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Life in My City Festival: Reclaiming cultural soul of the coal city

By MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU
THE  just concluded week long Life in My City festival, which held in the coal city of Enugu, no doubt recorded strong achievements in many ways and also reveals that there are still rooms for serious improvement. As a cultural festival, the project initiated three years ego by an Enugu based outdoor advertising company, ROCANA Nigeria Limited, with collaborative support of Alliance Francaise, Enugu and Nigerian chapter of Pan African Circle of Artists, PACA, has in the spirit of its founding father, chief executive officer of  ROCANA, Robert Oji, largely succeeded in re-inventing the use of art and culture in re-mobilizing  youths towards a positive social development.

Enugu art: Beautiful Nigerian by Ezah Lucky... first prize
Enugu art: Beautiful Nigerian by Ezah Lucky... first prize

Also, the festival, which was keyed into a competitive regional art competitions that took place in the five regional zones of Enugu, Owerri, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Kaduna, from which regional winning entries slugged  it out at a grand finale in Enugu, the host city of the festival, also involved art workshops as well as paper and slide presentations.

Above all, the festival succeeded in re-igniting the weakened cultural spirit of Enugu, a city, which like Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, remains the cultural soul of the East of Nigeria. As it were, in the keenly contested grand final, which took place at the prestigious Nike Hotel Resort, three works: a sculpture titled after the theme of the festival; Beautiful Nigerian by Ezah Lucky, Side by Side, a mixed media painting by Ogbami Alenosi and a painting, Kasuwan Dikko by Okhide Clara carted away first, second and third prize positions.

Reading the judges remark about the N400,000 first prize winning entry, Dr Jacob Jari, Chairman of the Life in My City jury committee said: “ This winning entry is a sculpture in the round of found object. The sculpture vividly captures the theme of the competition, Nigeria the Beautiful. This is seen in the six independent figures seemingly fused together in unity obeying the law of contraposto. Looking at the individual pieces, you find Nigerian motifs comparable to uli, nsibidi motifs with lots of rings dominant in all forms which suggest beauty. Not only has wood been used, metal has been incorporated to drive home the artist’s point.

The radiant display of forms is synonymous with the characteristic features of the mangrove forest perhaps from which the material was sourced. The principles of composition in terms of rhythm, contrast, texture and balance are exemplified. The sculpture attracts the viewer and conducts the viewer round, thus creating a dialogue with the piece.” At the occasion also, other motivational prizes were given to other nine works comprising: National Anthem by Uche Agonsi, Argungu Fever by Jacob Ani, My Nigeria Experience by Opara Adolpus, Our Struggle of Pride by Shonibare Olatunbosun, Voice of Nigeria by by Sodade Ayoola Bolanle and Our Culture by Ukeoma Modestus. Other works that won consolation prizes were: Lagos by Omagba Tuoyo, Young Shphered by Uwadinma Onyekachi Johnson and Love and Unity by Akintola  Iyioluwa.

At that well attended gala night that attracted n creme la creme of  Enugu elites, Governor of Enugu State represented by his deputy, Mr Sunday Onyebuchi, managing director of ANAMMCO, French Ambassador in Nigeria, H.E. Jean Michel Dumond, former Minister of Information and culture,  John Nnia Nwodo, Deputy Director , Alliance Francaise, Enugu,  David Couvidat, Professor and Professor Mrs  Modum, representative of ROCONA, Ken Okonkwo and former managing director of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Kevin Ejiofor among others, the importance of the festival as a harbinger of  the proposed centenary celebration was re-emphasized.

Both the deputy governor of Enugu State, Sunday Onyebuchi and John Nnia Nwodo described the festival as an “important watershed on the coming Enugu centenary.” Also commenting on the importance of the festival, Kevin Ejiofor, noted that attempts to reclaim the cultural strength and soul of Enugu from the 70s through the 80s was aborted by military leadership in power. Following that ugly development, cultural life in Enugu became stifled and remained so until recently, when Robert Oji  initiated Life in My  City  festival program. According to Ejiofor, “art is what young people can do to develop the nation..”

However, despite the high spirit, which the three year old festival has demonstrated, the just concluded in many ways watered down significantly whatever previous achievements it has recorded. For instance, the attendance of last year festival had in all implications, international touch with the attendance of participants from Ghana, Burkina Faso and Paris. But this year’s festival has in attendance only two foreigners in the persons of Ablefonlin Francois from Benin Republic and Assogba Amevi from Togo.

Again, judges criteria of assessment appear not to be well spelt out: It is not clearly stated whether the judges used the same criteria of assessment in judging  works of high school students along side the works of undergraduate as well as professional  private studio practitioners. If that was the case, then the organizers must go back to the drawing board to come up with another judgment criteria for its judges. It will make a lot more sense, if the prizes are awarded in categories: For instance, high school students category, under-graduates category and studio practitioners category. Also, prizes should be awarded  based on medium: the assessment criteria used in determining prizes for a painting entry should be different from that with which to assess a photography entry and so that of sculpture be different from that of installation.

However this shortfall, with Life in My City Festival, the people of Enugu, just with a little more support from the government are on the way to reclaiming the tourist and cultural soul of the coal city.


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