visit as many relatives in the short 12 days of the holiday. He contributed to the upkeep and beautification of Ngajeme, our village masquerade. Dad would also bow in passing to the great masquerades of Oguta. He would draw a circle in the earth and place a gift of money and a bottle of kaikai (locally brewed gin) in it.

Masquerading was in my blood, as my mother was from the largest family in Abatu, the great masquerading village in Oguta. Her father Chief Okonya Okoroafor was a polygamous man. So I grew up with the spirits that seemed to float in space, whose ruffled movements were like gliding, their raffia-clad bodies shivering in the shards of the hot afternoon sun racing down to the great Ogbuide Lake. I recall the masquerades in my work- the faces, the ripple of movement, the excitement and the magic. Sometimes the masquerades fight over seniority and other skirmishes and their followers join in. Every time I work, the work is charged by these memories. It will happen again this Christmas and on New Year’s Day. The wooden gong will sound to call all together, to awaken the great spirits, to breach the gap between the land of the dead and the living. Call it fetish. I call it culture, part of my heritage. Let’s play. Meet you at the village centre.

For The Artist, Process is Priority

dsc00045Victory, they say, begins at Alkmaar. And so it was that Mathijs Lieshout was born in her. Alkmaar is a small city in Northern Holland with many well-preserved ancient buildings and once the home of Jan Wils, a founding member of the De Stijl, an art movement dedicated to creating a synthesis of Art, Design and Architecture. And Mathijs has grown beyond those principles. His work interrogates the fusion of form and function, in the framework of time.

“I see my projects as a performance, then as a monumental piece of sculpture- performance/ installation art, maybe”. Mathijs affects space with a sense of separateness from the human co-tenants; being structures whose sole reason for ‘being’ is in questioning the intentions of its builder/ maker. The work, by its presence, thus speaks.

In earlier times in Holland when they thought to build structures that implied a positivity about living, a transformation of the human spirit and more idyllic notions, one can fixate on their master Piet Mondrian and his compositions. Balancing primary colors, Piet sought out the keys to the universe. The individual lost his significance to the laws of harmonious cohabitation.

Mathijs’ work utilizes Process and Product as elements. Working with artists from other fields of art, they create an ambitious piece. His works reflect some of the key ideas in De Stijl- architecture, urban spaces, industrial design, music, poetic form interlaced with the mundane hum of daily living in these times.

Despite all these ‘memories’ one may associate with his work, the artist has ‘zero memory of the city (Alkmaar) He grew up in Obdam, a former municipal in Holland. He had the typical Dutch childhood- lived in an average-sized village, and played outside a lot with the neighborhood kids, who also attended the same small, local school. There were lots of space outside to play in, and very few cars. Most of the villagers worked in the local factory. But ‘I wasn’t very aware of what everyone’s parents actually did for work’. One can relate to the heady feelings that come with boyhood, those days when life was all about play!lego-1dsc00044

For every boy his age, there should be Lego days (the popular brick-building toy for children) Yes, Mathijs played with Lego ‘non-stop’! Those are his recollections of building anything. ‘I was always designing things in my fantasies’. There were moments when he had to make decisions about whether to build something with Lego, or just sketch that thing. The back and forth crystallized his process of visualization, planning and execution, to move from the place of dream and fantasies to create three-dimensional form.

To buttress an unending curiosity and explorative energy, he usually ‘worked like this- build one version, then build a better one, then another one, until it (the work) was to my satisfaction!” Even now, the experience working as an artist is similar to his boyhood days of playing with Lego. “ I still do (this)- version 1, version 2, and then continue creating prototypes and improving on that”. Beyond play, the artist thrives on trial and error, allowing for accidental ‘ endings’, if one must put a lifespan to the creative process used in an artwork. The thing is to ‘build stuff, see how it works in reality, then adapt and improve. I have an ideal image, often a design or sketch somewhere, or in my mind. I try to get close to (achieving) that. But it is not a one-way traffic- the ideal also changes”.

The word ‘improve’ in reference to his work implies the ‘existence’ of a ‘perfect idea’. Improving as an active verb fits well into any assessment of Mathijs Lieshout’s work.

Presently creating another of his monumental installations/performance at the Johannesburg City Library (check out the introductory essay –www.nsoforanthony.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/mathijs-lieshout-conquering-voids/), the artist will be recycling materials from ‘studio sketches ‘ made in 2010.’ I never really managed to do everything I wanted to achieve with those’, he said, referring to the past. In 2010, he owned a huge studio in the port city of Rotterdam. The walls of the studio were 6 meters high!

From preliminary sketches, one realizes that the webby, hexagonally shaped morphs that suggest a bee’s nest was not intended primarily for habitation. It is more ‘ a room within another’, a dedicated space. The traditional use of architecture flows into the extremes of visual aesthetics. One comes to the question, ‘what is the building for?’

Initially, Mathijs just wanted to surround himself with elaborate wooden grids. ‘ Like a magnificent wooden web, my plan was to make these incredibly dense, compact modern morph. I woodwork myself inside the construction, and from it create rooms, interior spaces and people would make houses inside it by cutting away wood, much like cutting in a very dense forest’. All this seems to be an autobiographical reference of a man reclaiming new spaces that he sojourns in on the journey through life, traversing continents, recreating comfort zones in Wonderland.

‘I had this crazy idea of an imaginary world entirely filled with a wood grid. As the work proceeded, that original idea got lost. When the team (that worked with him on a project) leaves, building stops. It seemed to me that the work was not complete anymore’. He has created ‘finished’ works in the past. Presently, his works’ main focus is on the process, rather than the finished product.

It was around 2011 that he noticed the new ways that his audience engaged with his work process. Everything is a continuum, open-ended. In 2012, on a residency in Kosice, a city in Slovakia, Mathijs preferred a workspace in a hallway and on a staircase instead of the expansive, abandoned factory space that the facilitators of the residency had provided (go to http://www.mathijslieshout.com/citadela for a video of the residency)’ There is nothing wrong with the retreat of a big white majestic art space. But the last project I did in such a space seemed pointless to me at the end. There is something about art spaces that sterilizes art.’ Buildings mark different eras of human civilization, the fusion of cultures that also happened as nations interacted, fought wars and were conquered. Man has the pyramids of Egypt and the Mayan dynasty, Stonehenge, the ancient Benin Wall, the Great Wall of China, etc. Mathijs would like that the memories of building his work remains in the minds of all his collaborators.

This project weaves through a part of the library. The artist enjoys the interface between his work and the human buzz around the space. That is added motivation. Nowadays, Mathijs rarely leaves the Central Business District (CBD) of Johannesburg. He lives in Anstey’s building, on Joubert Street, and also runs the 13th Floor Gallery on the same building. The Johannesburg City Library, site of his present project, is within walking distance, so also, is his new exhibition space for the 13th Floor gallery, located at Commissioner Street.studio

One has a mental picture of reading while hanging from the wooden structure, a thought that the artist wouldn’t mind happening.

He has held several sensitization exhibitions at the library to prepare the minds of the public for his project. Students and other library visitors have enthusiastically logged in, and started following his work online.’ My work often leads to conversation’. That could happen with him or with the artists assisting on the project taking questions from the audience. Also, the artists allocated studio space in the library have become ambassadors of the project.

So, what should Art do for us? ‘There are so many ways Art can inspire’, he replies. ‘In the best possible scenario, if I really do my job perfectly, and everything goes as it should, (then) I hope my work could inspire that the parameters of the world are not fixated. They are not a given. That (idea) sounds abstract. Unfortunately they are there and you would have to deal with it. And if people want to make you believe different, (to claim) that this is how things are done- that is never true!” Again, the flashes from the days of playing with Lego come to mind. Just like stepping through the looking glass.

Also appears on the webpage-http://www.mathijslieshout.com/tobuildblog

 

Zanzibar: Writing on Walls

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.img_6634

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)img_6658

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.