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Agbo Rago is a gorilla performance …. Jelili Atiku

Jelili Atiku’s kind of performance theatre, the type , he prefers to describe as Installation Theater is already generating interest  as to how art in its gorilla tactics can engage societal vices. Atiku’s kind of performance  seeks to address the socio-political plights of modern existence.

Staged in odd places like the market environment and  inside legislative assembly complexes, Atiiku’s performance riding on the back of  epic theatre interfaces with installation art aesthetics in defining a very new and arresting  community dramaturgy. Recently at the popular Ejigbo ram market in Lagos, he staged another of his fast growing show titled Agbo Rago.

In this interview, the graduate of Fine Arts of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria spoke about the whole concept of this installation theater. He spoke to arts editor, McPilips Nwachukwu Nwachukwu.

Hw did you come about this concept of market theatre?
Actually, it is not theatre  technically to say, but an extension of a performance art to borrow the words of  Jude Anogwih, one of my collaborators, who curetted the enactment of the performance, Agbo Rago at the ram market. The idea came about as a  pragmatic concept, which takes into cognizance the integration or usage of dense energy exchange between artist(s) and audience (public) in relating contemporary issues. Therefore, in my performance practice, I often employ audience as an  interactive element and a mode of expression of psychological content(s).

And Agbo Rago is your pilot project?
No. My practice in performance started with the enactment of Ewawo: The Nigerian Prisoner. The performance was staged in 2005 at Visual art Studio, University of Lagos as a reaction against the inhuman and degrading conditions in Nigerian Prisons  as well as  a critique to the country’s penal system.
gorilla
What is the meaning of Agbo Rago and how does it fit into your concept of community theatre?

Etymologically, Agbo Rago is a combination of Yoruba and Hausa words. Agbo (Yoruba) literally means camp; while Rago (Hausa) means ram. However, Agbo is used as a philosophical foundation. Simply put it  means a place where rams are camped for sales.
The performance uses the method, known as “communication guerrilla” – a method that turns spectacle to ritual and often takes the form of street and guerrilla theater. In a way the performance projects the following issues as they relate to human life:
1. Disrespect to human values and oppression
2. Apathy
3. Stupidity
4. Banality
5. Pains
6. Sufferings
7. Endurance
8. Callousness
9 .atrocity
10.political and religious subjugation.

By the way, I hope am not contradicting market and community in theatrical terms?

You are not, in the real sense, they are related. As you may know, it is in community theatre that one encounters, what is known as community arts or dialogical art, which is  a theatre  made by, with, and for a community and realized in a community setting . In another sense, it a theatre forms that is characterized by interaction or dialogue with the community. And since we know that market is a community setting, we can easily conclude that the two terms are the same.  So what my performance does is to adopt the  techniques of market and community theater.

I want you to share with us your experiences  about the production of this kind of theatre?

Let me start answering this question by making a reference to Roselle Goldberg’s statement, which was made in her book, Performance Since the 60s (1998). About performance , she says that ,“it is against a background of political and intellectual battle for cultural change … that performance must be viewed. Rich in metaphor and symbolism… performances were a reaction to a decade in which the traces of post-war trauma were slowly erased by expanding…”

My experience in performance art has been elevating. I remember in 2007, when I was campaigning against extra-judicial killings in Nigeria and the world at large; and  staged a performance, titled, Victim of Political Assassination  at the  Lagos State House of Assembly. That show was part of the Assembly’s events for the commemoration of human rights day for that year. In the course of the performance, the State Security Service Officer designated to The Assembly complained and requested that the performance  be discontinue and removed from the premises.

His reason for the request was that the performance was becoming an embarrassment and a wrong signal to the status of the Assembly. He found  it difficult to imagine how  a lifeless body, which was wrapped in Nigerian flag could be dropped in state Assembly premises.  “No, it should be removed”. The Clark of the House, whom, he took his complaint to do not oblige and hence, the performance continued.

Ultimately, as it has been with all my performances,   all my experiences in performance key in to Allen Leepa’s statement that art “is a form of knowledge and as such, can help man understand the world- as can all other forms of knowledge.

Who did the script?
Agbo Rago is my composition. But, it was realized in collaboration with The Crown Troupe of Africa, led by Segun Adefila. The troupe has an enormous input in the composition, especially in the arrangement of the chorography. I can say that the project is a  collaboration of  two entities.

What of directing?
Segun and I . But the directing was more inclined towards my directive because it is my composition..

But being an open air theatre performance, don’t you think it might be difficult to arrive at its theatrical success?

Not really, like I said, the performance employed Gorilla Theatre: – an art form that is characterized by interaction or dialogue with the community.

May be,  the evaluation is dependent on the  level of ideas it excites in the imagination of the viewers and the participants?
I won’t agree with you.  The  concept works both at the level of ideas and practice. It is also pertinent to mention here that in Agbo Rago I strived to dissolve the boundary between the audience and the performers. For instance, in the Suya part of the performance, the audience were brought in as part of the actions: They were served and as  they ate the suya, they brought meaning to the metaphorical statement that leaders (either political, social or religious) only take from the peoples’ body and the people themselves, because of lack of moral power to challenge the statuesque of their corrupt leaders ended up eating their own bodies. They be cannibalized so to say.

That is to say that you now interface theater and installation?
Something like that. And something beyond that. My commitment is to create a borderless art. that is my direction here.

So tell us how you combine both media.
It is simply by collaboration. It is my artistic principle to work with any material that  can assist and enhance me in expressing or bringing to the  fore  those issues that struggle for manifestations; especially those that affect negatively the growth and well being of humanity.


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