Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Faithful Mirror: Return to an old rebellion

In the beginning of the nineties, when a group of young – perhaps fresh from school -- fine artists stepped out to the public in an exhibition titled Young Masters, they created more than a stir. They unsettled some seated posturing. Audaciously, they not only proclaimed that they were poised to offer fresh coating to the features of the gallery, which as co-notated in the subtext of their show, had grown stale; they also conferred status of ‘master on themselves’. Of course, they did not get away so easily with the audacity; they were named, labeled and critically pummeled, even as it was clear that since many of them were fresh from art school, they were driven in this mission, by the exuberant resourcefulness, enterprise and energy conventional to their age; and were merely responding to the dynamics of shifting paradigm in global art discourse at the time – this era was in the throe of post modernism debate, remember.
The ‘freshers’ as they were described in one particular critique, made efforts to engage the probe from the cynics and critics but their voices were mostly muffled in the haze of screaming from their elders and even people of their age bracket, who however had been practising before them. Voices muffled yes, but their statement remained poignant for a long while; it became the focus of debates and public intellectualizing that were preponderant in those talky 90s days when Nigerians were already contemplating return to democratic rule and confronting the disconcerting cheeky games of the ‘militicians’ (military politicians led by Ibrahim Babangida).
These ‘rebelling’ artists who preached a stylistic attitude called ‘Colour Particularization’ were mostly graduates of the Auchi Polytechnic, otherwise christened Auchi School -- which itself had blazed to attention on the wing of boisterousness (or boastfulness if you like). A few months earlier, a cerebral but somewhat perceptibly cantankerous artist known as Edwin DeBebbs had marched out a collection of his colleagues and students from same Auchi Polytechnic to announce the birth of a new art movement, Colour Synthesis. The members named themselves Colour Masters.
The fruiting of this group was more intense between 1991 and 1992. And their manifested interrogation of what was, was in symmetry with the general mood of revolt in the socio-political clime.
The Young Masters were supposed to be derivatives of the Colour Masters. As a matter of fact, the one was the progenitor of the other, and some members of the DeBebbs movement were also part of the Young Masters. The difference was that whereas DeBebbs and his colleagues were ever ready to defend their positions, the Young Masters did their show and left the public to continue the debate from there on.
The debate has not ebbed since then. And it has manifested not really in terms of tons of words on the pages of papers or seminar rooms but rather in terms of the tenacity of the members of that Young Master group: in terms of their productivity, and adherence to the vision that drove them to the self-declarations as masters in the making. Today the galleries brim with the works of many of the members of that group. The exhibition today, FAITHFUL MIRROR featuring the recent works of Ben Osaghae and Heymann Ogbe, is an extension of the colour synthesis and the Young Masters prognosis. The aesthetic propositions and stylistic contentions in the works of the two artists are testimonies to the resonance of that movement that was almost still-birthed by the seemly notorious reluctance of Nigeria practice to easily yield to new ideas, even if it is to appropriate same for the refinement of its own survival stratagem.
Much thanks is indeed due to that group of ambitious young men; ever since their coming on the scene, there has been a resurgence of fresh dreams in the gallery; and their consistency as well as resonance has helped to shift paradigm of art productions and discourse. Perhaps the fact that many of them were/are teachers or always returned to the Auchi school to teach -- has helped to lengthen the chain of the so-called school of the colourists. Again they have helped to embolden other young people to step out more daringly. As happened to them, other experimentalists have faced similar knocks from the usually prevaricating art community, which seems to revel in its ambitiously moderate character. A case in point is Krydz Ikwuemesi- championed Pan African Congress of Artists, PACA with its active production and debate feature as well as Mufu Onifade’s Araism, which in spite of grunt from certain quarters, has remained vocal and eloquent in terms of production, even if less in theoretical affirmation. Yet the question will remain ever poignant to the Nigerian art circuit: what is wrong with artists who are driven by new theoretical motifs, stylistic convictions, and creative instincts or even creative forming into movements or production groupings and evangelizing their vision? Part of the answer is lodged deep in the hideous but ubiquitous dictatorship of the art-training institutions and the anxiety of individual artist to perpetuate his/her inclusion in the pool of camaraderie by the community of comrades.

Nevertheless the Young Masters has manifested as an icon of progressive visioning for the arts. The clan has remained fruitful, even if there is not much of defence of the thesis coming from the circle.
A particularly resonant member of that group is Ben Osaghae. The trajectory of Osaghae’s practice since his 1992 outing with the Young Masters Art Trust exhibition, has shown a progressively productive faculty, with a strict sense of commitment to a self-imposed mission of defending one’s vision. Though usually taciturn, his works over the past 16 years of practice have helped in no small measure to sustain the conceptual contestations of both the colourists as well as the interrogators of the old painting traditions. Though he has not been as frequent in the exhibition circuit, the presence of his works in major galleries and the few shows he has held or participated in, have ensured that his clan of artistic fellowship remains in the face of discourse of contemporary art practice. Now with Ogbemi, he is reaffirming his control of his contentions.
As far back as 1992, while still a student Osaghae had etched out on the canvas of art debate when he came up with the idea of Dematrialization, which he sums up as the painting tradition that emphasizes the superiority of form over content. An extension of this is the stress that the less details you give the more the depth of the statement, the more the volume of representation of the object. His works in deed exemplifies the negation of details in the painting. It is impressionism alright just like the works of the Colour Particularisationists, but Osaghae has a unique technical contention in the manner he accomplishes his composition and aesthetic logic.
Just as the Young Masters were criticized for placing so much emphasis on colour representations at the essence of the draughtsman-ship that the vocation of painting demands, Osaghae in the courts of critics in the past decade and half has remained an interesting subject. His works are provocative of the debate about the functionality or appropriateness of the abstract form in the context of the character of so-named African art.
Remarkably, Osaghae cannot be straightened into the class of those preponderant painters whose draughtsman-ship is suspect. His drawings are competenly realized, but he seems to work in reverse order to the norms of painting – he seems first to draw his objects and then proceed to sketch it out, blurring out the sharp details as he works! This produces the effect of his figures appearing more like apparitions on the canvas; or better still the object often appear as intrusions in his otherwise prosperously colourful boards. And there is always the colour patches depicting poetic fantasies on the face of the composition.
Osaghae’s main feature is the blurred, almost silhouette character of his figures, which objectifies the colour scheme, in utter contrast to the norm.
African painting, some have argued, is successful when it represents the facts of geometric forms and figural representation; after all its tradition is rooted in the realistic sculptural module. Thus to contemplate abstraction as the soul of a painting character is to negate its authenticity as a work depicting shared experience with the material environment and psychological philosophy that produced it. The argument is still being dissected in the laboratory of art historians, but particulars of abstraction have become strong contents of most African painting. Here is where Osaghae has remained a fascinating subject in the visual arts-scape here. For him, artistic expression is a matter of personal conviction, un-propelled by any external factors. The artist must be able to project his inner vision as pure and sincere as possible; he must be truthful to his inspiration and the psychological intuitions that birth the art in the first place. In other words, the inspiration must remain pure and unaffected by extraneous considerations. This view he shares with his exhibiting mate in the current offering Faithful Mirror, Heymann Ogbemi, a much younger fellow who only made his debut in 2002, a decade after Osaghae entered with his experimentalist fellows.
Here is their thought jointly expressed as preface to this show: ‘True’ art is defined and characterized by fidelity to artistic conscience to which art owes its birth and for which posterity and generations unborn will remain beholden. To this end, it is binding on the artist to express his sensibilities as sincerely as possible without prostituting his genius by allowing himself to become a means through which non-artists and sycophants express themselves, thus usurping the role of the artist."
The choice of ‘mirrors’ as an operative word in the theme of the exhibition, say the artists, is to further elucidate on the concept of artistic sincerity and honesty of vision as the driving force behind their creativity. Mirror is "an epitome of truth and sincerity", say the artiste. "Without compromise, the mirror brings the truth to light. We decided to predicate our work on the same premise which is defined by the mirror’s fidelity". And coming from a tradition of interrogators of seated concepts, the artists delineated their conviction from what they perceived as existing paradigm. They see themselves as deliberately departing from the motive of the general painting community: that which for acceptability or other pecuniary means tend to shape its production to fit in the general scope of expectations. And in any case, the art market over the years, in the absence of a more ambitious curatorial clime, has become more attuned to dictation of commerce".
The two painters are individually rebellious of the scripted norms of so-called African at, in that they challenge forms and technical limitations that painting teachers would have insisted on.
From the flow of his poetic lines, which inter-courses with his bold expressive colour schemes, the painter’s competence is never in doubt. But why does he proceed to blur out the details of the object – usually human figures? This is the heart of the dematrialization. It would seem that to Osaghae, too much realistic details is a visual bribery to the viewer, as it does not allow for his mental mating with the work in search of the soul of the painting. In Apprienticeship for instance, the painter scratched the silhouette of a motor mechanic on the rich textured canvas. His point of emphasis seems the figure, but that is deceptive, as the more prominent feature seems the interplay of the movement of lines and the colour. Smartly he always leaves a symbol to elucidate his prime motive in the work; here it is the spanner; in the Clientele’s Service, which again enjoys the Osaghae’ deeply affective colour sensitivity, it is the scissors in the tailor’s shop. Remarkable also is the play between bright colour and that curious looking mass of dark shadows in the centre of the work. The work is sensuous in its colour scheme but engaging in its almost scratched to meaninglessness figure.
Sometimes, a hasty look at the work could create the impression that what Osaghae does in terms of drawing is a doodling, but the technical schemes he creates around the figure provokes deeper, prolonged visual engagement with the entire composition so that the meaning would begin to climb out of the surface of the canvas. Juvenile Education, The Economics of Survival and Work Ethics better exemplify this somewhat hideous technical finesse. The three share compositional features including the images appearing like blot of stains on the bright, luminescent background, but each shows a distinct theme of common human existence realized through a fluid movement of lines and prosperous filial interconnection between space and plane. Here too another strong virtue of Osaghae’s painting is sign-posted – the ability to keep the canvas surface busy and at the same time so light that there is enough room for visual rest. Remarkably, each of his works, has a landscape motif aside from the real images depicted but the landscape is left to the imaginative creation of the viewer on the parts of the canvas where the artist celebrates yet another of his aesthetic appeal – gradient colour scheme. This is a good stead of the Osaghae technique.
However, perhaps most sophisticated in terms of composition, spatial finesse and as well colour scheme is The Golden Car, which shows a lone figure in the foreground in a sweeping motion towards the depth of he canvas. In his pathway it seems are several motifs, which suggest the objects of his desire. Much of the motifs are dropped around the surface of the canvas as mere colour patches but these are hints of the full intentions of the artist. And Osaghae’s predilection for incandescent, celebratory colour and poetic engagement of space is well enunciated here. Plus, of course, his near trademark engagement of the viewer in a game of participatory dialogue with the painting. Of course, Osaghae’s sometimes figural representation through that patch of shadowy paints is susceptible to misinterpretation, which is why the artist must at all times be on guard that dematerialization thus not suggest a tardiness in handling of the brush to accomplish artistic objective. Even at that however, the symmetry between his colours and his object are often, in fact always, so technically accomplished that the competence in all the vital departments of painting are undoubtful.
Unlike Osaghae, Ogbemi lingers on the canvas with his brush; he tills the surface like a farmer desirous of cultivating all the possibilities; he enrobes the entire plain in beautiful apparels of colour. There is no space that is left unoccupied. He abhors plain surfaces and thus would always engage it in a dialogue that ends up yielding a flurry of motifs even after the main artistic intention has been articulated by the central images in the picture. There is the robust pointillist predilection in Ogbemi’s brush motion but rather than appear as mere aesthetic choices the geometric colour patches serve as the artist’s own poetry in motion. They help to background his usually naturalist images; they entertain the senses in their romantic frills; and at the same time function as inseparable part of the entire painting. Yet, if the patches are eliminated, Ogbemi’s competent drawing will still radiate, especially his well-nurtured brush movements. An Illusion of a Booming Economy is deeply reflective of the sensitivity of the artist to his environment, does not throw the viewer into a fit of agitation as the theme ought to have done, but in its subtlety impinges on the subconscious the artist’s suppressed contemplation of the failure of policy that has kept the citizens at the draconian mercy of market forces. Contrast this to A Shop Keeper’s Delight, where the artist wins soul with his propensity for detailing, the tension of the An Illusion… comes out clearly.
Ogbemi’s painterly virtue, is perhaps the fact that he is wide in artistic taste; he combines for instance naturalism with surrealism just as his works are impressionistic and expressionistic at the same time; even as he uses lines to break the flat surface and create design patterns that are somewhat rebellious of the usual three-dimensional painting module. However, Investigation, a rather simple linear work shows Ogbemi’s fullness as a painter. He adores lines especially when deploy into poetic motion; that is what he achieved in his drawing of the mound of papers that overwhelm a lone figure. The laborious task of the investigator is shown through composition, drawing empathy of the viewer but the artist also subtly sermonises about dignity in labour. Without a title, The Truth Lies Within would appear like a part two of Investigation, but a keener engagement of the work further endears the artist as a painter from the deep of the soul. He is a romantic with colour and lines. Same feeling can be gleaned from Common Goal, where he shares this ubiquitous three-some figure with Osaghae. The task is hard, but the point of emphasis is on the synergy of colour and design, where form and technique symmetrically help to project the calm, pure artistic temperament of the painter.

Art to Ogbe is a mirror of truth; as he says in the statement to an earlier show: ‘Art is the mirror with which I view life. My experience in life and art share great similarities that make it difficult to separate both. In life, every new day creates a challenge, though my experiences of yesterday and hope for tomorrow, mould me to make better today. The same goes for art, only this time, life provides the fuel with which my artistic vehicle is driven. Good or bad as the road may be, the journey has always been fun to evaluate, because the results leave me with endless possibilities to explore in life’.
Remarkably, his work does enough justice to his self-conviction not just in terms of his touchy themes as in Self-Evaluation and Marginal Meal, but also in the texture and tenor of his composition as in Work Revival (could read Ethics) one and two where the artist seemingly descended on the canvas plain and took over its whole soul with his furious line movements yet keeping the viewer mentally thrilled with his gradient colour scheming.

With Osaghae and Ogbe, art is a self-conviction exhumed from the depth of the individual’s inner being but expressed in a language that is also strictly personal and unencumbered by the expectation of an extraneous party. Art is a beauty expressed from within. That is where its sincerity and integrity must be protected through honesty of vision and pureness of intentions.

o Prepared as an Intro to the exhibition, FAITHFUL MIRROR but it never made it….

Sunday, December 9, 2007

something to smile asbout

Why I Fired My Secretary


It was my thirty-fifth birthday, and I wasn't feeling
too hot that morning anyway.

I went to breakfast knowing my wife
would be pleasant and say ?Happy Birthday.
And would probably have a present for me.
She didn't even say ?Good Morning, Let alone any 'Happy Birthday'

I thought. Well, that's wives for you. Maybe the children will remember.
The children came in to breakfast and didn't say a word.

When I started to the office I was feeling pretty low and despondent.

As I walked into my office, my secretary, Janet , said,
'Good morning boss, Happy Birthday'
So I felt a little better; Someone had remembered.

I worked until noon. Then Janet knocked on my door and said 'You know it's such a beautiful day outside and it's your birthday. Let's go to lunch, just you and me. I told her
that it was the best thing I've heard all day. 'Let's go'.

We went to lunch. We didn't go where we normally go;
We went out into the country to a little private place.
We had two martinis and enjoyed lunch tremendously.

On the way back to the office, she said, 'You know, it's such a beautiful day. We don't need to go back to the office, do we? I said, No, I guess not. She said, Let's go to my apartment.

After arriving at her apartment she said, 'Boss, if you don't mind, I think I'll go into the bedroom and slip into something more comfortable'. Sure, I excitedly replied.

She went into the bedroom an in about six minutes, she came out carrying a big birthday cake, Followed by my wife, children and dozens of our friends.

All were singing 'Happy Birthday' And there on the couch I sat... Naked.

***** Source Internet

Monday, October 22, 2007

What True Love wants

(Text of an e-chat with TRUE LOVE magazine (July Edition) on one of my least favoured subjects, Religion.)


To which spiritual denomination do you belong?

I have sympathy for all religions but I prefer my neutrality. This means I could participate in rituals and ceremonies of all 'spiritual denominations' so far it is all about advancing the good cause of humanity. In essence, I worship God/Allah/Olodumare or whatever name is given to the Supreme Being - the creator/ owner of the heaven and the earth and all the components therein.

How do you nurture your spirit?

By being very human; loving others as I love myself; cherishing others the way I cherish myself; working for the good of all creations of the Supreme Being. I believe that by loving and appreciating other human beings, I am loving and cherishing the Supreme Being.


What inspired you to becoming a journalist?

I say always that I am a Culture Communicator and not a Journalist in the way it's usually or traditionally defined and practised. But even in my chosen vocation, I operate within the universe of Journalism.

What challenges did you face when you were writing your first novel- Kemi's Journal?

I am not the author of such a work. Though I have unpublished collections here and there, which are for now on suspension due to my two decades of fraternisation with the print media.

How do you find a balance between staying true to your profession and the pressure from outside forces to compromise the truth?

I work according to the dictates of my conscience, and my sealed pact with my Creator to always be on the side of truth, honesty and; all that is justice-able.


How did you surmount the challenges?

I check-balance myself all the time. I refuse to be swayed by popular sentiment. I decline -- no matter the circumstances -- to be coerced to toe common line of actions. I am ever so conscious of circumspection and self-introspection. I work issues out within me before I make my intervention in public discourses or affairs. Above all, I SPEAK my feelings.

Who is your spiritual role model?

The Supreme Being, but I draw lessons from the exemplary lives of the various leaders of men in terms of religion.

How has your spirituality inspired you to give back to society?

It is my main stimulus in all I do -- privately or publicly.


What principles/ philosophies do you guide your life and spirit by?

Live in service to fellow being. Love. Share. Appreciate.

If you could change one thing about Nigeria and the world, what would it be?

Erase Indolence; Gullibility; Docility ; Grumbling.... and Rumour Mongering -- all viruses that have eaten deep into the psyche of almost all Nigerians.


If you could change one thing about your spiritual journey what would it be?

To get deeply involved in Service to humanity.


Which holy books do you guide your life by?

I say that I am a student of Life Experiences. Is there a Holy Book by such title? In any case, I read sections from all the books of religion, because I believe they are documentation of Life Experiences of the leaders of men in religious philosophy.

How do you cleanse your spirit?

Silent moments of introspection and reflection on affairs of men as they relate to my daily experiences and needs.

How has your spirituality changed your life?

Make me to be very positive about life and survival of humanity.

In spite of its challenges, what inspires you to stay committed to your profession?

My conviction that I am here not to build Personal Empire but to do Service to humanity through My Gifts.

How can we enrich Nigeria spiritually?

Let every man be a Master of his own religious Conviction. Ensure freedom of choice; Freedom to Be what he plans/wants to Be. Not Judging others by our own selfishly erected standards. Freedom is the Key to a better, developed society.

You want to be a critic

You want to be what? A critic…?

(Being an extended version of a ‘mentoring letter’ that I was asked by me friend Ita for her magazine, Muse’)

Dear Comrade-to-be,
Shall I humour you with a lie? I was really silently bemused albeit rankled by your expressed desire to work as an art critic after your graduation. If you had observed closely, there was this bold improbability sitting at the corner of my mouth in response to your statement.
Oh, you saw it?
You thought it was a sign of approval?
Wrong, friend!
And there goes your first lesson in arts criticisms… always seek the inner (hideous, if you like) meanings of statements and actions; except if such was made by an angel! Left to me anyway, even the angel should be probed further.
… Well as I was saying; being an arts writer (or arts critic as you have called it) is like signing a pact with poverty… please, do not be scared. All I mean is: it is pretty difficult to get a job anywhere to operate optimally, efficacious or even professionally.
The factors are many.
If the artist or culture producer whose work you have just taken through the dissection mill smiles at you, you have to be very sure, the smile was meant for you; or that there was no bile colouring beneath such a flash of teeth. Every time you do such a critical reading of anyone’s book, watch your step; do not leave your drink carelessly open in a pub, especially if you know the artiste could be lurking somewhere in the vicinity.
Also, know that you are the least wanted in your newspaper establishment; and the moment there is the need to retrench, you are most likely to be on top of the list.
Oh, you don’t believe that?
C’mon, naiveté is a luxury you must not befriend on this vocation. As we say in Lagos, ‘shine ya eyes, bobo’. Haven’t you noticed that every time the editor needs to smuggle an advert into the paper -- in the dying hours of bedding the paper-- your page is usually the first to be yanked off?
Oh yes.
Your page is the measure of your value within the organisation; and if it is being yanked off so ignominiously, what the heck gives you the confidence to bestride the newsroom as if you are the next best thing after Bill Clinton?
Did I mention that your vocation is the turf for impoverishment? Not that you will not earn your pay in your office (well, many of the publishers do not pay anyway)… I mean you are most likely to be the very, very poor cousin of your comrades on the Business and Politics beats; your lot is not just poverty, but p-o-o-r-verty.
Okay, in these days of corporate sponsorship of events by telecomm and beverage companies, you are likely to have your house swimming with branded tee-shirts, towels, fez-caps or even pens; as mine is.
And of course, you may be chanced to fill the hollow of your home with free copies of the patronising artiste's book, CD or VCD etc… Well, that also depends on how much the fellow values your supposed contribution to his/her career. And yes, you most times get free tickets to events -- the high, the low and the silly. Never mind, that at such event, the tag of a ‘manageable-guest’ hangs around you all through, and so you should not be surprised when during Item 7, the leggy dame in charge of food serves everyone on your table but you… pray that on such ill-fated day, you were not there with your spouse… worse still, that babe you have been dying to impress.
Am I scaring you?
Sorry.
But better to be forewarned.
I wasn't as lucky 20 years or so ago when I plunged into the muddy waters of this beloved-but-sometimes despised vocation.
Must have been crazy then.
Okay, there are certain credos the INTELLIGENT (note the stress) community will expect of you while you are still relevant on the job.
Try these notes they have worked for me:
* Criticism stripped naked of the bombastic character of the name, is nothing but personal opinion of one person. Put in its proper garb, criticism is not more than an informed reading of a subject or material and rendering such informed reading in informed opinion. Embedded in the word 'informed' is the necessity of painstaking research, patience for facts, readiness to seek clarifications (i.e. engage the creator of the work on areas that are unclear to you).
* The arts critic is not a magistrate; oh no. Please beware, do not be infected by the virus of deceit that has over the years eaten deep into to the soul of the vocation, with many quacks, who in other saner, well structured media climes should never have smelt the noble vocation of criticisms from a distance, do now parade themselves as ‘critics’ (as in ‘we are the critics, can’t you see us’ fashion), and so engage in intellectual masturbation and arrogance of the head; heaping uninformed, magisterial commentaries on works of arts. The one with penchant for being judgmental has failed even before his products get to his consumer — the reader or listener. In the theory of criticisms class, students are often reminded that though the vocation of the critic or writers on arts makes him susceptible to arrogance of the intellect or over-bloated sense of importance, a genuine critic should always be circumspect; constantly improving his crafts just as his subject, the artiste. Criticisms we learnt in school is not declarative or a proclamation, rather it is an intelligent reading of, and commentary on an artwork. For me the evergreen statement on this beloved vocation was that uttered by my friend Olivier Barlet (www.africultures.com) at a workshop on film criticisms in Ghana a few years ago: Criticisms, he said, is like a having a love affair with a woman; you have to have a romantic relationship with the work… In other words, in approaching a work of art for the purpose of criticisms, you have got to be circumspect, tender, attentive and, oh yes, firm but affectionate at the same time. You see, it is a delicate vocation – demanding of service from all your senses and sensibility.
* There is a language of criticism! Against the easily accepted norm, condemnatory writing is not the language of criticism. The attitude of the critic is not a cantankerous one; do not, I beseech you, be drawn in by the sweet-sounding but ludicrous reviews preponderant in the media nowadays – they are at best pitiable work of miserable half-baked self-anointed so-called critics, who in truth, ought to be doing some other things with their life but have found themselves wheeled (oh, you know, that in this country, ‘anything goes’) into the heart of this noble vocation. The pen should not be steaming of writing off the products of another person's creative ingenuity or enterprise. It is not to say ‘this painting is bad’; ‘this piece of music is rubbish’; ‘this film is the worse I have ever seen’ blah blah blah. This will be ridiculous, cheap, unintelligent and a mark of disingenuous. The language of criticism, one of my teachers drummed into our ears, is -- ‘may be’ or ‘if he had’ -- you know, circumspective in tone and texture. It is not a magisterial proclamation or postulation where you say that a work is ‘bad’! There is no bad work of art because the creative process that produced that work is informed by certain inspiration, certain motive, certain expectations, and cognitive structures. Sweat has gone into it; thinking has gone into it; money has gone into it; somebody’s being has gone into it…
Hello oooo….
The critic obviously cannot be the fellow who watched a performance, did not bother to enquire about the history, objective and performance circumstance of the show, but was hot in his heels to write a two-page criticism or condemnatory article. Rather the critic is a highly intelligent, sufficiently patient and painstaking man who burns the candles to understand thoroughly the work he has decided to comment about. He is equally an attitudinally reflective professional, who would ask questions about certain facts about an art work before he descend on the blank pages or bangs away at the keyboard or even open his mouth to comment. He would, for instance, be interested on why an artist chose a particular medium, form or technique amid a wealth of other options.
* Above all, be truthful to your conscience as you evaluate the work of art. You know what you are trying to do, and you say it the way you see it. Just like every journalist; be sure that you write from your conscience and for your conscience. Just be sure that what you are saying is according to how you have seen it; how you have perceived it; be true to your conscience; even if the person is your arch enemy or he has just dished you slaps for the last evaluation you did of his work.
And then,
…The target of a critical discourse should necessarily be for the two sides. You should write in a way that the man who has created the artwork can learn two or three things about the way you see it as a member of the audience; and the audience too can uncover one or two things -- hidden virtues -- in the work of art through you. In other words, the critic is more like a medium, a nexus between these two extremes -- the audience and the producer of the work. So you should see yourself that way; and the only way to see yourself as a balanced medium, a balanced referee, is to work for your conscience. You write the truth the way you have seen it, without being unfair to the artist, without short-changing the public.
I am saying that criticism is not basically evil. It is opinion essentially. That is why some veterans of the vocation, have said a critic should develop a romance with the work he/she wants to engage.
Do we agree?
Here are landmines that a critic must circumvent all the time:
*GENERALISATION
*TRANSPOSITION OF CANONS
*PRESCRIPTIVE CRITICISMS
*OBJECTIVATION OF CRITICISMS
*GLOBALISATION OF CRITIQUE
*DECONTEXTUALISATION OF CRITIQUE
Thanks comrade… for your ears.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Soulmates we lost

RE-NA-TE: The one that drew my tears

I was on a performance tour of Mexico, where the National Troupe was representing Africa at the Cervantino Festival of World Theatre when the news stole in on me and upstaged my joy.
‘Renate is dead!’
It came like the evil wind. It swept me to nothingness. A momentary trip to blandness. In a sense it was my own ceasing of being; even if momentarily. My head was heavy. My feet will not shift. I was rooted, yet there was a sudden rush of motion in my soul. It was watery; bloodily watery threatening to burst me open… I let out… screeeeeeeeaaaam! Then sank into the seat, sending bottles, cups, kebab in directions on the well-paved floor.
This dirge leveled my soul.
The voice on the other end was unsparing. ‘She did not survive the operation’, continued Mihai, my friend, brother and son of Renate. Tall, gangling Mihai -- to whom I had laid a siege ever since Renate was dispatched homeward to Bremen following the horrid twist in her malignant battle against cancer -- sounded calm. But I noticed the heaviness of the tone – quite uncharacteristic of the usually hip-hoppity, charming personae.
Numbness. Sulking. Gnashing. Cursing. Weeping… the emotions came in torrents. I fought to control balls of tears from cascading my face which still bore remnants of my stage make-up… this night I had been drawing free booze from a twosome couples who had followed the cast of actors to their hotel after yet one more successful staging of the touring play, Yemoja.
My sleepy eyes now swam in tears. I was unsuccessful with holding back the sea of tears as the rest of the cast of Ahmed Yerima-written and directed musical dance drama, who were hanging out in the lobby of the Novotel Hotel, Mexico City – after our second performance in a 20-city 22 performance project, caught me out. I broke the news to them...
There was sudden silence; a pall descended on the gathering. Those among the artistes who had at one point or the other had interaction with Renate back in Lagos, such as Tunji Sotimirin, whose one man theatre project had been given a life when Renate in 1990 promoted the social satire, Molue, joined me in my grief.
Though my existential psyche nudged me that death is a necessary instrument for the regeneration of the human species, as well as the redemption of the lost kingdom of man, I was still mortified by the reality that a good person, more so an angelic soul, like Renate – the one I called Yeyeoooo -- could succumb to the ultimate terminator. I was mystified; floating in a borderless land of confusion.
Good people also fall for the belligerent vampire of the ultimate terminator!
Renate is gone.
My wish, my prayer, my will cannot bring her back.
I consoled myself with reflection on the many great projects she had birthed; and especially how she had single-handedly succeeded in creating a renaissance for the cultural life of my dear philistine country, so much that we branded her unofficial Minister of Culture, though she would have none of such an adulation.
That night I murdered sleep; dared the searing cold of Mexico, I drowned endless shots of chilled raw tequila — my head was swollen; my tongue burned and my stomach warring, but I could not be bothered. This is a season of darkness.
I am alive but drifting. I live but inside me, something had died with the passage of a woman who was more than a friend; a soul-mate; the one with whom I dreamed dreams of that day when Nigerian artists will step with greater confidence on the world stage and claim a territory.
She had started it all with her resourcefulness and willpower; her naked enthusiasm, which sent very much unknown Gbenga Cole to grand exhibition project, Dokumenta 8 in Kassel, even when the boy was a little chap doing his thing in the corners of National Museum, Onikan; which sent the poet Uche Nduka to dare the steaming vast stage of Frankfurt Bookfair; which uncover Dili Humphrey (alias Junkkman) from the backwaters of the famous fine arts studios in Nsukka; which in 1989 launched visual arts on a path of refinement and subsequent boom through a series of workshops; which relaunched the Osogbo art mission set in motion by fellow German (now retired Octogenarian) Ulli Beier in the fifties through the sixties; and which helped to rekindle the story of the various Nigerian art schools -- Auchi, Nsukka, Ife, Yaba, Zaria, Benin — all she touched; the same way she helped to break the hegemony of the gerontocracy that seemed to rule the heart of the literary community when she threw her weight behind a group of young writers who felt their creative energies stifled by the big muscular men in the national association of writers, that they formed the West African Young Writers Association.
Most remarkable however, Renate, when in 1999, she realised her life ambition to return to Lagos (after she had been ‘politically’ whisked out of her Deputy directorship post in 1995), she retuned here in 1999 as substantive head of the Goethe Institut helped to launch the revival of Highlife Music through the Great Highlife Party 1999, and 2000, which she sponsored with money meant for the furniture for her new home – it was the concert that re-launched the career of Fatai Rolling Dollar, unearthed the remains of Rex Lawson’s band; fetched the trumpeter EC Arinze and visually-impaired guitarist Ralph Amarabem from decades of retirement. Now Highlife music has returned to the staple of the modern Nigerian music – over two decades after it was sent into oblivion by the 30months Biafra war… and each time I hear the evergreen sound, the thought of Renate Albertsen–Marton fill my senses and my eyes gets watery... I remember one very good soul — RENATE. I remember our near suicidal trip from Lagos through Enugu to Nsukka, to Port Harcourt back to Benin, Ibadan and Lagos — in search of the old masters of the genre she had penciled on her slim notebook. Her dream was to repay these selfless music masters to the live stage, so they could serve as inspiration to the emerging popular music scene that seemed then rudderless.
RE-NA-TE!!!!!!
It has taken me almost five years to put this reflection down in words, but even as I write it, my gut is teary… not even the highlife tune sneaking in from beneath my keyboard can give me respite… and yet, I can’t fully say what I wanted to say; what I dreamed to say someday; what one must say for posterity.
Yet I must say it SOMEDAY for Renate; for our offspring yet unconceived; for history; for posterity.
Someday soon……


WHEN SHE CAME IN
(first published in 1989, a bout a year after Renate Albertsen-Marton arrived these shores as Head of the Educational Section asnd Culture Section of the Goethe Institute, Lagos)…


Albersten Marton's love for the arts
By Jahman Anikulapo
Renate Albersten-Marton is currently perhaps the most prominent face that one finds at every visual art exhibition and other culture-related events in Lagos and some other parts of the country. There is in fact fewer art displays, since the present boom in the sector, which the energetic, deputy-director of Goethe Institut, Lagos, has not attended.
As the topmost officer of the Institut in charge of cultural affairs, she has succeeded in bringing hopes to a large crop of Nigerian artists, especially the younger generation. Most often, they have benefited immensely and extensively from cultural programmes initiated by her and approved by her boss, the director of Goethe Instutut, Dr. Peter Bochow. Aside of hosting periodical exhibitions the Institut, with her initiative, has held a series of exhibitions in her country, West Germany. A ready example is the parade that opened in that country on October 17 on the invitation of the Nigerian-German Cultural Association.
As usual, she and members of the staff of Goethe Institut coordinated the preparations and execution of the project from Lagos. Few months back, a renowned German graphic artist, Bernd-Wolfe Dattelbach held a two-week art workshop with young Nigerian artists here in Lagos. The impact on the market scene has remained refreshingly tremendous.
Continuous presence of Mrs. Marton at exhibitions and concerts has often ignited a curious feeling in one. This quest to monitor her is fuelled by the fact that she never seemed to rest or tired out by the frequency of the routines. But solace is found in her words. "I enjoy it all. I just cannot stop. It gives me some satisfaction."
But then what makes her tick -- to borrow the cliché? In fact, why her unwavering loves for art and culture, especially where the scope of her job at the Goethe Institut also embraces other trying areas as education and administration?
"All my life I have always known and lived art", she declares matter-of-factly, she journeys into history to expose her humble childhood years in a town near Hamburg, bordering Denmark in the northern part of West Germany, where she was born into a family of liberal, Protestant Christians.
“I was brought up in a very liberal, hospitable family that was highly art-conscious, she added. "The open air affair sharpened my art inclination. I was really surrounded by art and artists."
Explaining further, she stated: "In my family we have all the branches of art…"
Her elder sister is a creative writer specialising in fiction and scientific writing. She has a doctorate degree in Literature and coincidentally, she is married to a reputable writer. Her second sister, a painter, is also married to a known painter. As for Renate, "I was doing something of music but somehow I discovered I was also interested in all the branches of art, so I opted for and studied Artistry in my university days."
She was, however, quick to point out that her love for music is still potent as it was in those days; "that is why I am married to a Romanian musicologist (Dr. Eugen-Mihai Marton) because of the music, music all the time."
Her enthusiasm was enlivening and no doubt infectious. Even as she spoke, her voice occasionally trailed off into swift melody adorning all the shades of tones and pitches.
But the greatest influence on her penchant for art and creativity is the nature and character of her home. Born to parents of two occupational divides, she had the opportunity of experiencing fertile creativity. Her father being a protestant pastor of a prominent church in her town was the biggest host of cultural and artistic activities. Unlike here and elsewhere on the continent -- where intercourse of the church and cultural activities are often perceived by the so-called faithful as an anathema – the priest’s flocks would regularly converge in his household to hold concerts, dances, and choir. Her mother too, a nursery governess, was an active participant in the flurry of artistic and cultural expressions. Thus all of the Albertsen couple’s children, including Renate, grew up in that intensely resourceful cultural environment.
Yet her philosophy and ideology about life and mankind further sharpened her artistic orientation. As a youngster, her mind was preoccupied with questions of freedom and human liberation from the hassles of life.
In 1968, while still a student at the Auguste-Victoria Gymnasium, a sort of high school in West Germany, she took up the mantle of political activism.
Short of being a fanatical activist, she had joined the International Liberation Movement fighting for the right and emancipation of even a race of people and continent she could not really decide was in existence. She took special interest in the widely known struggles in Mozambique, Vietnam, Palestine and, especially Africa.
"Since that time I made up my mind to get closer to Africa because I read a lot about the continent. That was the genesis of her quest to become a foreign mission worker.
Because of her unyielding interest in politics, she changed her course to study politics and sociology from 1970 to 1977 at the Hamburg University. She even took up teaching appointment for a year and started spreading the gospel of liberation and unconditioned human existence. Yet she was not satisfied with her role. She kept on being nagged by a certain sense of exploration and adventure. That was why she joined the Foreign Service operation of Goethe Institut in 1978.
For the first 10 years of her service, she underwent enduring orientation in different parts of West Germany. After this, she undertook her first outside posting which took her to Cairo in Egypt for some three or four months. Her posting then, though temporary, was to get her acquainted with the nature, mission and operation of the institut outside Germany. That completed, she returned to the Institut in Freiburg, Southern West Germany. This is where she was from 1983 to 1988 when she was posted to Nigeria.
Did she feel disappointed at being posted to a continent widely believed among Europeans to be an uninhabitable dark jungle? A transparently honest frown enveloped her brow; she leaned forward as if to grab the scruff of this writer's neck: "Ha! no, no, no! It was my happy moment. I celebrated it". In her words, "since my school days, I already had my mind set to go and work in Africa, especially West Africa but not any particular country."
Now that she has found herself in a ‘particular country’ -- Nigeria, how does she feel? She flashes a bright smile of fulfillment and enthused. "I am in Nigeria and not in any other place because I suspect I would have been bored if not in Nigeria."
In swift prose, she flattered up the hospitality of Nigerians, the glorifying creative essence, the level of intelligence and intellectuality, the stimulating educational orientation; and above all, the fascinating rich cultural endowment of the big black country.
Her duty in Nigeria, as a director in the resilient Goethe Institut, she revealed, involves helping to realise the fundamental objectives and aspirations for which the Goethe Institut exists in the country. Among these are the teaching of German language as a foreign language to Nigerians and solidifying cultural cooperation between Germany and Nigeria. She defined the role thus: "I am the first officer in charge of language programmes and second officer in cultural programmes."
In the performance of her first role, "I travel to university campuses especially Ife, Nsukka and Ibadan to hold seminars, workshops and meetings with teachers and students on new books and new teaching skills on German language." She also teaches the language and organises excursions for German language students of the Goethe Institut.
. In the second role, "I do a lot of traveling within and outside, accompanying German cultural troupe on performance tour of the country." In addition, she is often traveling to other Goethe Institut branches in West Africa i.e. Togo, Zaire, Ghana, Cameroun, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Most times, the trip is to attend meetings or to accompany troupes visiting any of the branches.
On the Nigerian art market, 41-year-old Renate Albertsen-Marton being a keen observer as well as an active participant., spoke with unreserved passion, even though trying to appear non-authoritative. According to her, "There is abundance of talent and stimulating creative energy here; the scene is growing and the trend is positively advantageous."
That was that. Very crisp...
“But "critically observed, it is difficult to see some originality in most of these works -- the intensity, the density that will stimulate you to discover something new is at times absent." In highly committed tone she adds; "I like pictures which are quite imaginative and have space and measure of unusual composition and characters, not the one you look at and you are bored. A lot of themes, concepts and techniques are too repeated."
She offered further that a good picture should have another quality apart from mere imitation of nature. "That is why I prefer abstract, subtle painting to mere landscapes. I like works that project history and mythology, I really love history -- invoking items that stimulate my intellect. The Osogbo art brings you closer to the miracle and myths you have read and heard much about. They are thought-provoking."
Reflecting on the success of the art workshop conducted by Dattelbach and coordinated by her Institut, she praised the Nigerian artists that took part for their willingness, though she agreed that the objective was greatly undermined by the absence of total involvement of artists in the creative workshops. But she said the experience "was fairer than that we had at Iragbiji, during the first phase."
In her words, "We are planning a lot of workshops for next year, one of which will explore the production of colours from herbal plants materials you see around.
"We are bringing some chemists to conduct it and another on screen-printing at the Yaba College of Technology."

Soulmates we lost

RE-NA-TE: The one that drew my tears

I was on a performance tour of Mexico, where the National Troupe was representing Africa at the Cervantino Festival of World Theatre when the news stole in on me and upstaged my joy.
‘Renate is dead!’
It came like the evil wind. It swept me to nothingness. A momentary trip to blandness. In a sense it was my own ceasing of being; even if momentarily. My head was heavy. My feet will not shift. I was rooted, yet there was a sudden rush of motion in my soul. It was watery; bloodily watery threatening to burst me open… I let out… screeeeeeeeaaaam! Then sank into the seat, sending bottles, cups, kebab in directions on the well-paved floor.
This dirge leveled my soul.
The voice on the other end was unsparing. ‘She did not survive the operation’, continued Mihai, my friend, brother and son of Renate. Tall, gangling Mihai -- to whom I had laid a siege ever since Renate was dispatched homeward to Bremen following the horrid twist in her malignant battle against cancer -- sounded calm. But I noticed the heaviness of the tone – quite uncharacteristic of the usually hip-hoppity, charming personae.
Numbness. Sulking. Gnashing. Cursing. Weeping… the emotions came in torrents. I fought to control balls of tears from cascading my face which still bore remnants of my stage make-up… this night I had been drawing free booze from a twosome couples who had followed the cast of actors to their hotel after yet one more successful staging of the touring play, Yemoja.
My sleepy eyes now swam in tears. I was unsuccessful with holding back the sea of tears as the rest of the cast of Ahmed Yerima-written and directed musical dance drama, who were hanging out in the lobby of the Novotel Hotel, Mexico City – after our second performance in a 20-city 22 performance project, caught me out. I broke the news to them...
There was sudden silence; a pall descended on the gathering. Those among the artistes who had at one point or the other had interaction with Renate back in Lagos, such as Tunji Sotimirin, whose one man theatre project had been given a life when Renate in 1990 promoted the social satire, Molue, joined me in my grief.
Though my existential psyche nudged me that death is a necessary instrument for the regeneration of the human species, as well as the redemption of the lost kingdom of man, I was still mortified by the reality that a good person, more so an angelic soul, like Renate – the one I called Yeyeoooo -- could succumb to the ultimate terminator. I was mystified; floating in a borderless land of confusion.
Good people also fall for the belligerent vampire of the ultimate terminator!
Renate is gone.
My wish, my prayer, my will cannot bring her back.
I consoled myself with reflection on the many great projects she had birthed; and especially how she had single-handedly succeeded in creating a renaissance for the cultural life of my dear philistine country, so much that we branded her unofficial Minister of Culture, though she would have none of such an adulation.
That night I murdered sleep; dared the searing cold of Mexico, I drowned endless shots of chilled raw tequila — my head was swollen; my tongue burned and my stomach warring, but I could not be bothered. This is a season of darkness.
I am alive but drifting. I live but inside me, something had died with the passage of a woman who was more than a friend; a soul-mate; the one with whom I dreamed dreams of that day when Nigerian artists will step with greater confidence on the world stage and claim a territory.
She had started it all with her resourcefulness and willpower; her naked enthusiasm, which sent very much unknown Gbenga Cole to grand exhibition project, Dokumenta 8 in Kassel, even when the boy was a little chap doing his thing in the corners of National Museum, Onikan; which sent the poet Uche Nduka to dare the steaming vast stage of Frankfurt Bookfair; which uncover Dili Humphrey (alias Junkkman) from the backwaters of the famous fine arts studios in Nsukka; which in 1989 launched visual arts on a path of refinement and subsequent boom through a series of workshops; which relaunched the Osogbo art mission set in motion by fellow German (now retired Octogenarian) Ulli Beier in the fifties through the sixties; and which helped to rekindle the story of the various Nigerian art schools -- Auchi, Nsukka, Ife, Yaba, Zaria, Benin — all she touched; the same way she helped to break the hegemony of the gerontocracy that seemed to rule the heart of the literary community when she threw her weight behind a group of young writers who felt their creative energies stifled by the big muscular men in the national association of writers, that they formed the West African Young Writers Association.
Most remarkable however, Renate, when in 1999, she realised her life ambition to return to Lagos (after she had been ‘politically’ whisked out of her Deputy directorship post in 1995), she retuned here in 1999 as substantive head of the Goethe Institut helped to launch the revival of Highlife Music through the Great Highlife Party 1999, and 2000, which she sponsored with money meant for the furniture for her new home – it was the concert that re-launched the career of Fatai Rolling Dollar, unearthed the remains of Rex Lawson’s band; fetched the trumpeter EC Arinze and visually-impaired guitarist Ralph Amarabem from decades of retirement. Now Highlife music has returned to the staple of the modern Nigerian music – over two decades after it was sent into oblivion by the 30months Biafra war… and each time I hear the evergreen sound, the thought of Renate Albertsen–Marton fill my senses and my eyes gets watery... I remember one very good soul — RENATE. I remember our near suicidal trip from Lagos through Enugu to Nsukka, to Port Harcourt back to Benin, Ibadan and Lagos — in search of the old masters of the genre she had penciled on her slim notebook. Her dream was to repay these selfless music masters to the live stage, so they could serve as inspiration to the emerging popular music scene that seemed then rudderless.
RE-NA-TE!!!!!!
It has taken me almost five years to put this reflection down in words, but even as I write it, my gut is teary… not even the highlife tune sneaking in from beneath my keyboard can give me respite… and yet, I can’t fully say what I wanted to say; what I dreamed to say someday; what one must say for posterity.
Yet I must say it SOMEDAY for Renate; for our offspring yet unconceived; for history; for posterity.
Someday soon……


WHEN SHE CAME IN
(first published in 1989, a bout a year after Renate Albertsen-Marton arrived these shores as Head of the Educational Section asnd Culture Section of the Goethe Institute, Lagos)…


Albersten Marton's love for the arts
By Jahman Anikulapo
Renate Albersten-Marton is currently perhaps the most prominent face that one finds at every visual art exhibition and other culture-related events in Lagos and some other parts of the country. There is in fact fewer art displays, since the present boom in the sector, which the energetic, deputy-director of Goethe Institut, Lagos, has not attended.
As the topmost officer of the Institut in charge of cultural affairs, she has succeeded in bringing hopes to a large crop of Nigerian artists, especially the younger generation. Most often, they have benefited immensely and extensively from cultural programmes initiated by her and approved by her boss, the director of Goethe Instutut, Dr. Peter Bochow. Aside of hosting periodical exhibitions the Institut, with her initiative, has held a series of exhibitions in her country, West Germany. A ready example is the parade that opened in that country on October 17 on the invitation of the Nigerian-German Cultural Association.
As usual, she and members of the staff of Goethe Institut coordinated the preparations and execution of the project from Lagos. Few months back, a renowned German graphic artist, Bernd-Wolfe Dattelbach held a two-week art workshop with young Nigerian artists here in Lagos. The impact on the market scene has remained refreshingly tremendous.
Continuous presence of Mrs. Marton at exhibitions and concerts has often ignited a curious feeling in one. This quest to monitor her is fuelled by the fact that she never seemed to rest or tired out by the frequency of the routines. But solace is found in her words. "I enjoy it all. I just cannot stop. It gives me some satisfaction."
But then what makes her tick -- to borrow the cliché? In fact, why her unwavering loves for art and culture, especially where the scope of her job at the Goethe Institut also embraces other trying areas as education and administration?
"All my life I have always known and lived art", she declares matter-of-factly, she journeys into history to expose her humble childhood years in a town near Hamburg, bordering Denmark in the northern part of West Germany, where she was born into a family of liberal, Protestant Christians.
“I was brought up in a very liberal, hospitable family that was highly art-conscious, she added. "The open air affair sharpened my art inclination. I was really surrounded by art and artists."
Explaining further, she stated: "In my family we have all the branches of art…"
Her elder sister is a creative writer specialising in fiction and scientific writing. She has a doctorate degree in Literature and coincidentally, she is married to a reputable writer. Her second sister, a painter, is also married to a known painter. As for Renate, "I was doing something of music but somehow I discovered I was also interested in all the branches of art, so I opted for and studied Artistry in my university days."
She was, however, quick to point out that her love for music is still potent as it was in those days; "that is why I am married to a Romanian musicologist (Dr. Eugen-Mihai Marton) because of the music, music all the time."
Her enthusiasm was enlivening and no doubt infectious. Even as she spoke, her voice occasionally trailed off into swift melody adorning all the shades of tones and pitches.
But the greatest influence on her penchant for art and creativity is the nature and character of her home. Born to parents of two occupational divides, she had the opportunity of experiencing fertile creativity. Her father being a protestant pastor of a prominent church in her town was the biggest host of cultural and artistic activities. Unlike here and elsewhere on the continent -- where intercourse of the church and cultural activities are often perceived by the so-called faithful as an anathema – the priest’s flocks would regularly converge in his household to hold concerts, dances, and choir. Her mother too, a nursery governess, was an active participant in the flurry of artistic and cultural expressions. Thus all of the Albertsen couple’s children, including Renate, grew up in that intensely resourceful cultural environment.
Yet her philosophy and ideology about life and mankind further sharpened her artistic orientation. As a youngster, her mind was preoccupied with questions of freedom and human liberation from the hassles of life.
In 1968, while still a student at the Auguste-Victoria Gymnasium, a sort of high school in West Germany, she took up the mantle of political activism.
Short of being a fanatical activist, she had joined the International Liberation Movement fighting for the right and emancipation of even a race of people and continent she could not really decide was in existence. She took special interest in the widely known struggles in Mozambique, Vietnam, Palestine and, especially Africa.
"Since that time I made up my mind to get closer to Africa because I read a lot about the continent. That was the genesis of her quest to become a foreign mission worker.
Because of her unyielding interest in politics, she changed her course to study politics and sociology from 1970 to 1977 at the Hamburg University. She even took up teaching appointment for a year and started spreading the gospel of liberation and unconditioned human existence. Yet she was not satisfied with her role. She kept on being nagged by a certain sense of exploration and adventure. That was why she joined the Foreign Service operation of Goethe Institut in 1978.
For the first 10 years of her service, she underwent enduring orientation in different parts of West Germany. After this, she undertook her first outside posting which took her to Cairo in Egypt for some three or four months. Her posting then, though temporary, was to get her acquainted with the nature, mission and operation of the institut outside Germany. That completed, she returned to the Institut in Freiburg, Southern West Germany. This is where she was from 1983 to 1988 when she was posted to Nigeria.
Did she feel disappointed at being posted to a continent widely believed among Europeans to be an uninhabitable dark jungle? A transparently honest frown enveloped her brow; she leaned forward as if to grab the scruff of this writer's neck: "Ha! no, no, no! It was my happy moment. I celebrated it". In her words, "since my school days, I already had my mind set to go and work in Africa, especially West Africa but not any particular country."
Now that she has found herself in a ‘particular country’ -- Nigeria, how does she feel? She flashes a bright smile of fulfillment and enthused. "I am in Nigeria and not in any other place because I suspect I would have been bored if not in Nigeria."
In swift prose, she flattered up the hospitality of Nigerians, the glorifying creative essence, the level of intelligence and intellectuality, the stimulating educational orientation; and above all, the fascinating rich cultural endowment of the big black country.
Her duty in Nigeria, as a director in the resilient Goethe Institut, she revealed, involves helping to realise the fundamental objectives and aspirations for which the Goethe Institut exists in the country. Among these are the teaching of German language as a foreign language to Nigerians and solidifying cultural cooperation between Germany and Nigeria. She defined the role thus: "I am the first officer in charge of language programmes and second officer in cultural programmes."
In the performance of her first role, "I travel to university campuses especially Ife, Nsukka and Ibadan to hold seminars, workshops and meetings with teachers and students on new books and new teaching skills on German language." She also teaches the language and organises excursions for German language students of the Goethe Institut.
. In the second role, "I do a lot of traveling within and outside, accompanying German cultural troupe on performance tour of the country." In addition, she is often traveling to other Goethe Institut branches in West Africa i.e. Togo, Zaire, Ghana, Cameroun, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Most times, the trip is to attend meetings or to accompany troupes visiting any of the branches.
On the Nigerian art market, 41-year-old Renate Albertsen-Marton being a keen observer as well as an active participant., spoke with unreserved passion, even though trying to appear non-authoritative. According to her, "There is abundance of talent and stimulating creative energy here; the scene is growing and the trend is positively advantageous."
That was that. Very crisp...
“But "critically observed, it is difficult to see some originality in most of these works -- the intensity, the density that will stimulate you to discover something new is at times absent." In highly committed tone she adds; "I like pictures which are quite imaginative and have space and measure of unusual composition and characters, not the one you look at and you are bored. A lot of themes, concepts and techniques are too repeated."
She offered further that a good picture should have another quality apart from mere imitation of nature. "That is why I prefer abstract, subtle painting to mere landscapes. I like works that project history and mythology, I really love history -- invoking items that stimulate my intellect. The Osogbo art brings you closer to the miracle and myths you have read and heard much about. They are thought-provoking."
Reflecting on the success of the art workshop conducted by Dattelbach and coordinated by her Institut, she praised the Nigerian artists that took part for their willingness, though she agreed that the objective was greatly undermined by the absence of total involvement of artists in the creative workshops. But she said the experience "was fairer than that we had at Iragbiji, during the first phase."
In her words, "We are planning a lot of workshops for next year, one of which will explore the production of colours from herbal plants materials you see around.
"We are bringing some chemists to conduct it and another on screen-printing at the Yaba College of Technology."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Artist and His Patron

The Professionals: How Patron Under-develop the Artists
By Jahman Anikulapo
(First published in 1992)
Banjo Kale talking softly and carrying himself maturely, last weekend saved his men from wittingly annulling the birth rite of their organization, The Professionals, into art and culture programming.
The medical doctor, exhibiting a winsome, accommodating mien stylishly reversed a less careful veto from a member of the body who, angered by a position earlier canvassed by one of the club’s guest speakers, had call for a ‘Vote of Thanks’, even while the event was at mid-course!
In the club’s upstairs apartment at 9 Biadou Street, Ikoyi, Lagos had converged artists, journalists and art enthusiasts invited by The Professionals to discuss a new idea Entrepreneurship in Contemporary Nigeria -- Focusing the Creative Arts.
The walls of the apartment bore an exhibition of a collection of paintings from select artists. But the living room played host to the mini-seminar at which certain key speakers were expected to advance positions while another select group of discussants examine the position so advanced.
Umebe Onyejekwe, the head of Lagos museum known for her often aggressive candour, especially when discussing arts, had bruised certain inflammable egos when she suggested that members of The Professionals were probably unqualified to dictate to an artist the price he could fix on his art works.
Onyejekwe feels that leaders of corporate organizations are themselves the problems of the artists and marketing of art work.
According to her, most chief executives of companies do not really appreciate the values and virtues of art. “They do not appreciate arts for what it is, they see art as an elitist thing. And as long as they have that at the back of their minds, they cannot be a lover or promoter of art.”
Her words were like thorns jabbed into the emotions of certain members of the club. More so, when she challenged those who accused the artists of putting high prices on their works, of not being sincere, since they are actually in control of the means and cost of production which have gone unbearable.
“We should stop pretending ‘we want to help these young people’, we should go all out by bringing down the price of production”
A veteran of many art discussion forums, Onyejekwe sealed up the attack on the club’s seemingly hazy agenda on art promotion by counseling the members, “you just have to get a clear cut idea of what you want. If I am going to be a part of this effort, we are not going to mess around. We are going to call a spade a spade; you people must be lovers of arts; not people who like arts for love’s sake.”
On the inadequacies of the artists themselves, Onyejekwe observed that most young artists are not innovative and lack ideas as they still hung on themes as ‘dancers’, ‘milk maid’ or ‘durbar’ as recurring themes of their works.
“I will like to see an exhibition of paintings that depicts the happening in the society. Our forefathers did it years ago. I don’t see why you cannot do it”. The more diversified the theme is, the more a company will be ready to foot the bill,” she reasoned.
But she identified high cost of framing as a major factor hindering the entrepreneurship of Nigerian artists, as she argued that what should concern the organisers of the talk-shop is how to bring down the cost of framing; saying that if framing should cost on the average between N300-N400, artists will not have much problems with fixing relatively low price for their works.
According to her, it would be a greater relief to the up and coming artists, should the cost of framing be brought within the reach of many artists. She noted that an unframed work is not displayed to the best advantage, because only framed works could adequately be appreciated.
“Unfortunately, framing has been made extremely difficult by those who do not want the young ones to succeed,” she lamented.
She, however, frowned at the manner in which artists put the prices of their works too high above the reach of potential buyers. This, she said, is informed by the artists’ belief that the more expensive an artwork, the better people would think of the work.
By the time Onyejekwe finished her contributions she had unsettled some members of The Professionals. Notable art collector, Price Lekan Fadina rubbed in Onyejekwe’s art advocacy when he seemed to turn his back on his colleagues in the private sector (mostly executives in banking and real segment of the economy -- (he is into investment and stock marketing) when he said: “You cannot talk of art or its promotion unless you have it in you… Art is not only an investment, it is a way of life. The Professionals have a responsibility because supporting arts in not by talking, not grammar, there must be commitment. If you know you are serious, let us be partners in this venture of art promotion.” Clearly the eldest in the house, Fadina (former secretary of the Nigeria Stock Exchange) enjoined the artists to revive their collective platform, the Society of Nigerian Artists to ensure that they have stronger bargaining power and to win more respects for the artists.
But the gentlemen of The Professionals did not bargain for this barrage of tough talks on their supposed altruistic gesture. There were uncomfortable shifts in the house as Onyejekwe and Fadina reinforced each other’s positions.
Tunde Fashina, chairman of the club’s board of trustee, literally sprinted to the podium, on the heel of Fadina. His demeanour was combative and his voice strong, firm and harsh.
First, he was disappointed that “people whom we invited have only come to our place to insult us” Second, he detested the fact that “our good intention are being misinterpreted, when all we thought of doing is to encourage the young artists.”
And for that, he said “someone who has a more positive outlook on this issue than me, will come and give the vote of thanks and then we can all disperse”. He was inviting Dr. Banjo Kale to the podium.
Implicatively, the board chairman had sacked the session even in its mid-course. The discussants had not even been called to take up the positions. But the annulment was cleverly twisted around in Kale’s simple but purposeful intervention. He succeeded in steering the session back on course.
What was left for Fashina to have said to torpedo the entire forum was; “We don’t really need the artists, they need us and we can dispense with them if we like, After all, we own our money”.
Fortunately, such a tense statement stayed at the level of a subtext… for if it had been publicly verbalized, the house would probably have turned upside down.
The statement and many others in its colour had often triggered disaffection at art forums in the past, that was in the early part of the late eighties’ boom in the art market when bankers and operators of finance market emerged as key players in artwork collections and merchandising.
Then, the key collectors were mostly bankers - Emmanuel Olisambu, Sammy Olagbaju, Evelyn Brume, Torch Taire and a host of other top executives of financial institutions, especially in those days of sporadic rise in number of financial houses, bureau de change, investment and trust outfits.
The bankers were known to always sound brash and arrogant, claiming subtly that the artists were pests and parasites. Yet it was clear then that most of the bankers and financial houses, were not true collectors, but merchants who at exhibitions would tag a work and later when the artists asked for his money haggle the prices to ridiculous level.
However, the attitude of certain members of The Professionals showed that they actually needed to refine their aims and objectives, and also their strategy to achieving such proposals.
Last weekend’s discussion eventually deteriorated to an unnecessary exchange of hot words between the so-called art patrons and knowledgeable art workers. And that stifled any meaningful resolution of the issue at stake. The artist members of the club did not prove that they are ahead of other members on the issue of art practice; and entrepreneurship. There are indeed a subtle suggestion that the club members’ briefing mechanism may at best, be faulty, following the contribution made by a key artist member, Bayo Odulana.
The cartoonist, who claimed to have started professional painting practice 20 years ago, said: “I don’t consider matter of price so central. I can put any price on my work and whoever does not like it, should leave it. I don’t have to sell my work”. This was ostensibly a response to earlier statements by Onyejekwe and Fadina that price fixing by an artist depends on the kind of experience he had while producing the work.
Odulana later nailed the artist’s competence to make meaningful contribution at such an intellectual forum, when he said “Nobody can tell me how much I should sell my work. In fact, I don’t know where many of them are. I have been painting for 20 years, I don’t know where the museum’s (National Commission for Museum and Monument) office is located; so as far as I concerned, they are not relevant to me.
With comments such as Odulana’s the artist and the visual art community are thrown back to the pre-boom days in the middle eighties, when seminar organisers would claim that the artists were ill-equipped intellectually and so incapable of talking about art; sensibly or intelligently. There were even seminars on the art organized and executed without artists in the planning committee or in attendance. The Professionals, with the like of Odulanas would most probably end up in that situation.
Besides, the discussions soon became a bore, even before the first discussant had mounted the podium. The crowd had since shifted into the club bar area of the apartment and took up other businesses.
However, Dr. Kale Stood by the discussants as he moderated the submissions of Toyin Akinosho on the appropriate packaging strategy to maximize entrepreneurial gains in art, and Wale Adeduro’s advice that to change the orientation of Nigerian artists, towards a more business minded focus, the art curricular had to be re-examined. Kale shows that in spite of the problems encountered at its first forum, and the haughtiness and implicit arrogance of some of its members The Professionals could indeed have staying power.

The Job Is My Struggle

(Being an interview granted OLIVIER BARLIET, leading critic and Documentarist of African films and Moderator of Africultures in August 2007)

1) JAHMAN ANIKULAPO, AFTER HAVING BEEN CHIEF EDITOR OF THE CULTURE PART OF THE GUARDIAN, YOU ARE NOW CHIEF EDITOR OF "LIFE", THE GUARDIAN MAGAZINE DELIVERED FREE WITH THE NEWSPAPER ON THE WEEK-END AS IT IS OFTEN THE CASE IN THE ANGLOPHONE COUNTRIES. DOES THIS EVOLUTION OPEN YOUR FIELD AND YOUR POSSIBILITIES OF PUBLISHING CONTENTS YOU LIKE ?

JAHMAN: Thanks Olivier. You are indeed right. I was Arts, Culture and Media reporter for The Guardian (Daily) for 15 years (12 years as Editor); and in that period my area of influence was concentrated on matters relating to the arts in all its ramifications - Literature, Visual Arts, Music, Film, Theatre, Media, as well as culture-related subjects including the museum, language etc. In 2003, I moved over to edit the Sunday edition of The Guardian, and one of the innovations we brought in to increase the reach of the paper was the idea of a weekly magazine that would be devoted to creating a new class of readership - aside from the conservative readers of the papers usually bracketed as the elite and intellectuals. We thought of a publication that would cater for the interest of the young readers - the group that we consider restless and eclectic in terms of taste and cultural orientation. We know that this particular generation (those tagged the Generation X) is hooked on the visual - television, video, fashion, computer games etc - that they do not really care much about heavy textual content or could not be bothered about heavy matters of politics and economy; so we wanted a systematic break into their world. The end aim is to gradually draw them to issues that should be of interest to them as potential future leaders of the nation, but which they would rather shun due to their socialisation process, occasioned by the nature of a computerised age and era. Thus we wanted a schematic bridge between the print and the screen; a sort of 'movie in print'.
And that is what The GuardianLIFE has come to represent.
It started in October 2005; and we are proud that the magazine has become a stable on the table of the targeted readership; so much that now it has fans club in some university campuses and among youth groups. In terms of objective, we also decided to make it a grower/mentor of the new Nigerians; the post-military interregnum generation. We are in a period of renaissance - having just come into real Democratic Governance in 1999; and this means that the environment of public discourse was beginning to open up; the economic landscape was becoming more expansive and creativity was in full swing. We thought there was the need to facilitate a new atmosphere of expressions for the young ones who we reckon are going to become the new Middle Class in the next few years. The GuardianLIFE was thus conceived to be a 'spokes-platform' for the new Nigerian (man/woman) leaders in all the facets of the national life.
Besides we thought of creating new Role Models from among (and for) the youths themselves. And in line with that contextual brief, hardly would you find already known faces in the national life on the cover of the magazine or even in the inside pages. Rather we search out new voices/faces that are making solid contributions to the divergent aspects of the economy and national life both at home and abroad.
So in a way, we have focused on the idea of a national renaissance, which promotes freedom to expand the cultural capsules to accommodate a lot more lifestyle-type sort of discourses.


2) WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE YOUR MAIN EDITORIAL LINES AND FOCUSES ?

JAHMAN: The main editorial lines are generally lifestyle in the context of national culture and character of the emerging new Nigeria; and that includes just about any material that would cater for the interest of the young Nigerians -- the ones in the teenage/late thirtyish bracket. Thus, while we write about their sort of music, movie, fashion, literature, sports etc; we also focus on what they are doing in the new media - ICT, their foray into politics at local or national levels; their activities on the economic turf; what they do on the university campuses; their non-governmental activities among others.

3) THERE IS OFTEN A TIDY LINK BETWEEN CULTURE AND BUSINESS IN NIGERIA: DO YOU SEE THAT AS A PROBLEM OR A CHANCE? COULD YOU GIVE US EXAMPLES?

JAHMAN: The relationship between Culture and Business has not been really so well defined at any point in time. Though Business has always come in as a backbone for vibrant cultural expressions; it is also a slippery terrain for the arts; for crass commercialisation is incongruous to the soul of genuine artistic expression. I guess that holds true for most other societies. But here, specifically, the popular dimension of culture such as the entertainment beats have assumed a more aggressive business attitude; to the point that expansion in fields such as Telecomm, ICT and Restaurants, for instance, has provided a platform for culture to spring out to better, greater visibility. For instance, the advent of the Global System of Mobile (GSM) telecomm has yielded greater financial support for youth culture, which in content and context is largely domiciled in the entertainment (music movie, fashion) and sport. A lot more musicians have greatly benefited from the promotional activities of the three big mobile telephone companies - Globacom, Celtel and MTN; as well as from the scores of Private Telecom Operators, PTOs. Also the industry of eatery and beverages has been rendering a lot of support; particularly to the music and movie sections of the culture sector. However, this romance of business and the arts has unwittingly found a way to nimble at the quality of cultural work being produced by the youth, so much that one is apprehensive of what the future holds for enduring cultural products; though the literature and the visual arts are to some extent insulated from such decimation of qualitative cultural productivity and discourses.

4) NIGERIA IS A HUGE COUNTRY AND HAS BEEN QUITE DISCONNECTED OF THE REST OF THE WORLD DURING THE YEARS OF MILITARY DICTATORSHIP. HOW IS IT NOW? ARE THE NIGERIAN READERS INTERESTED IN THE CULTURAL EXPRESSIONS OF OTHER PARTS OF AFRICA AND FURTHER OF THE WORLD? IS IT A NEW TREND? DO THEY HAVE A GLOBAL UNDERSTANDING OF ARTS?

JAHMAN: The last eight years of democracy have probably opened up Nigeria to the rest of the world more than the country's over three decades of largely military dictatorship. It is expected anyway, as Democracy itself portends opening up the space of freedom of expression. But very significantly, the eight years have witnessed greater and bolder expression of the idea of nationhood vis-a-vis participation in the global cultural activities. An example would be seen in the way the Nigerian video drama productions, (otherwise christened NOLLYWOOD) have spread their influence beyond the shores of Nigeria to become main menu on the national screens of most African nations; and spreading to as far as even Brazil, Mexico; Cuba; and now with a lot of showing in the US and parts of the United Kingdom. This spreading influence was also helped by the foreign policy thrust of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration, which set out to redeem the battered image of Nigeria in the comity of nations. Many of us will recall his extensive travel around the world (in the first part of his eight-year administration) spreading the gospel of a new Nigeria, with a much cleaner image; and a ready comportment to take on the world at its own terms. This helped the push of the production of the artistes to world attention.
Of course, there is a reciprocal interest by Nigerian artistes in what is going on in other parts of the world. Many of them were able to participate in many international cultural events. Their works became very popular and influential at international forums such as the music videos that now play prominently on such influential international television channels as Channel O and the MTV; and the video dramas that are gradually worming themselves to attention of mainstream film festivals around the world.
The general consumer of media products also took more than a passing interest in what is going on culturally in other parts of the world. This begins with first attempting to track the careers of their own fellow countrymen who were making impacts around the world; and then it took on the dimension of really showing interest in affairs of culture from around the world.
We, however, have to remember that deep down into history, Nigerians have always been very cosmopolitan in taste; this is partly attributable to our trajectory as a colony of the West; which means that quite a lot of the citizens were/are educated in Europe and the West; and there are more than 10 millions Nigerians scattered around the world; operating in divergent economic spheres. This makes their interest in consumption of cultural products from other parts of the world quite extensive.

5) THE GUARDIAN "LIFE" FOCUSES OFTEN ON FASHION AND COUTURE OR COOKING : IS FOR YOU CULTURE ESSENTIALLY A WAY OF LIFE ?

JAHMAN: Culture for me is essentially an expression of a people's way of Life. It is the summation of their philosophical contention; belief system; social orientation as well as a window to their peculiar characters and pointer to what they want their future to be like. This, you are right, must have informed the content character of the GuardianLIFE - although on introspection, I can say I did not really set out to make it so.

6) WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFICULTIES OF A JOURNALIST LIFE LIKE YOURS IN LAGOS ? AND THE MAIN AWARDS ?

JAHMAN: The main challenges have been in terms of surmounting the enormous logistics inadequacies that make the job one hell of a task. The terrible traffic in Lagos is a world legend; just as the inadequate power supply; and the insecurity. My job for instance, demands that I move around a lot in the night, but the spate of insecurity and police harassment in the night make the job so uninteresting and difficult. Also there is a general luke-warmness in readership perhaps due to poor purchasing power of the public. You are convinced that your media product has a potential to attract a huge size of readership but then you are not bold enough to explore the potentialities because the purchasing power of the public remains at a steady low level. This means that one deliberately under-produces and moderates one's ability to perform. One is just not motivated enough to explore the limit of one's potentials. This is quite discouraging for journalistic enterprise on one's side.
Quite fundamental challenge also is the growing mercantilist attitude of most proprietors and owners of the media enterprises. They allow commerce sometimes to dictate the content of the publications; and this confers no respect on the vocation of the journalist.


WHICH AWARDS HAVE YOU WON IN THE PAST?:
JAHMAN: Personally, I have won the following Awards:
1. Nigerian Culture Merit Award (Print Journalism) (endowed by Federal Government of Nigeria)
2. Critic Award for the film, Critical Assignment (Endowed by Guinness International)
3. Excellence Awards, Ist Segun Olusola Award for Culture (endowed by NANTAP)
4. Art Writer of the Year 1996 (Travellers Award)
5. An Insightful Art Critic Award (2002) (National Association of Fine Arts Students)
6. Outstanding Film and Television Critic Award (ITPAN)
7. Award For Musical excellence Critic Award.
8. Etc

The paper too has won so many awards both locally and internationally. And it has a huge following on the web with as much as 2 million hit every Sunday.

7) YOU ARE VERY INVOLVED IN ORGANIZING AND PROMOTING CULTURAL EVENTS AND FESTIVALS AND YOU HAVE TAKEN A BIG PART IN THE CONSTITUTION OF A NIGERIAN PART OF THE AFRICAN FEDERATION OF FILM CRITICS. IS THIS INVOLVEMENT A FAITH IN A CERTAIN KIND OF JOURNALISM, MORE ORIENTED ON THE CRITICISM THAN ON THE PROMOTION OR THE PURE INFORMATION ?



JAHMAN: Below is something I have extracted from a paper I had written for a conference on criticisms, but which I have never been able to present in Public; it sorts of sum up my conviction about the delineation between my Journalistic career and my Cultural activism:

When people talk about the absence of Criticism in the culture sector, you tend to ask yourself: what are they expecting?
Criticism can only thrive in an environment where there is enough room for creativity; quality creativity. But when you live in an environment that stifles creativity, you cannot expect criticism to thrive.
You want to look at a work of art; you want to talk about somebody's performance -- a dancer or a visual artist -- you must look at the environment of performance.
What policy instruments and operative environment has the state or the society provided for the artiste to perform optimally or at least to the best level of his capacity.
It is clear that most African societies have not created an environment that is even prepared for the artist to perform effectively, or optimally.
Here in Nigeria, there is abject poverty of vision by the State on how to grow culture and its allied industries to serve the need of national (social, political and economic) development. Even basic fundamental instruments that other societies take for granted such as a national cultural policy; an endowment fund for the arts and a national academy for the arts are non-existent, in spite of decades of clamour by culture activists and the artistes. Ostensibly, this has weakened the template for artistic and cultural productivity; and dissemination.
Why are we therefore expecting the artiste to live above that philistines environment of absolute visionlessness?
Then you say you are a critic, you sit down and, you are observing the trend of performances and making comments on them, and pointing a way for the future! What future are you pointing to, when the people that consume the works of art are not even prepared for qualitative ones?
For me, bogged down by frustration occasioned by under-performance in my career as an arts writer/critic, I took a decision; I said the era of just sitting down in my newsroom and writing critiques about somebody's work has to be postponed for sometime!
I resolved that I wanted to be more involved in creating the necessary environment for the artists to be able to, at least, produce qualitative works. If I succeeded in that conscientious activism, then I can sit down and write comments; objective and conscientious assessment of the work of art.
I don't want to go through the exasperating experience of writing comments on works that, by all the parameters for critical discourse, are substandard; especially works I know that given the right environment, the artist could have accomplished better.
Perhaps, if I am myself not one who engages in creative enterprises all the time, it wouldn't have mattered; but I am an artiste first - I trained as a culture producer; the critical vocation is only a gift of talent and a bonus acquired through my training in Dramatic Theories and Literary Criticisms; and years of practice as a writer on artistic and cultural productions.
I am not just an observer of the trends in culture production, I am an active participant; just as any producer could be. I cannot afford the luxury of a mere journalistic interrogation of artistic experiences. The journalist can do that, I have no qualms. I am informed in my practice by something deeper than journalistic inclination and expertise.
By my training and antecedents, I cannot continue to be saying: 'That theatre performance is not good enough'; 'That painting is not good.' etc. Do I know how much the artiste has had to steal to be able to produce that film? Do I know how much of his properties he had to sell; or the dirty things that she has had to go into to raise money to produce a play.
In this constraining environment of production, people have had to engage in a lot of subversive activities in order to survive and realise their artistic dreams. I was a witness to a lady theatre producer having to condescend to having an unwarranted love affair with a senior banker just so to be able to pay the balance of her cast and crew fees, when already secured sponsor ditched her at the last minute. She got a loan through that means but the cast needed not know where the money came from. There are uglier stories that I have heard from artistes themselves... many of them are big stars today... on what they did to get their first album off the demo stage...
Then, I sat down and reviewed my intervention in the institution of critical discourses and I resolved that I'd be better off, conscience-wise, if I diverted my critical sensibility to culture activism. We try to create the right environment for quality creativity to flower, then nobody will have an excuse for under-performance or perfunctory production. And this is why I am very compassionate when it comes to matters concerning the arts.
So, instead of jumping on the bandwagon, and jumping the gun, I decided to stay on one spot and use my talent and a little link that God has helped me to gather these years in the course of the job, in ensuring that the right environment; the appropriate visions; functional policies and beneficial actions are taken by whoever the political process throws into the leadership of the culture sector of the economy.
That is more important to me than writing reviews and critiques that don't even get read by the public but the artists themselves and their colleagues. Even at that, how many of those can afford to buy the papers to read up what you have written about them. Most times, you -- the writer -- still has to take the paper to the artists and say, 'look what I have written about your work'... Haba, the burden that the so-called arts writer carries is enormous; painful at times.
So, midcourse in my career as an arts/culture journalist I reviewed my vocation, and I said since God has been kind to me I have a voice - when I write and when I talk people listen - I should use that to make the right noise, the right statement; so that we can challenge the polity to give recognition to the labour of the artists and culture workers; so that we can begin to create room for quality intellect that would produce qualitative art.
That is why I have been so engrossed in what has come to be termed 'Culture Activism'... I am sure the sobriquet is in the context of a civil activist, human rightist or social activist. But really, it does not really matter what it is called. I only know I have a missionary zeal to the cause of the art and culture.
That is why I am deeply involved in cultural activism structures such as the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), which also incorporates such other bodies as Culture Enthusiasts Club; Lagos Circle of Critics; Friends of the Arts; Culture Working Committee etc.
We formed the Committee for Relevant Art, CORA in June 1991, and since then it has succeeded in facilitating an active environment of discourses around the arts and culture to the extent that there is now a veritable platform for the culture producing community to articulate their needs and objectives for the purpose of engaging the general public; and ostensibly attention of policy makers. The very few achievements in the past
I believe that it is when I have succeeded in helping get the right environment, that is the point at which the critic in me will come out. And I don't have to still be a practising journalist when that time will manifest.
That is my position and I have no apology about it; not even to myself.

Jahman