Saturday, 3 October 2009

Films Finished!

I have now finished the films l wanted to edit for the show in Lagos in March.

The first series of films consist of three looped pieces entitled 'UN-Reality' which plays with ideas of the unexpected and unfamiliar to introduce the viewer to unusual customs such as the little girl lying down on the floor which is a very common way of relaxing in Nigeria. To me she looks as if she is dreaming which takes reality into unreality and then perhaps into the realms of fantasy.
The next loop is of a glasses case swinging around a glass table which again is uncanny and which my hosts found very disturbing and began to think l had powers l had not got!!! - it was of course the ceiling fan but only when it was turned up full blast!!!

The third loop was taken at night in the big house in Owerri which was a bit creepy at night l must admit. This is of an open window taken at night with all the strange noises of the night coming into the space - again being black and white with elements of shadows this time, which reminded me of the Film Noire genre and the horror films we are used to seeing picking up on our own symbolism.

The other two films entitled 'Day' and the other 'Night' were taken in one of the big rooms in the house in Owerri, one at night and one during the day which l called the ancestor rooms in my mind, as they had these huge chairs which made a real presence (and yet absence) within the room and these were all placed in a circle. The daytime film gives an air of calm and recollection, whilst the night-time version brings in all the essence of ritual associated with the Mbari ritual of sacrifice but also an element of contemporary fears such as the police blocks l experienced. Night and Day were very important in the Mbari practices. Within our own culture Epstein uses this theme in his underground sculptures and Michangelo with his Dawn and Dusk, although different in concept. Again the binary oppositions are evident in this work of mine as they have been in my art work to date.

Preview Africa Week

Attended the Africa Week celebrations at Spike and homed in on a man that l recognised as a Chief from Igboland - what a coincidence! He was wearing the maroon coloured felt hat with the little sprig sticking up on top that l have seen Innocent Nwoga wearing, so l was fascinated to find out more. He is Professor Kenneth Iwugo and he is the director of the postgraduate CPD programme in Water and Environment Management based at Bristol University - as we were talking l found myself moving backwards half way around the room!!! I think personal space must be a UK thing!!! He was very interesting and we agreed to meet again at some point at a peace meeting which is part of the UNESCO initiative. I had been asked by Dr Celestine Chibundu whether l could find someone to help him provide a bore hole for the community around him in maybe this meeting could be helpful.

Innocent Nwoga from Owerri

Sunday 6th.September l met up with Innocent who was paying a flying visit to London and then going on to the USA to meet up with his family. We spent the day by having breakfast at the Electric Brassiere in Notting Hill Gate and then moving on to the National Portrait Gallery as he said he wanted to see some more traditional art. We saw the BP Portrait award winners and a lot of the other entries - a lot of photorealism! My favourite was a back view of someone's granny in her underwear which to me had a resonnance of Rembrandt in this analysis of aging - a gem! We then went upstairs to the Tutor rooms which again l rather like as there is something very real, and yet not real, about these portraits in terms of time and actuality.

Then we met up with my daughter who took us to a very old established pub which is used by opera goers before and after they go to a performance, Sarastro restaurant, 126 Drury Lane, Theatreland, London WC2B 5SU. To be thoroughly recommended as it has such character and is in the heart of the old London city.

All together a wonderful day and re-establishing links with Owerri.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Possible mini project

Snowhill Manor, Gloucestershire - National Trust

I went to visit this place on Sunday as it promised to be fine weather and l wanted to see this collection of artefacts gathered together by Mr Wade who lived their c.1900s. He was a bit of an eccentric and all his collection of objects, which came from all over the world, were housed in the house whilst he spent most of his time living in the priest's house opposite! Above his bed he hung a stuffed bat which the NT staff there fondly call Ruby! It is alleged that writers, actors and artists met there for fancy dress parties in the Great Hall or Dragon room (because of the big fireplace). All the wealth came from a sugar plantation in the West Indies, St Kitts, which only his wife visited on a regular basis to manage the estate.

It a bit like visiting someones attic, the objects although quite interesting seemed rather a "hotch potch" as l overheard someone saying, and the only African mask which was a bronze tourist replica of a Yoruba leopard motif, was in amongst delicate jewelry of mixed origin.

However as l was wondering around the garden l noticed a little house with a set of stairs leading up to it reminiscent of Charles Simmonds work, which held my attention and reinforced my continuing interest in architecture, walls and floors. This l thought might have potential for something.

A Matter of Interpretation

Will need to photograph the rocks again when we get some sunshine this summer!

It is important to me to use natural light in all my work to bring out the form and depth, but it can often add a natural sense of drama and contrast too which l like. It reminds me of the light in the Kenyan landscape which was often theatrical, especially when there was rain coming over the plains.

The previous images and text, as well as showing the process of casting the rocks, explain my intentions and ideas. I need to make the plinths for the work next, which l envisage being white MDF bases with a perspex box dropped over the top of them, flush with the base below.

East African Rock moulds

I have been thinking about the natural environment in Africa, in Kenya to be precise, and how it compared with my first experiences of Abuja, and Lagos and even the more rural areas of Owerri and surrounding area. I still feel that the beauty of the Kenyan landscape surpasses so much l have seen in Nigeria so far.

With this in mind, l decided to make casts of the Kenyan rocks l brought back. I selected these for their originality, colour, texture, shape and most of all the meaning and memory these rocks embody for me. I collected these from the outreaches of different parts of Kenya when l went out walking with the Mountain Club of Kenya. This was a time l very much treasure as it was a great way to see and experience the culture and the landscape first hand, and it was affordable to do. Rocks themselves symbolise an accumulation and consolidation of time and history, which also appeals to me.

My thoughts about Nigeria was that this natural beauty was not valued as much there and the scramble for material wealth and status was all too important, and yet in spite of Nigeria's indigenous wealth with oil and mineral reserves, including gold, people seemed to be impoverished on both levels. Corruption was rife and has lead to a rather volatile society, so it seemed from the outside.

This lead to the idea of casting these rocks making replicas, or fakes, which were then gold leafed showing the contrast between the natural and man-made, but also questioning the value of each type of rock, the gold fake and the authentic natural rocks, the rich and poor.

I want to present them together next to each other in gallery cases, thus giving them status and a presence, in order for the audience to question in their own minds the value and worth of things in their own lives.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Corruption! What's new and different!

Email from Amara via Bisi Silva (Nigerian Artist and Curator at Contemporary Centre for Art, Lagos) and written by Qudus Onikeku, who reflects on the current situation in Nigeria. The BBC magazine "Africa" also had an article recently on Nigeria being close to a failed state! I also remember the term used jokingly for the Kenyan light company which was "Power and Darkness", but in comparison it was nothing like I experienced in Nigeria!

"In the past few years, I no longer consider myself as a Nigerian living in Nigeria, nor living in the diaspora, and at the same time, I am a Nigerian living in both Nigeria and in the diaspora. During my subsequent visit and mind travel to Nigeria, I have constantly engaged my friends in discussions and carefully painted an image of an existing middle class at which many living abroad cannot imagine, a middle class drifting on a roller skate much more expensive than most living on a similar middle class in the diaspora. How then do we determine who drifts on this roller skate, without going too deep into a survey, lets just state some basic signs of who belong to an existing middle class in a city like Lagos. As a bachelor or a spinster, if you load your phone (whatever phone) with at least 500 naira recharge card a day, but not just that, if you have a "normal car" constantly wound up and you are able to fuel it before it get close to the E sign, your regular monthly subscription includes a cable tv, an internet connection (minimum of 9pm to 9am) and able to stock food stuffs in your cupboard, no matter where you live - As a family man, you have the above responsibilities plus your kids attending a relatively average private school where they could afford to teach them computer studies, French language and some extra curricular activities like drama, dance and music. Then you belong to a middle class and above.

However, in the midst of all these class formation, in the midst of everything that separate the men from the boys. Our queue and bid for the best electrical power generators, hunt for diesel and fuel every night and the hope for an regular power supply has brought us all together as helpless masses. It no longer matters weather you are rich or poor, we've all began to get used to our sufferings in disguise, we struggle to pay for overpriced cable TV, internet and we complain of how expensive they are, but we realise that further shit happens when we are unable to watch our cable TV or charge our laptop, because PHCN (power holding company of NIGERIA) holds electricity to show how powerful they are. Now all Nigerians opt for a way out. Yes a powerful electrical power generator, what PHCN can do, a generator can do better. This philosophy has been the mother of our continuous torture in Nigeria, we forget that using generator to charge laptops is as good as digging a grave for the life span of our highly over priced laptops. Each time I take my Macbook Pro to Nigeria, I pay the price of loosing my charger pack which costs 90€ at each return to europe where I'm sure of getting something original again, then I realise that darkness in Nigeria is not the absence of light, but the presence of corruption.

Its GOLD and DIAMOND to be a Nigerian nowadays. This is what informed a group of very well meaning and determined young Nigerians to stand up to change bad habits. We call the insurgence "Light Up Nigeria" with a slogan ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. I discovered the cause on facebook and the mini manifesto goes thus "Please support the cause and join the revolution. Together we can make a difference. Perhaps, the most common question heard is “Why an online revolution?” An online revolution such as this is the safest, cheapest and most collaborative form of protest we can all engage in. While our voice is online, we are creating greater awareness to the issue at hand and given the small world phenomenon, we know our cries and protests will get to the right people. We need the likes of TV stations such as CNN, BBC, AIT and radio stations to know and broadcast details about this revolution. Once we are successful at this, we can commence with a street movement as need be. At this point, it is worth nothing that Nigeria can’t be lit up in a day but with great minds thinking and working together with the support of the higher authorities and available funding, we will see the outcome of our movement. So join the revolution and tell your friends, family, enemies and random people on the street to LIGHT UP NIGERIA. Enough is Enough!! Join the movement on twitter: Join the facebook group:"

Saturday, 4 July 2009

The Elephant Trust

Yesterday received my pack back from the Elephant Trust and unfortunately was not successful with it time consuming making all these applications!

The credit crunch is also perhaps another element in this equation with increased applications not only from individuals but also organisations at the moment due to cuts in Arts Council funding for these places - hence the sustainability funding streams created by them (ACE) for organisations now, which even Spike Island is now going to compete for, in spite of gaining a top up for regional excellence.

Well onward and upward!

Monday, 29 June 2009

Recent email from Amara on an artist Residency in Norway


I am elated today! Well kind of relieved that it's working out. The Director here, has just continued today, his approval on the work so far, on an idea that I have.

There is no art gallery here, so this institution does not organize art exhibitions in this place, and hence the people in this city are not too keen on seeing art- according to them that's why there is no art gallery.
I thought of taking art to them then, to put it under and before their noses (I hope that is not so rude- well, I kind of do not care!) in very middle of their city centre. He said Ok, .... let us see sketches etc, etc.

It is community art, for me. I am collaborating with the shoe factory here, and working with material from the factory, as well as from a sewing outfit. They may not think so, but the three institutions are working together to make this art project.

Work has gone on someway, and so far so good. By tomorrow, we, well, -Nkd, not me- will seek approval from the municipality. To know what technical people will be needed, and the possibility (if), what harm the material will cause the grasses; what harm holes in the ground will cause the soil and the environment, and what harm the sight of the art will cause the moods of the people.. you can go on and on...

He thinks we should have the work up for two weeks.

Thank You, for listening,
I have to go- more to do on sketches and drafts, plan and photographs, against tomorrow. best as I can-, they've got to be convinced. It is a promise!

29.6.09 Email from Professor John Picton in reference to 'African Arts' submission

Dear Kate,
Many thanks for your letter and CD.

I can see some necessary copy-editing. Skip Cole is not an anthropologist but an art historian; and you write 'practises', where you mean 'practices' [practice = noun; practise = verb]. I hope it gets published: no-one else has this documentation. It will be peer-reviewed, perhaps by people such as Sylvetser Ogbechie, Cole's successor at UC Santa Barbara, or Chika Okeke (I forget where he is). It will be interesting to see the comments you get back.

Also, re copy-editing, is it correct to describe Igbo farmers as nomadic? It's true that for much of the region there were no towns until the colonial development thereof, and in the 1960s one drove through the Igbo are and you could see a compound here, another over there, rather like the farms distributed across the English and Welsh countryside; but no towns. Igbo village groups, established via the kinship networks of individual households, were constrained by relationships of potential (if not actual) feuding relationships with neighbouring village groups. One could not move around that much. Obviously, the techniques of 'slash-and-burn' (or swidden) agriculture, in which farm plots were created by burning the existing foliage to fertilise the land before planting crops, meant that in the next season the land had to be left fallow, and a new plot was prepared, meant that there was some movement; but it was no more than within the tract of land that was established as the property of the village group, and this was not even transhumant, let alone nomadic. It so happens that the success of the yam and oil palm agriculture led to population growth, such that once colonial and missionary activity began to offer schooling together with new work opportunities throughout Nigeria, Igbo people were enthusiastic in taking up these opportunities. Otherwise Igbo culture would have collapsed under the weight of a local overpopulation.

This in turn led to an Igbo diaspora throughout Nigeria composed of clerks, schoolteachers, railway workers. Anglican and especially Catholic Christianity also swept through these diasporic Igbo communities enabling them to discern which aspects of their home-village cultural inheritance were compatible with the new religion and which were not. Cultural festivals were preserved, and indeed people from different village groups began to see that there was a common ground: back at home you would not dare to venture to another group's festivities: that was asking for trouble! As a result you get the emergence of an educated elite, with local and diasporic experiences, who began to formulate a sense of Igbo identity; and this was enhanced by missionary work in translating Biblical and catechetical texts and the emergence of an Igbo literacy inevitably grounded in Christianity. Already by the time of Cole's research the Catholic Bishop of Owerri was Igbo, there is the Igbo Cardinal, Arinze, whose PhD was on sacrifice in Igbo religion.

Regarding the present condition of mbari houses, I understood from Cole that preservation was always beside the point given that the construction was a sacrifice, and that once the elders had approved the finished work the sacrifice was complete. In that case, conservation and preservation was necessarily culturally inappropriate; but I can't remember what he says about the novel fashion for building them in concrete. When built of earthe there was no need for Christians to demolish them as they were destined to self-demolition as it were.
Anglican and Catholic Christianities have been around for more than a hundred years, and one cannot possible regard them as somehow not really Igbo. Indeed, historically the presence of those Christianities is, as I've suggested, in fact earlier than the emergence of an Igbo cultural identity. Moreover, there may well be a Christian element in the very emergence of that identity (as there was in Yoruba: Yoruba cultural nationalism/identity was in truth initiated by two CofE clergymen!). One has to beware of putting together a simple set of oppositional contrasts:
divination, sacrifice and the local gods/Christianity;
authentically Igbo/inauthentic,
This is at best a gross oversimplification; and as you discovered some of the finest scholars of the pre-Christian religious tradition have been Catholic priests, especially since Pope Paul's recommendation of the necessity of inculturation. Rejection of the past was always foolish; but it would be equally foolish to assert that everything about the past was good. The rejection of twins was a case in point: if a woman gave birth to twins the babies were abandoned in the forest to starve to death and/or be eaten by wild animals. Or the sacrifice of slaves or disabled people in specific cult circumstances (whether this still goes on is debatable; but the knowledge that it once happened fuels the paranoid fear that it might still). Moreover, no-one would reject school-university education on the basis that it was of colonial/missionary origin, just as local textile and dress traditions are, equally, parts of local modernities. Of course, there are Igbo intellectuals who have rejected Christianity for various reasons; and yet there has also been the (in my view pernicious) growth of local charismatic/Pentecostal churches mostly of southern USA inspiration. So the picture is one of huge complexity, with an equally complex set of adjustments, compromises, etc. Of course, because I am a Catholic, you might predict that I would write in this way; but the historical evidence is there, and people were quick to discern the differences between the stupidities predicated upon colonial and early missionary ignorance of local culture and the value of all the new forms of education, technology and religion.

Some of all this is explored in a thesis that should be in soas library by Elizabeth Willis (or Peri-Willis) entitled something like 'Uli painting and Igbo Identity'
Not least amongst the surprises of contemporary Igbo culture is the resilience of masquerade. During the civil war in the 1960s I was forever seeing Nigerian military vehicles festooned with masks ripped off from Igbo villages, and I remember trying to get the permanent secretary of my ministry to persude the army to stop doing this; just as a few years previously I had made representations to the head of the Vatican diplomatic office in Lagos to stop Irish missionaries making bonfires out of Igbo masks and figure sculpture. At any rate, during the civil war huge quantities of local sculpture were vandalised, a lot of it escaping through Cameroun and thence into the European and American art market. One might have expected that traditions were destroyed; and yet, within a few years, everything was reinvented. There has also been a more recent process of transferring masquerade into carnival, and this has been an entirely local movement that would serve to remove masked performance from a cult/sacrificial environment and thus render it acceptable within a local modernity in large part determined by education, literacy and Christianity. And yet, as your paper shows, there remain contexts within which local cult and divination practices retain their relevance.

These comments, which I realise go far beyond anything in your paper, come from a very quick glance through. I hope it gets published: no-one else has the documentary material that you have. Do let me know what the response from African Arts is. Sorry if I'm repeating myself!

Love from us both, John

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Tales of the Unexpected

John and Sue Picton came to dinner recently and we got talking about human you do when tucking in to flesh! I was saying about how human sacrifice still seems to be practiced which they did not entirely deny, but he said that sometimes in a place where there are a lot of human skulls, they have often got there not through human ritual sacrifice but through war or some other natural disaster. This of course reaffirms the old research adage of not jumping to conclusions, or making assumptions, and providing evidence for what you say - unlike the current media, which always like to put a spin on events.

John also told me that whilst he was working in Yorubaland that one day he was told not to go out because they were going to kidnap people for human sacrifice....needless to say John went out and DID live to see the day!!!

I was told by locals in Igboland that they only chose LOCAL people and currently 'hunchbacks', so that would count foreigners out - unless of course they happen to be oil workers it seems but that would be for ransom and political attention one would assume!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Modern Technology!

I just managed not to laugh my head off, what you say about skype... so funny. is quite easy you know , maybe you will just need to pay attention to all the icons and study them kind of. The amazing thing about it is that it is free if you are calling someone on skype too.

Amara's website and blogging
Did you get my last email with questions on your website..I admire it,,, and it is so sweet with all those photos from our project.

Yes with this website thing, it is really a mine, just as you have said, you are never sure where to drop your feet. I have been reading everything for the past, hosting companies websites, how to do this and is crazy!
I thought of using Yahoo to host, as they have been there for a long time, and may not be shutting down out of the blues. But I was reading their reviews last night. They are messing about now. I laughed all through at the way(tone) people narrated their disappointments with Yahoo. They are losing clients by the hour, and in thousands....well according to this review- as you never know what is true and what is not, on the Internet

Well at the moment, I have narrowed it down to a company in Illinois called Webhosting pad. The major complaint of some clients is that they may charge you at random, but then if I always pay through pay pal (a third party), it should be OK- like that they will not have my billing information at all. They give a site builder software for free. The issue now is am I very sure I want to go with them?? I will try out the demo of this their software, to see how user friendly it is. Otherwise a guy here would take 200 Euros (double oops!!) to build it. But assuming I can cough up that to give him, it would mean phoning him up now and again (from Nigeria) for this and that- because I would know know anything about my site, as well as phoning up Webhosting pad, when something goes off the hook. I will see what I do, but I am glad I am narrowing things down to few options.

About blogging??? You know how Internet in Nigeria can be hit and miss sometimes. That kind of pressure can be annoying. I would just like to things once and for all (at least almost).

I have been paying a lot of attention to the blog recently, reading everything. I already wrote you earlier concerning the spelling of Chigozie's name [CORRECTED NOW]. Their are some more facts, which you have got not completely right/halfway correct...or not the full information etc etc, and some names that have not been spelt correctly. They should be correct in case somebody who is enlightened in any of those areas goes through the blog -I intend to direct father Okere, and a lot of other people to it,some academia.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Rodas Okorocha Foundation (Kaduna)

Had another text from Amara saying that she was going to try and raise funds for the collaboration and was going make an application to the Rodas Okorocha Foundation in Kaduna.... hope it works as we surely need some more support for the ambition of the project.

Learnt yesterday that buying a different SIM (eg Tescos! this is not an advert, unless they would like to sponsor us of course!!!) could save me money on texting to Nigeria, much in the same way that Amara was using her three mobile phones and numerous SIMs to make cheaper calls depending on where she was phoning!

Now connected this blog to my website under the 'Research Section' which l think might be more useful and hopefully more people might comment. It is interesting though how many people might read a blog but not make a comment....have to say l am perhaps guilty of that myself!!!

'Wastelands', Newlyn Art Gallery, Cornwall

Managed to get the installation 'Presence / Absence II' set up for the 'Wastelands' show in spite of a fractured foot, thanks to the help of David and Harry and it seemed to receive good reviews which was heartening - Dr Virginia Button emailed me to say that "your work really is the signature work of the show". However it was lovely to be part of a show that was all very interesting work.

I felt this work was more successful than at the Phoenix Gallery in Brighton previously, because of the spacial relationship to the holes and the ratio of the ceiling to floor space. Everyone seemed to be convinced that it was not a false floor which was good. As usual the whole process of making was as, if not more, exciting than the finale.....better to travel than arrive as Oscar Wilde once said. I really enjoy the processes leading up to finished work as it is like not having a dogmatic point of view, it is open to further and potential ideas and not fixed in time, it could change.

The show is on until 17th.and 18th.May. My thanks too should go to the Newlyn Art Gallery and the University of Falmouth for their kind support.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Communication at last!

Amarachi and l have found it incredibly difficult to contact each other by email and l have had to resort to sending messages via El Anatsui's email address - a BIG THANK YOU El! We have decided that mobile phones are the only reliable means of communication again - will have to find a cheaper way of doing this!

We are at present moving on with ideas for the artwork which will be shown in Lagos first, at various venues to include the contemporary art space called Terra Kulture, the British Council/Goethe-Institut, National Art Gallery and Lagos Museum - this is being negotiated as we speak. Luckily their email systems seem to work....or at least some of the time..."Power and Darkness" willing!

AMARA: "On my thoughts concerning the work, I am interested in the religious aspects of Mbari. For me, the summary of mbari is that it was constructed so that the ‘particular god’ will be constructive, and not destructive. Its is significant for me that people, in religions, still have similar belief/fear, and act accordingly, although they may probably be dealing with a different kind of contemporary god .The interest for me is that while at it, everyone insists that there is a huge difference between the prevailing religion and the former. It is like moving around in circles- that hybrid thing if you remember…
Another is the notion that Mbari/Ala is offered to beget and give wealth. This is interesting for me, when it is paralleled with the thinking of a typical Nigerian, on issues of livelihood today. I am definitely making sculpture Installations that would require ample space for them to have an interesting presence. I am not making many works" (13.4.09)

KATE: I am evolving ideas around Fact and Fiction taking ideas only from the Mbari religious beliefs but the contemporary culture as l found it in general. The idea of reality and allusion (or illusion) is interesting to me and the 'powers of the invisible', which was reinforced by an incident in the house l was staying in in Lagos - where my glasses case was moving of its own volition which spooked my hosts out no end, until it was discovered that the fan on the ceiling was doing it but only on the full blast setting!!! - likewise one of the High Priests we met was convinced that he saw a python in the interior chamber to the Mbari house we were visiting and visibly shook in fear. Other concepts may be around alchemy which also involves some elements of the 'unknown' which intrigues me. Some of the outcomes may be film. These l want to show through TV screens as they are everywhere and form a major influence on peoples lives and are culturally the most accessible - 'Africa Magic' was very popular! Other outcomes may be three dimensional in sculptural form as installations.

Monday, 9 February 2009

15.12.08 FLYING HOME

Outside Lagos airport is this huge mosaic done by a well-known Nigerian artist which brightens the otherwise ordinary exterior of the building.

Well ....what an amazing experience, as John Picton said full of everything in equal measure!

Mrs Thomas gave me a wonderful cloth to take home which was like the wrap that she worn to church in a beautiful royal blue with pink embroidery with a head scarf to match. In the morning l took some video of Chigozi on the squeaky swing which she did quite frequently.

I shall certainly miss the heat and all the excitement!

14.12.08 Jeroma's Garden of Paradise

Met Jerome tonight another friend of Mrs Thomas's, who had a fabulous garden full of tropical plants and trees, including a coco tree which he was very proud of. The house was also big and another building housed an indoor swimming pool.

Jerome went to Hornsey School of Art in the 1960’s and studied Graphics. Then after the three year undergraduate course came back to Nigeria to set up a printing works, which is how he made his fortune.

He comes from Benin and is revered amongst people around him as there seems to be a real fear of the juju / voodou ‘connected with people from Benin (even Amara thought this). This is why he feels able to leave his house unlocked, in spite of all his now quite valuable paintings and prints. Mrs Thomas said that he must have things buried around the garden or house, which it was believed would confuse the robbers, make them quarrel amongst themselves or they would be compulsed to sweep the compound until day break. Yet another tale about magic and mystery!!!

The G & T was good – Gordons! We were spoilt!

13.12.08 Visiting

Went to see one of Mrs Thomas's friends who had been married to an important politican at one time. This is a photograph of her sitting-room.

We discussed the research which lead on to her talking about her belief in the evil shrines. She knew of an Anambra shrine where she saw human skeletons. She confirmed the ideas of killing hunch-backs and how there was quite a bit of money to be made in human sacrifice. She said she spent eleven years in the US and her father did not believe in any religion, and so was brought up without any particular religious views, but she still believed in the fear of these shrines and the evil they could transmit. She talked about the ‘Ofor stick’ (used to pass judgement on someone by pointing at the person) that I was given by Sylvester, and she warned that if you use it it will surely work, but you have to make sure that you are without blemish too for it to work, or it will back-fire on you.

The fear of the unknown is still very powerful in Nigeria. Some of these mysteries however could be dispelled or accounted for by more scientific /psychological knowledge though.


12.12.08 British Council and Goethe-Institute (Lagos)

Went to see the British Council and the Goethe-Institute as possible venues today.


Had a good look at the exhibition space here – there was a local exhibition of mainly paintings. I paced out the floor and drew diagrams. Looked at the publications that the museum produced for potential articles.

The Editor, Nigerian Heritage, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Plot 2018 Cotonon Crescent, Wuse Zone 6, PM B 171, Abuja, Nigeria.
Editor (2005) is Vicky Obehi James BA, Postgrad Dip Lib.
Art and production editor: A.O.Opaleye BA FPP (The Hague)
Editorial Advisory Board Dr F.N.Anozire (UNN)

Nigerian Heritage Journal of the NCMM. Vol14, 2005 which is produced annually.

No electricity at the museum today so only managed to see the exhibits around the courtyard. Some interesting standing stones made of basalt, the meaning of which was not recorded. Some twin dolls were interesting with bright blue pigment on their heads and what looks like mud or compacted matter lodged around the legs and cracks on the lower body - similar to the ones that Bruce Onobrakpeya had collected. The gallery space looks OK to show provided we have some light. A lot of the photographs of old Lagos, masquerades, dancing etc. were very badly damaged by the sun and general wear and tear as they were not in an enclosed space or protected by glass either.

Other places we went to today were the Jazzhhole for music CDs, Quintessence Gallery which was rather arty crafty and more of a gift shop, Bogibiri Guest House which was full of character but a bit run down and opposite was the former Nimbus Gallery which had been abandoned.

The taxi home as usual was an exciting time - first time Amara and l broke down laughing! The driver had to replace the clutch cable, then the battery was flat, so he had to eventually get out and push the car, then he stalled it in traffic, so again had to push it…this time engaging a street seller to do the pushing – by this time it was getting dark quickly 6 pm. and so the fiasco continued. Eventually we arrived home, AGAIN MIRACULOUSLY!

9.12.08 Contemporary Centre of Art, Lagos

Yesterday we went to the Contemporary Centre of Art to meet up with Bisi Silva who is a contemporary African art curator and gallerist. This gallery is on the second floor of this building in Lagos which reminded me of some of the gallery spaces in New York, although in Lagos rather more difficult to find. She had organised a celebration to commemorate the first year of opening and had various speakers, one of whom was an art critic who had also spent some time in Nairobi - so we exchanged notes on this. Chocolate cake was order of the day!

Went to see Bisi Silva at her home today and we had a chat about the project and contemporary art in Lagos and Nigeria in general. Basically they lacked an informed audience Bisi told us, as the audience wants to see art for sale. The shows will only be on for about one week and then she said that most galleries will only promote the work on the first night, which again is problematic.

We discussed venues with her for our joint show. The venues we are thinking about for our shows in Lagos are Terra Kulture, British Council, National Gallery of Art, and the Lagos Museum, as a lot of other galleries we have seen tend to be more up-market craft outlets like the Quintessence Gallery. Basically we need to find a space that we can work with, rather than targeting ‘suitable venues’, as it seems few people go to see the exhibitions anyway! She said that she was going to give up the CCA in about 2011 as a) it was expensive and b) she did not want to keep doing the exhibitions especially every 6 weeks - she aims for 4 shows a year at the moment, and c) the religious thing is a serious issue that gets in the way of proper academic research and critical appraisal – this seemed to confirmed my views so far, although I had not been around long enough to gauge it. This latter issue was the third and perhaps the main reason for giving up her space, as it was something she found very difficult to get beyond in terms of her audience.

Bisi has an excellent blog which can be recommended.


These are some of the cultural artefacts that Bruce Onobrakpeya is influenced by and incorporates into his work, which he often obtains from Lekki market. Most are Yoruba pieces, but he also collects and appropriates from other cultures as well, which he says is common practice among most artists.


He works directly by carving into slabs of plaster creating negative shapes and then makes the positive form from this out of fibreglass resin. Some works look as if they are beaten into the mould using a tin and aluminium alloy which is relatively soft, and then mounted on wood and painted – these look like printing blocks. He replicates his work on a) different surfaces b) different scales and c) colour ways, capitalising on his output.

He is very influenced by indigenous cultural artefacts and often obtains these from Lekki market. He is making a shrine at the moment and likes using ethnographic pieces he finds in Lekki market as inspiration, which local people are afraid of and associate with ‘fetish’ or non-Christian values eg. false gods and idols which the church still promotes as bad. Bruce denies being part of any actual cult (as rumour has it!) but uses the knowledge from the past to inform his present and future works.

I told him about the burning of a piece of his work by Bumi’s uncle, Ike. Ike had this print up in his office and he was told by numerous people that the print was evil and that he should get rid of it - one of these people was a priest. He said he had bad things happen to him to do with his business, so he burnt it. When l asked him how he knew that the print had been the direct cause of these unusual events, he just said that the things that had happened could not be linked with anything else and that is how he knew to destroy it! Bruce did not seem to be bothered, saying that it is life, the work is made and exists and then he forgets it and then moves on to a new piece – likewise with a deteriorating relief in resin I saw in a dark corner downstairs, where the material was becoming very unstable.

His work is also very influenced by Modernism, especial Henry Moore (totem figures) and he had painted an equivalent of Cezannes’s The Bathers’ and is likewise influenced by Matisse's 'Dancers'. He likened art to life and told the story of his mentor, a Mexican artist, who told him that even if he did not make it as an artist (himself) he would have to keep going – he had no other option. He had also been influenced by an Ethiopean Calligrapher/artist.

Bruce mentioned how Gauguin would not have painted what he did and became known for it unless he was actually in Tahiti and the South Seas, so like him Bruce is very influenced very the culture he lives in and his own background which is Yoruba . His son, Mudiare, said he knew a lot about Art History and indeed he said himself that he owed a lot to other cultures.

He uses aluminium sheet for his etchings using beeswax to mask out the plates and instead of Hydrochloric acid uses ‘Dutch modern’ to bite into the surface.

His house was on various floors, the basement being offices, textile and storage area, the second floor living quarters and more work rooms, and the top floor was a printing workshop where his assistants were busy working. Bruce employs about 8 assistants with one studio manager who seemed to be working on Bruce’s latest textile pieces incorporating spark plugs, bones (fish) beads, computer circuit boards, hessian type cloth background made into sections of different colours (see image). Bruce showed him what he wanted doing and then left the assistant sewing these down for him. In the corner of the room were plastic pipes that he was putting stringed beads (and other items ) on dangling down and various leopard prints, etc on to them. In the sitting-room area Mudiare showed us a piece called 'Royal Vignette (1987), which he considered to be a seminal piece.

Bruce told us that he made books as a form of documentation of his work and practice. One of his early books was divided into half of it being about the process of his work and the other images of this work. He also had a book of all/any press cuttings. Bruce teaches to complement his art practice.

He has a huge warehouse/building in the Delta region where his other works are stored and where he runs the annual Harmattan workshops inviting artists to attend at approx £125 for the duration of the course. These workshops are a cross between a conference and a residency for artists, and as well as teaching himself, he invites guest speakers and other artists to come together to create this forum.