Sighting Nelson Overhead

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.

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Harzardous Diction: X is for…

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.

Mathijs Lieshout: Conquering Voids

FB_IMG_1468832997334Man has that strong compulsion to build, to bring something new to fruition. Man here refers to Mathijs Lieshout, a Dutch artist presently residing in South Africa. He moved there when his wife Marieke got a job there.

Mathijs worked in a room with Meghan Judge, a South African artist. There were many artists working in different media and styles in the huge studio space on the third floor of Anstey’s Building, 59 Joubert Street. Mathijs struck me as a very busy man, with sheets of tracing paper and partially coloured papers filled with dark, straight lines scattered all round the smaller cubicle. Looking closely, the drawings reminded one of architectural sketches.

Mathijs Lieshout was more interested in the process of building, than with building with a function in mind. He would go into a finished building, and literally occupy the void within with his structure/work. As a student, his works for the university’s coursework went counter to what his professors were used to. And as with many institutions of formal learning where new knowledge struggles, he flunked his fourth year courses. Not to be deterred, he moved to the Painting section where the head of the department seemed intrigued by his ideas.

In that period, while his classmates were interested in making paintings in the traditional sense-as something that can be collected and shared amongst individuals, he turned his studio into an art gallery of sorts and invited his classmates to display their work! In a sense, his student work was more interested in recreating the process and relocation of artworks, than with the making of art. The result-he studied Painting without creating one painting for review! Yes, he still graduated formally as an artist. Talk about artists getting artistic license! Education became what it should really preach- a flexible use of established criteria to analyze new data, without stifling it with outmoded ideologies.

Since then, the happy fellow has moved on in life, building process-based structures that look like gigantic nests in spaces- a shopping mall, an open forest, etc. The performance of building fixates his mind, like a theatre performance solely preoccupied with putting up a good show, irreverent to the morale. The message is in the process of building.

A year ago, when he arrived in South Africa, he tried working in Pretoria but felt the vibe of the city was not inspiring enough. He kept on returning to Johannesburg, walking around the spaces. He finally settled there, and soon started making sketches for an upcoming project at the Johannesburg City Library.

The huge library is housed in a 1930’s Italianate building designed by John Perry. The collection grew from the initial contributions of a group of prominent South Africans in 1889 to have over 1.5million books in its shelves. For the artist, it has an extremely rich cache of art books, and is called the Michaelis Art Collection. The library also had a small studio for artists attached to its façade. Mathijs Lieshout had found his space! He started working with the young artists there- Bongi Nxasana, Mongezi Ncombo, Lungi, Thumi, David etc. There are more names, as some of these artists come and go freely. Its all well. First names would suffice, for now. The artists have total freedom over the work they produce. They take responsibility. That is the flexible relationship that Mathijs prefers when working with students.

After a while, he and his friend George Togara decided to open an art gallery to help promote and sell the works of these young artists. They found the ideal space for their budget. The gallery is called Togara and Lieshout, on Arts On Main, Maboneng. They are open only on Sundays with the rest of the market, but he hopes to stay open on other days in the near future.

In the interim, Mathijs got approval from the library to build two structures in the spaces between the 1930 building and the renovations of 2012. The initial drawings are on display to the public. It shows a structure made of light, treated wood, joined in shafts rand rising from the ground floor to spiral across the elevators. One can imagine it- a maze of ochre wood waving in the air, breaking the overhead light of bulbs into sharp shards of broken light. The imagined space conjures an idea of sound being distorted by the interference. The artist takes advantage of the space that the architect has left off.

Mathijs Lieshout’s work, by its mere creation, counters the notion of building with reason, or functionality. This references some of the structures built in certain ancient civilizations whose function or purpose are yet to be fully understood. We can only speculate. So does Mathijs, questioning the space, engaging the voids. That is important enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thousand Cattle, Two Hills

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.

 

 

Error of Being A Nigerian CItizen

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.

 

 

 

 

The South African

I got lucky to snap these photographs of Andile Buka. He is one of the artists (Andile is a photographer), who share the huge studio rooms at Anstey’s Building on Joubert Street. Of course photographers rarely have their personal portraits taken. He got his.

Actually I got lucky when Andile offered to take portraits of me with his mad Mamiya R67 film camera with the total manual settings! These shots were more of a complimentary payment for getting shot with that exotic vintage item. I even was willing to sell my Canon 5D Mark II for that camera because I know that it is a hard find. Here are my pictures with my good old 5D Mark II. We are still waiting for Andile’s photographs of me to be developed, and what other processes it will take before we see the finished image. I know he will scan whatever he gets at a point. Photography is old and complex. It didn’t just appear as digital overnight. I am still shooting; maybe I will trap a human soul in an image!

Reasons to Return To SOuth AFrica

The things in the day of the life of an artist in a new land! It started on a Sunday afternoon when I walked to Arts on Main in Maboneng Province to see all that Art- from craft to fine art! Though I don’t really have the arrogance to differentiate between ‘craft’ and ‘fine art’. There are really no lines between creative work, only perceptions of exclusive inclusion and stuff.

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing all the creativity on display at Art on Main, that open bazaar! Then parked by the corner of the street I saw this mad mercedes benz! Some passersby saw me ogling at it and actually thought the car belonged to me. I wish! But one of them, a lady, said the car really would fit me. So that got me day-dreaming! Afterwards, she asked me to pose by the car as though I was the owner so that she could snap us. It wouldn’t hurt any, so I did, grinning like a proud father.  Who would know the difference between one man and the other, anyway?! I guess they possibly thought the car fitted me because I had my retro Leica X2 camera slung across my shoulder.

Some of the pictures come from another night in Johannesburg, as I hung out with my neighbour Que and his brother as they smoked. I enjoy rides on the Gautrain because it is fast and hassle-free. I just load money in the card and don’t wait to queue. The clean, well-lighted coaches are just so refreshing pauses as one transits. On one of those journeys to Pretoria, I got into conversation with this boy. He was moved that I was an artist. He felt a kinship. But he later decided to become a lawyer. My case was different- dad had wanted me to be a lawyer but I preferred to study Arts, and at a later date, study Law. Maybe, when the rule of law is being obeyed in my country. Then I may actually have a chance at it.

On another day, I went to see Kemang’s exhibition at the Stevenson. I had seen his work in May in Dakar. This show was fuller. My view? Does it really matter? Opinions are like assholes-everyone has his! It would be interesting if you formed yours independent of another person. Afterall, we see the world differently, individually.

Portraits of Mandela light up the cityscape. Then there are the militant-looking political campaign posters…The graffiti artists of Johannesburg are hard at work. They deface where they will, just to put a message across, to add some colour. Art really has some importance in this society. The landscape is replete with colours. Of course there are lower, subcity zones, places where you find abandoned and dilapidated skyscrappers with dirt and clothing hanging from broken windows. Yes, I also went to Hillbrow. I had to hide my camera as I passed by. This was on good advice from my friends. I am loving it all. What is life if there are no contrasts? Things come in shades of grey, fading to white, or black, depending on one’s way of seeing things. I enjoy the colours.