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.
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……

(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."


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