Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mirror The Master: Stimulating artistic skills of youths
Aina Onabolu, Akinola Lasekan, Ben Enwonwu, Solomon Wangboje and
Bruce Onobrakpeya are among early generations of top Nigerian artists. But for every passing year, there is an increasing gap between them and young Nigerians, especially within the visual art circle. This gap is what Access Bank Plc is closing with Mirror The Master, a holistic package aimed at developing young masters of tomorrow, reports Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME

Determined to fill the widening gap between Nigerian master artists and younger generation artists, Access Bank Plc has initiated the celebration of masters of today by developing the young masters of tomorrow through creative workshop and exhibition across the country.
The programme, Mirror the Master, which will be implemented by Kambari Arts, a UK based NGO, is a model structure in which young Nigerians are challenged to create piece of art works inspired by a renowned master artist, the late Ben Enwonwu. About 150 young artists between the ages of 9 and 16, will engage in creative art workshops and focus on the art work of the master, learn from them and use the experience to inspire their own creative art-piece. The pilot programme will flag off on Wednesday, October 14 through 16, at Osogbo, Osun State with renowned artist, Jimoh Buraimoh as facilitator for the zone. Textile artist, Nike Davis, is expected to man the Zaria zone between January 25 and 27, 2010, while El Dragg Okwoju facilitates the Benin zone from October 26 to 28 2009. Prof. of Sculpture, El Anatsui will be in charge of the Nsukka zone from January 18 till 20, 2010.
Briefing art writers in Lagos, the head, Corporate Social Responsibility, Access Bank Plc, Bolanle Babatunde said the bank came up with the programme because of the increasing gap between art masters and younger generation Nigerians adding that it would be focusing on exposing younger ones while celebrating the masters. “We have a strong vision to make a difference by developing the art masters of tomorrow. These young ones will be exposed to the Masters and gain inspiration from the works of the Masters who are celebrated from time to time,” she assured, disclosing that the bank has enlisted the advice, guidance and support of the Ben Enwonwu Foundation. Enwonwu’s son Oliver, CEO of the foundation said: “We are pleased to support the programme and we have no doubt that this initiative would go far in encouraging creativity in our youth and ensuring that they become the true Masters of tomorrow.”
The director, Kambari Arts, Chima Ezeilo, explained that the final art competition and exhibition would be conducted at the national level, though Access Bank aimed at implementing the pilot model in all of the bank’s countries of operation in Africa.
“The aim is for the programme to run on a year by year basis. Each year, a renowned living master artist or representative will be selected for study. The selected artist’s work will be reviewed and young participants will visit the artist’s gallery/ studio workspace and interact with the artist/ representative to get a better understanding of the motivation that inspires his/her work. Participants will then endeavour to create their own work, inspired by the master,” Ezeilo said.
He stressed that at the zonal workshops, participants would take part in sessions that would inspire their creative abilities and that selected master/ representative of the master would participate in these workshops in order to enable the students have direct contact with the artist that is being studied.
According to him, the two days intensive workshops would provide opportunities for participants to portray their artistic expression and express the knowledge gained by creating an art piece based on their experience. He explained that at the end of the workshops in all zones, the best artworks would be selected for a national exhibition and competition. The concept, he said, is for zonal winners to have their art works displayed side by side with that of the master at the exhibition. Also, participants would be required to come with their parents or guardian for the national exhibition in Lagos.
A panel of judges will be selected from the art community to assess the various art works and select a winner from each of the six geo-political zones. Zonal winners will each receive prizes. A national winner will then be chosen from amongst the zonal winners. The Lagos exhibition of the winners’ works will hold between March 1 and 6, 2010 at Nike Art Centre, Lekki, Lagos. But announcement of the overall winner will be made on March 6.
The wider aim is for national winners from all international locations to compete for the African Upcoming Artist of the Year award at the continental level,” he added.
The overall winner in company of the guardian will be sponsored to visit
Marlborough House between March 29 and April 3, 2010 to view Ben Enwonwu and Chinwe Roy’s commissioned sculpture and painting of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Ben Enwonwu exemplifies artistic talent and Mirror the Master is keen to celebrate him in style and use him as a beacon of hope for the future generation of master artists.

‘Closure of African Writers Series lured me into publishing’

For 12 years, Ghanaian born Nana Ayebia Clarke, worked at the highly acclaimed Heinemann Publishers, (African and Caribbean Writers Series) UK as Submissions Editor, publishing and promoting prominent writers and Nobel Prize winning authors. In 2003, she founded Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited with her husband, David, to publish books that will open new spaces and bring fresh insights into African Caribbean life, culture and literature in a way that will enlighten, stimulate and entertain.
Ayebia who was guest at the recently concluded Garden City Literary Festival, Port Harcourt, spoke with Assistant Editor (Arts), OZOLUA UHAKHEME on the politics of publishing Black writers in the UK, the collapse of African Writers Series, the need to connect with African Diaspora among other topical issues affecting African languages.

How strategic is UK for a fresh insight into African Caribbean literature?
We put ourselves out there to tell the world what we have contributed to world knowledge. Nobody is going to do it for us and I can’t think of a better place to do it than from the interior capital of the United Kingdom.

How will you describe your years at Heinemann UK?
It was a very good finishing school. At least, it was one of the best finishing schools in the world. I mean Heinemann publishes high quality of works. Primarily, the world goes into education, as you know anybody who studies African literature any where in the world would have to read. I don’t know what to say, usually there are other ready upper secondary school, the Universities on the litearature courses, so we cant put anything out there without high quality but I think secondly, I was trained to look for work that have timeless quality because the African writer series is a Canon and just as Shakespeare and Dickens are the canons of English literature. So you find the Wole Soyinkas, China Achebes, Buchi Emecheta, J P Clark, all these people have been published in a series. Then recently you have the new writers coming like Okey Ndibe.

Learnt African Writers Series closed its door in 2002. What is the present position?
I heard they have sold the series to Penguin in South Africa. But they are not really doing anything new. That is why I started the idea of publishing because at the time the series closed I realised I had so many manuscripts. I asked my self what these writers would do when big publishing houses in UK don’t really invest in our writers.
What is your invention?
My intention is devoted to writing for Africa and the Caribbean. In fact, what I hope to do is to expand to the Black world so that we connect with our African Diasporas. If Africa is going to develop and take off we need the help, the connections of the African Diasporas. I don’t need to tell you what the presidency of Barrack Obama in US has done for the Black world. We feel proud even though we don’t live in America. We feel proud because a black man is now in the White House and now we need to connect with the African Diasporas as we have them in China, South America, and they are huge.
We all know the US is the biggest democracy and they are doing some fantastic works. So, we need to connect to that Diasporas to create power and also to have an intervention creation. And one of the most vital parts of that we have to do with education. That is, educating our people about their own awareness, roots and culture. You know the children we saw here were reading and as soon as they finished reading they want to go to work. They have been reading books made by Western authors from different cultures. And they believe every thing good comes from the West but those of us who have been educated believe that what we need is here and so we can take what we want from the West especially the good things.
I have benefited from most of the education and they put several pips on my shoulders. I read my way through the English practice and it was when I started reading my own writers that I felt it was like intravenous injection. I read English classics and I didn’t feel that connection. I appreciated it but they were describing words that were not familiar to me. But when I started reading my own African literature it was like they were giving me intravenous injection of knowledge. It was like this is what you want, where you come from, and you come from greatness so you mustn’t let any body put you down. As long as you believe that you come from greatness even the way you work and the way you handle yourself it will become the part and parcel of yourself

What is responsible for the apathy of publishers in the West against African writers?

You have to be aware and awake to the way western society has been educated to see us. You know it is in history books and we are slowly trying to change that tide. If you read Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s works, it is all around in his works. If you read How Europe Under-develop Africa, by Walter Rodney, you know why we are devalued in the eyes of the west. They see Africa as place where they come and take resources, not a place where they find talents. So, it is a historical thing, which we need to deal with and it takes a long time. What they do is that they take one writer and celebrate him everywhere as a trophy. For instance, there is Chimamanda Adichie, a brilliant writer. But they can’t love more than one of us at a time. They will be saying, ‘look at us we are celebrating African writer.’ Apart from that one writer, a hundred of Chimamandas are out there. They don’t really bother and that is what I am correcting with Ayebia.
I am not just interested in celebrating only one writer. I want to celebrate old good writers and who are making contributions to our knowledge base and this is because knowledge is power. If we don’t know about our own knowledge and we go out there to learn about somebody else knowledge, we are short changing ourselves because we have a lot to offer to the rest of the world.

So far, who are the writers on your stable?
I have published a collection of short stories and African lost stories, which was edited by Amata Edu. I have also published Ken Saro Wiwa’s book among others. We updated it and I am looking at three brand new writers at the moment. As I speak, am always looking for new talent because if we don’t nature the next generations of the Achebes and Soyinkas and the J.P Clark today, we will be sorry tomorrow. Specifically, my role is to bring to you new voices in Africa and the happening voices in Africa. I am very passionate about the fact that Africa needs to work for Africa and we need to connect to other African countries. That is why I am looking at having partnership with other publishers even though I am based in the West. I want to connect with African publishers who will publish and circulate in Africa while I will take it to the rest of the world.

When will these works be published?
They will be published early next year. From the reviews of the Zimbabwean writer that I have seen, people are saying it would be unbeatable because it is that good.

What kind of writings are you working on?
We are working on fiction, literature, autobiography. We have done our first collection of poetry and I want to talk to Professor J.P Clark. I don’t think you can call yourself a publisher until you publish poetry, short stories because the oral aspect of our languages is our strength.
Fiction and novel are European inventions and we have picked them and used. But we should show them that we can actually do better on a good day but I think we need to go back to our story telling traditions and use our modern tongues to get stories and poetries involve in that respect. In poetry, you have to be brief, you can’t just write because you want to write. Plays too are important and they are very important to our lives
I want to publish African books, make enough contributions of our younger generations so that we too have people who have achieved things. The West is not really going to celebrate them.
We have the first man in Kofi Annah as former secretary general of Commonwealth and we have Barrack Obama as US president. Next year Ayebia is starting a children programme. I write for children and I think that is the biggest challenge we have and I hope we can catch children young. And I wish we turn their minds to read about us and also have prized heritage. If you don’t do any thing now, when they are in primary and kindergarten, by the time they get to secondary school, it is probably too late. In secondary school, they are young and they are thinking of what to do, catch them long, teach them about the environment.

Do you pay advance to authors before publishing their books?
I do pay advance but then what kind of book? I can tell you it depends on the book. Every book is different, if I am publishing fiction it is different from poetry and it is different from autobiography and it is different from plays. Each book will have its own strategy and status so it is not possible for me to say I pay.
But when publishers take your money and publish your book, they won’t do any thing but leave your book on the shelves. We all see publishing as a business and a business is there to make profits. If you are not running it properly as a business that means the business is bound to fail. So, apart from doing a creative work, you also have business acumen. When you pick up a manuscript you are already thinking what it is the market value? How am I going to sell it? How many copies can I sell? Is it a kind of book that I intend to sell? So what I do as a publisher is to send manuscripts to lecturers for their opinion if it is the kind of book they are likely to recommend for literature classes. If they come back and say it is okay, I will publish it.

How can we improve publishing?
If you need to compete with the rest of the world, you need to raise the standard. It is as simple as that. If you have a story that is badly edited and badly typeset and the binding when you open it falls apart how can you sell the book , that is publishing in the world, if a book is not as good as yours that can still sell and that is the main criticism that is being said about us that our book is a substandard not just the book the editing, the typesetting, one of my biggest dream is to among the biggest publishing company in this continent no matter where it comes from, it might be my home town in Ghana. I have got to the stage which I don’t really care what I want to do is to be among the publishing house and train editors, typesetters, designers, all the processes that goes with publishing incidentally are also creating publishers I pay outside people I pay typesetter, I pay printers, I pay designers I paid editors, if I can train people here who can do it, it means I can employ people, am passing under the expertise, it took me twelve years to learn it and I was telling them in one of my sections yesterday if I was trained to be a doctor , I would have being twice a doctor. Twelve years is a long time but it takes time. Be prepared to undergo apprenticeship. It is not for a year or two. Something is happening because I see a lot of writers who are writing from the West. The world is now a global village, the world has become smaller because of the internet and all the new technologies that have been introduced. So, whether we like it or not western way of life is going to scale through.

What is your take on quality of language in manuscripts you have worked on?
I think this is where I come in. I am a stickler because I have been trained by Heinemann Publishers. When I was in Heinemann I published books that won prizes. So, how can you come down from there to publish something that is not good? And our new writers just want to make it because maybe they need money. But I think they have to be told they need to rely on African publishers who are working on very difficult situations.
We all know that Oxford is a place for publishers and all the publishers are there. Apparently, I am the only black publisher. Why not? If you can do it why can’t I? And that is what I am doing. I can do better than the foreign publishers can because I know the writers, I can identify with them and I have an affinity with them. And I know where they are coming from. So we need the support of the new writers and the need to understand that they don’t need to write to please the west. This is the main problem that I have. Their target audience is here and they are still writing for the West.

A day in time…and the people won
Political analysts, social scientists and historians will find the visual documentation of demonstrations that heralded the ruling of Appeal Court, Benin City, declaring Comrade Adams Oshiomhole Governor of Edo State on November 11, 2008, very useful reference materials. Ebiware Dotimi Okiy’s photo exhibition, A Day In Time: The People, The Comrade, tells the complete story in black and white, Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports

‘November 11, 2008 will forever remain one of the most incredible days in the history of the great Benin kingdom. On that monumental day, the presumed passive people of Benin City, the elite included, took to the streets in unprecedented fashion and style, reawakening the glorious return of the mighty gallant and prestigious people of Benin.’
Indeed, it was an unusual celebration that trailed the Appeal Court ruling that declared Comrade Adams Oshiomhole winner of the governorship election in Edo state. Thousands of broom-carrying demonstrators, motor-bike riders, market women, acrobats, students and horn blaring motorists over-ran major streets of Benin City, chanting victory songs.
All of these actions on the streets of the ancient Benin City did not go unrecorded. Amidst the madness, a graduate of Economics from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Ebiware Dotimi Okiy (one of the students of the famous Don Barber School in Lagos), dared the rampaging celebrants and the tight security to take vantage photographs that will be on exhibition at the Vichi Gate Hotel, Ihama Road, Benin City on October 24. Through his lens, the photographer captures variety of the scenes in black and white photographs for the solo exhibition, tagged; A Day In Time: The People, The Comrade.
The exhibits are in seven major segments namely; In the beginning, Brooms, Obama? Okada!, Ecstasy, Police Bomb Squad and The Comrade. Central to the elements of most of the photographs are people, vehicles, posters, banners and brooms. Sarcastically, there is a photograph in the collection that shows two men holding a torn and collapsed umbrella tucked under a huge broom, which speaks volume of the rivalry between the two major political opponents in the state. Also striking in the collection are posters and banners that carry messages like Comrade Governor: Yes we Can, and Edo State Obama.
However, the photographer does not see the collection in the main, as statement about politics but about the Edo State people and their culture of celebration. “I saw for the first time elites on the streets as everybody moves to town to join in the celebration with their big cars and jeeps. It was sheer madness. But everybody seems to be expressing their feelings from inside with little regards to political inclination. In fact, it was a strong message; victory for the people,” he said.
Ordinarily, one will expect that security officials will constitute obstacles to the expression of the peoples’ feelings. According to the photographer, though there was tight security, everybody had enough space to express themselves. ‘There was a shot I took standing on top of the police van,” he recalled.
Unlike most photo exhibitions, no work in this show will be for sale because it is an opportunity for other Nigerians to see what happened in Benin City on November 11, 2008. “I feel very fulfill holding the show and I am not going to sell any of the photographs. I chose the ancient city of Benin to host the exhibition because it is where the actions took place. Also, I want to use this show to encourage documentary photography in the city, according to Okiy, who runs a digital photography studio in Benin.


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