Sunday, December 13, 2009

Giving hope to the hopeless, SONTA in fresh drive, Bamako encounter, Nollywood

Giving hope to the hopeless
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
It is common knowledge that activities of most non-governmental organisations are targeted at city dwellers to the detriment of the rural communities who are the most deprived of the basics of life. This trend was recently reversed at Igarra in Akoko Edo local council area of Edo state when Ningim Hope Alive Foundation organised a three-day free medical (cancer and health life style) campaign for the people. With the theme; Community health our concern, hundreds of old men, women and children from Igarra and its environs were treated of different ailments ranging from appendicitis, to eye defects, hernia, as well as screenings for HIV/AIDS, cervical and breast cancer for free. The 18- man team of medical staff that attended to the people during the campaign held between November 10 and 12, 2009 was led by Dr. Okey Okoroji, an ophthalmologist, and supported by Dr. R.E Bello of the Igarra General Hospital.
It was the first in recent time that the people of Igarra and its adjoining communities in Edo, Delta, Ondo and Kogi states would be privileged to such a comprehensive free health services courtesy of an NGO.
President of Ningim Hope Alive Foundation, Dame Tumini Akogun, said as a result of the increasing demands and huge turn out of people from the communities, the campaign was extended by another day in order to attend to every complaint. She said moving around with the first lady, Hajia Turai Yar’ Adua influenced her a great deal especially on medicare. “I saw the zeal and responses of the people and their need for the treatment. But when I started, I did not know how much it would cost me. But the more I continue, the more the zeal to do. Many of the rural people have been carrying and living with the diseases for years without any hope for cure. And because some could not afford fifteen thousand naira, they could not get treated. I am happy that I did the programme, she added.
Ningim Hope Alive Foundation is not only concerned with health of women and children. It is equally concerned with reducing mortality rate among youths, children and women as well as empowering them because they are mostly affected by poverty. Through the awards of scholarship to indigent students, it is also promoting literacy among these people.
She said every individual deserves to be empowered in order to achieve his true potentials and that her foundation is set to impact on the life of the people by promoting community health. She added that the fight against cancer cannot be overlooked as many of the people especially the rural women are falling prey to the deadly scourge.”Cervical cancer is today one of the leading causes of death amongst our people. It is stated that every year half a million new cases and a quarter of a million deaths are experienced and Sub Saharan Africa bears over 80 percent of the burden. The most effective way to curb this is by early detection and treatment, Akogun noted.
She therefore urged all women to partake in the free medical exercise because early detection saves life and could only be if women submit themselves to screening at every given opportunity. She said it was with the realization that most women could not afford the screening that made her NGO underwrite the cost thereby delivering the services free of charge.
Continuing, she said: “I encourage you to take advantage of the free medical delivery that is taking place. Our partners are here to give treatment to the sick, eye check up, eye glasses, drugs and even surgeries. I decided to bring this programme home to give you the opportunity to be well without going to spend your meager resources going to native doctors or living in fear all your life or even blaming your relations and in-laws for attacking you with witchcraft meanwhile you could just be suffering from cancer or any other disease. But I felt satisfied that people got treated but unhappy that many are yet to be attended to. So, my zeal to do more keeps me going on.”
Among dignitaries that attended the campaign include wife of senate president, Mrs. David Mark, who represented the first lady, HajiaTurai Yar Adua, the minister of health, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin represented by Mr. Greg Izuwa, the director-general of Consumer Protection Council, Mrs. Ify Omenyi, who was also represented and representatives of several women organizations, Peoples Democratic Party women leaders in the state and local council.

SONTA in fresh drive for professionalism
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)

The newly elected executive of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA), led by Prof. Emmanuel S. DanDaura rose from a recent interactive session with arts writers in Abuja more determined on the need to reposition theatre practice, make its abundant human resources available for national development as well as initiate a regulatory framework for the practice of the profession in the country. The gathering that was attended by some past and present executive members of SONTA and senior theatre art scholars from various universities unanimously agreed that the association, which is the umbrella body for theatre practitioners in the country, is perceived to be asleep except during its convention.
Worried by this erroneous impression, the current president of the association, Prof. DanDaura said its executive would soon embark on networking and consultation with other theatre practitioners across the country with a view to come up with a bill that would be presented to the National Assembly for the regulation and promotion of standard practices in the profession. He said the association is long overdue for a regulatory framework and a proper instrument for the regulation of the practice, which is why the National Endowment for the Art (NEA), has been elusive these past years. “As a professional body, there are lots of talents in our fold that are being under-utilised. Sixty professors of theatre arts are with SONTA who are grossly under-utilised. We need to make them available to tap from. This is part of the philosophy of the new executive,” he added.
Prof. Ayo Akinwale observed that despite the wrong notion that the association has been inactive SONAT has not only been publishing journals that cover news on current research findings but working hard to uplift the profession. He cited the prompt response of the association to the rumoured sale of the National Theatre complex in Lagos and the split of the National Troupe of Nigeria and National Theatre management boards by federal government. He however warned that if SONTA must make impact on government, ‘we must talk with one voice so long as we are ready to face the challenges confronting the association.’ This was corroborated by the deputy vice chancellor of University of Jos, Prof. Dauda Enna Musa, who disclosed that Nigerian theatre journal is one of the Educational Trust Fund listed journals for publication on indigenous researches. He noted that more than ever before, art would face more challenges because of sciences.
In his contribution, one of Nigeria’s leading theatre scholars, Prof. Kalu Uka, enjoined the practitioners to make the profession visible at the post primary school level in order to have a steady and continuous flow of interest from that level of academic training. He regretted that SONTA lost out in the struggle to realize this objective saying, ‘I hope SONTA will not fail in this effort again.’
He stressed that the concern of the association is not the quacks but the need to have an academy that would lift the profession because Nigerians love entertainment. He described Nollywood phenomenon as gap filler that was very necessary at the time it came.
Continuing, he said: “It is time we started honouring our own stars deliberately so. What is happening in Nollywood is because there is no alternative. We need independent sources of funding for SONTA to thrive. We can’t let theatre die.”

‘Poor funding bane of cultural development’
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)

Executive Secretary of National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma has blamed the seeming failure of some government’s programmes on inability of the initiators to take cognisance of the cultural relevance of such programmes to the peoples’ need. He said for any development to be meaningful and impactful, the implementation must take into consideration the cultural background of the people adding that in global economy, the place of culture is very vital to human and physical development. He observed that unfortunately, government is yet to appreciate the vital role NICO could play in orientation projects.
Ayakoroma who assumed office as executive secretary of NICO early last month for a first four year tenure explained that NICO is not all about training culture workers but to change peoples’ orientation towards dress culture, food and language as a well as making people accept government policies and programmes.
He therefore assured that all NICO programmes are carried out to further bring NICO to the reality of Nigerians noting that what comes to minds of Nigerians when NICO is mentioned is orientation and it still sounds new.
“We are alive to our responsibility. We have the personnel to get the result. All we need is give directions. There are many programmes on ground and we are going to ensure that all are carried out to bring NICO to the reality of Nigerians. In fact, there are many areas we can key into. The dredging of the lower Niger River is one of such programmes and there are many ways to enlighten the communities in that region. We will continue to enhance our visibility in national and international levels. Also, we would explore the various opportunities in UNESCO for effective performance and growth,” Ayakoroma said.
He stressed that his new management team are reading up what is on ground and building on them for continuity citing the recently concluded workshop, Repositioning culture workers for greater productivity held in Hamdala Hotel, Kaduna featuring both state and federal government culture workers as one major events for the year ending.
Commenting on the recurring complaint of poor funding of national arts events like NAFEST and Abuja Carnival by some states, the former executive director at Bayelsa Council for Arts and Culture recalled that over the years, resources accruing to Bayelsa State continued to dwindle thus affecting the level of funding of cultural events. He however noted that that is not an excuse for failure or poor funding of culture events adding that it is possible to work ahead of time in order to prepare well. According to him, since preparations are always adhoc, states must assist culture directors so that they are not overstretched.
“For this year’s zero budget allocation for Abuja Carnival, the plight of the carnival is that they are victims of circumstances. Holding the carnival is like squeezing water out of stone,” he noted.
The author Dance On His Grave and A Matter Of Honour, who led Bayelsa to this year’s NAFEST in Minna Niger State, is full of praises for his state art council saying ‘they gave me the leverage to be at NICO.’ He said he would miss the council but that though he might not be there in person, he would be with them in spirit. Little wonder he pledged the cooperation and support of NICO to the Bayelsa Council for Arts and Culture in the areas of research and documentation of cultural materials when the council management team paid him a visit in Abuja recently. He said he was ready at all time to support the state council in ensuring that it achieved its objectives especially being its immediate past executive director.
In her response, the acting executive director of Bayelsa Council for Arts and Culture, Mrs. Payeboye Festus-Lukoh also pledged support of her council in assisting NICO achieve its objectives noting that NICO should see her council as an extension of NICO in Bayelsa.

Bamako Encounters artistic rebirth
Unlike the Europeans who in 1989 disengaged themselves from the old principle of border intangibility, Africans are still enmeshed in the dilemma of geo-political borders that were created at the Berlin conference in 1884 among colonial powers. Today, the Bamako Encounters 2009, the African photography biennale is attempting at moving beyond those treaties and conventions by using visual art-photography, video and installations by 40 artists from across Africa and the Diaspora to address the many border-related issues on the continent. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME who was at the biennale reports

For every passing day since the formal opening of the Bamako Encounters 2009, the eight edition of the African photography biennale on November 7, more artists, arts writers, curators and collectors of contemporary African art have continued to converge on the city of Bamako, Mali to consciously examine the multiple issues surrounding borders (complex realities or imagined) as they affect the life of Africans. And their tools are cultural products like photographs; video and installations produced as either documentaries of personal experiences, realities of time and or imagined scenarios. This year’s biennale with the theme, Borders, is holding mainly at the Musee National, Bamako and other centers across the city and for the next one month (November 7 to December 7).
Featuring symposia and conferences, post-production workshops, portfolio readings and public screenings, the annual biennale, which started in 1994 has acted as catalyst for creativity in photography as well as helped pushed many African photographers to international market. Importantly, this year’s biennale that is being directed by the duo of Michket Krifa and Laura Serani, both female artistic directors, is expected to open a fresh page in a world that appreciates the shared wealth of its cultural diversity and an art market of equality.
With these, the theme is approached from different angles by the participants in order to measure the scope of the border issues in Africa in particular and across the globe. “At times transfigured and interpreted by artistic views that combine imaginary and real, personal witness and narrative, this topic always arouses ethical concerns and reflects the deep conscience and commitment that are manifest in all the artists, which we are happy to share,” according to the artistic directors.
Square Rocks by Kader Attia, an Algerian/France photographer appears to be one of the favourites. It is on the cover design of the biennale brochures, posters and banners. It is a photograph of Bab El-oued beach, a poor district in Algiers where youths spent summer vacations watching the coming and going of ships that link Algeria and Europe. The beach has huge rock constructions that separate them from the continent of their dream as well as imprison them in their reality. Beyond that, the photographs reveal lust for the unknown, anxiety, hope and dream of the youths sitting atop the rocks. And the endless horizon of the sea which forms the background and depth of the pictures, illustrates the fantasy and uncertainty on the other side of the borders.
Also striking and touching are two works; A sense of common ground and A camel for the son by Fazal Sheikh displayed at Musee du Bamako. The two pieces recount the life of the inhabitants of refugee camps in Kenya following the political crisis in Somalia. The photographs done over a period of ten years are the artist’s denouncement of the living conditions of the refugees. In A camel for the son, Sheikh captures the aerial view of the hundreds of camps housing over 45,000 Somali refugees including under nourished children and their mothers.
Of all the exhibits at the main exhibition hall of Musee National, Bamako, World mosaic by a Burkina Fasso photographer, Saidou Dicko, which shows a mosaic of miniature blurred pictures of human and animal figures arranged in linear format in ten layers stand out both in concept and presentation. Symbolically, the piece depicts a world without borders, ‘a travel diary wherein people will be able to travel without visas in an imaginary world of pictures’ that shows viewers what they want to see. While Dicko’s piece might be focusing on physical border challenges, that of Nigerian artist, Andrew Esiebo, Living queers in Africa, a video presentation on homophobia and its consequences attempts at drawing attention to internal discriminations among people living under one roof. Esiebo’s video presentation is enhanced by a soothing Afrobeat music backed by a fluent narration by the child victim. But the poor visual, almost erases the impact and relevance of the video. Like the other two video works, there are no enough elements to engage viewers other than the documentary format. The real art in them seems to be lacking, which makes the content unchallenging to the viewers.
Perhaps on the extreme, Majida Khattari’s Veiled, Unveiled is a strong illustration of the increasing threat of suicide-bombers in some parts of the globe, a development that also relates to border issues. But in fashion format, Khattari shows photographs of women covered and partially covered as a reflection on how lace and backdrop were used when Algerian elders paint Parisian women models on one hand and their use by suicide bombers on the other. According to the artist, ‘each pose becomes a face-to-face encounter with a mirror where the other’s impurity face dwells. Erasing impurity and regaining the illusion of purity: this is how the suicide-bombers in the last two pictures jump out at us.’ The two pictures Handbags and Women martyrs, show two ladies covered with veils, but behind their lace is what looks like a green hand grenade.
Again, human trafficking and prostitution, which are recurring social problems among many African nations, find space at the biennale. London-based Nigerian
photographer George Osodi shows in his photographs the extent many youths, especially girls go to migrate to the West, even at the risk of crossing the desert on foot or the Mediterranean with old small boats.
In Benin City, Osodi chronicles the rituals of blessing and cleansing some desperate girls go through in their homeland preparatory to searching for the greener pastures in Europe. Unfortunately, they knowingly undertake the journey to become companions of men in foreign lands, which of course is not without big price. Osodi shows in his collection, a blow by blow account of the series of rituals that start from consulting Ifa oracles, to bathing by the river bank, offering sacrifices to water goddess for blessings and returning to the cold street of Europe waiting for customers at night. All these are in the name of making money to break the poverty boundary.
For installations, there is a conspicuous one mounted opposite the entrance to the main exhibition hall. It is a commercial lorry made from found objects and loaded with personal effects both within and atop the vehicle that has become cynosure of eyes. The passengers inside are sculptural pieces of human figures reflecting a typical overloaded commercial lorry that are common place in most cities in Africa. From the loading pattern, there is total disregard for order, balance and safety of the occupants of the vehicle. Perhaps it is to depict what many go through when crossing borders either as traders or as refugees.
All through the exhibiting halls at the different venues, the works were well curated except for some few like the video. Also lighting of the halls was adequate thus enhancing the illumination and viewing of the works.
But while major players in world art market are focusing attention of the Bamako Encounters, the local public appears apathetic showing little or no interest in the various activities going on in the city. From one venue to another each day, you see the same group of guests, mainly from France and a handful of other Africans and those from the Diaspora. Even on the opening day, the Musee National premises were overrun by Europeans making observers to wonder for whose interest the biennale is being organised. Ordinarily, one expects to see apart from the few government functionaries, a good representation of the art community in Mali, especially the student’s artists and the general public at the opening. Granted sponsors and partners should be visible at such programmes, but the overall essence of the event will be lost if the man on the streets and students in schools are not showing enough interest.
Little wonder the managing director of the biennale, Mr. Samuel Sidibe, agreed that mobilizing the interest of the local public has been a big and difficult challenge to the biennale. “This challenge is one that many biennales on the continent have to face. It is a difficult question, the solution of which can be found in multiple long and mid term approaches,” he said. Sidibe however identified the search and development of local partnerships to finance the biennale as part of mobilizing the local audience. “Partnership with the local press and the reinforced presence of the continental press should contribute to giving the biennale a stronger visibility on the national and international scenes,’ he noted stressing that while the mobilization is still modest, it represents a veritable hope if the biennale is to take roots.
In terms of representation of the African regions, the organisers might have featured the size of participants their budget could accommodate. However there is room for improvement in future editions. The eight biennale is organised by the ministry of culture in Mali in collaboration with Culturesfrance, Paris, with financial, technical and media supports from many local and international corporate bodies.
A group of ten Nigerian photographers, Invisible Borders 2009 added extra spice to the biennale as they opened fresh windows to the issue of border, especially between Lagos-Bamako. They completed their road travel from Lagos to Bamako in six days as against a projected three days. The group left Nigeria on Tuesday and arrived Bamako the sixth day. The photographers include Uche James Iroha, Lucy Azubuike, Emeka Okereke, Amaize Ojiekere, Uche Okpa Iroha, Ray Daniels Okeugo, Unoma Geise, Chris Nwobu, Nike Ojeikere and Charles Okereke.
At a video presentation of their experiences, the group summed up that the objective of ECOWAS appears defeated given the multiple hindrance created by immigration officials at each border. “To us the essence of ECOWAS is rubbish going by happenings at the borders,” Emeka Okereke, said on behalf of the group.

Nollywood takes centre stage at Bamako biennale
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)

In Bamako, Mali many people claim to know and appreciate the phenomenal growth of Nigeria’s Nollywood. From the guest participants at the on-going Bamako Encounters 09, the African photography biennale, to the local artists and the public they can conveniently recall many names of popular Nigerian movie stars with ease.
But at one of the opening exhibitions at the Palais de la Culture in Bamako, the myths and archetype that characterise the Nollywood were recreated in Pieter Hugo’s photographs, Nollywood, that tell more of horrifying scenes than entertaining while attempting to erase the boundary between fiction and documentary. The South African is featuring under Michael Stevenson Gallery as guest gallery at the biennale.
The exhibition is also featuring photographs by Angele Etoundi Essamba’s Mother Earth and Jean Depara’s Les annees Kinshasha among others. Expectedly, Hugo’s Nollywood shows the most explicit and obvious examples of how he as a photographer directly engages with fictions rather than facts. The work is the result of his exploration of the Nigerian film industry, and all of the photographs were purely make-up with the help of others. Where, if not pure fiction, will you find a man in a suit stands barefoot over a bleeding bull? Like the Hollywood space movies, the power of make-belief is the key instrument, but unfortunately, the bizarre is what fascinates Hugo.
The questions many are asking are: What is the artistic essence of the works, what are the messages contained for viewers and how contextual are these fictive and negative imageries?
According to a critic the ‘images are both surreal and disconcerting, but allude to their own falsity so overtly that the viewer can immediately decipher their fictive nature, and can clearly understand that these are ‘subjects imagined’ rather than documented. That said, the pictures remain incredibly provocative, at least to a Western eyes, expressly because they present graphic, violent and unnerving myths and symbols, which are deeply embedded in our understanding of contemporary Africa itself.’
To a large extent, Hugo has simply reaffirmed that photographs are simply the realisation of the photographer’s own prejudices and preconceptions, because these works on Nollywood are collective imaginings, shared by both the so-called ‘actors’ portrayed and the intended audience. Nollywood, like Hyena series, provokes questions, demands attention and is a bundle of controversy.
But there lies a potential window for Nigerian photographers to look beyond commercial photography and tap into the abundant issue based documentaries that will educate Nigerians as well to make the world understand and see us through our own lenses.

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