By Prisca Sam-Duru
It is hard to point at a particular period or year in modern history that has shaped humanity the way the year 2020 has. No thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to the global crisis, insecurity, the ENDSARS protest, poor economy, corruption in form of looting of the nation’s treasury by politicians, and hunger, made the ended year a most challenging one for Nigerians. All this no doubt, impacted negatively on every sector, leaving the art and culture sector, the hardest hit.
By the end of 2019, most art and culture producers and promoters had strategized on how to improve upon their earlier performances in 2020, but the arrival of the Coronavirus which is still ravaging the world punctuated their plans.
While a large number of the already scheduled events were cancelled, very few quickly seized the opportunity provided by the internet, and held their events virtually. As social life gradually returned, although with adherence to Covid-19 protocols in the month of November, few events held physically.
‘Liminality in Infinite Space’, a group exhibition which opened at the African Artists’ Foundation & Alliance Française on Saturday the 28th of November 2020, was one of such events. It featured works of 23 artists from across the continent, including John Madu, Zandile Tshabalala, Barry Yusufu, WonderBuhle Mbambo, and Ekene Emeka-Maduka. The exhibition was curated by Azu Nwagbogu, and co-curated by Jana Terblanche and Princess Ayoola.
In an age where the various media available to artists are vast and undefined, the exhibition arched back to more traditional art-making practices including painting, collage, tapestry, and woodcuts. The works featured, unveiled many facets of Black existence that encompasses a full range of human emotion from solitude to play. The artistic approaches deployed veered away from the damaging fetish representations of blackness. And so, ‘Liminality in Infinite Space’, attempted to fill in the gaps and chart a new course for African visual history.
There was also, ‘Towards the Light’, a solo exhibition of recent works by painter-philosopher, Ibe Ananaba. It opened at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Lagos, on November 3, and ended on December 4. The exhibition curated by SMO Contemporary Art, brought solace at a time of emotional and political fatigue in the country, due to the corona virus and Nigeria’s inspiring youth movement; #ENDSARS which called for good governance and an end to police brutality.
It had Ananaba’s works reminding us to continue to tap into the power of community, and the hope, vitality and pure creative energy of our visionary youth.
As an exhibition of paintings and drawings, ‘Towards the Light’ was grounded in an avant-garde musical track, which encapsulated the rhythm of a generation seeking answers to fundamental questions about identity and equality, democracy, racism and the right to choose who leads us.
During the months of the corona lock down, Ananaba kept busy in his studio, a safe cocoon in which music inspired each brush stroke as he painted to drown out the insecurity, the anxiety, the uncertainty, keeping the pandemic at bay. His subjects are presented in strong contrast, with powerful sources of light, which act as sheaves of hope filtering through dark spaces.
The culture sector came alive with the 13th International Arts & Crafts Expo (INAC) 2020, which held in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja from 5th – 6th of November. The festival was generally seen as an event that heralded the return to life of travel, tourism, physical interactions and communion months after lockdown, social distancing and virtual communications occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In what he described as a Drive-in Virtual Exhibition, Director General of National Council for Arts & Culture and host of the event, Otunba Segun Runsewe, stated that “The Drive-in Virtual Exhibition is a unique initiative employed by the Council to dovetail into the ‘new normal’ posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. I must commend you all for the strict adherence and total compliance with the protocols as recommended by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19,”
The carefully programmed event held in an open space at the expansive Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja, featured segments such as cultural performances, tour of exhibitions by guests and participants, showing of audio-visual documentaries from participating states and countries and musical interludes by a wonderful live band that took every guest down memory lanes and back to contemporary popular tunes under a cool open-air evening into a cool night.
At the end, certificates, prizes, and awards were given to states and countries that participated in this years’ edition. Ekiti State came first in the Overall Winner category, followed by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Katsina State. The 3rd position among the Overall Winners went to Ogun and Kaduna States, while the 4th position went to Nasarawa State.
There were also Special Awards to states, some participating countries, etc.
By Monday 23 November, the opening ceremony of the National Festival of Arts & Culture (NAFEST), took off at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium, West of Mines, Jos, Plateau State, marking the beginning of yet another major cultural event in 2020.
Declaring the festival open, the excited state governor, Simon Lalong Bako, stated that hosting of the 2020 NAFEST was evidence that peace has returned to Plateau.
Speaking on the theme, “Post Covid-19 and Cultural Dynamism”, the governor extolled the abundant resources in the state saying that ‘Plateau is rich in sculpture, performing arts and other human and material resources’.
“Plateau State,” he said, “remains the miniature of Nigeria as every culture resides here and (many) consider the state as home…. Hosting this event in Plateau is a confirmation of the restored confidence people have in our state with the restoration of peace.
“My hope is that as various contingents showcase the culture and artistic endowments of their states, people will appreciate the diversity and beauty of Nigeria in a manner they have not done before. In this, technology can greatly assist us document and store our arts and cultural endowments”, he said.
The festival featured command performance by Plateau State Government; Official opening ceremony of free skill acquisition training on November 24, culture quiz, choral music competition, archery competition, Stakeholders Roundtable on Entrepreneurship, Traditional Board Game (Ayo), Grand finale of culture quiz, Arts & Craft cultural market/exhibition, Children’s indigenous music instrumentation competition, indigenous fabric & fashion competition.
Other features of the festival were; Children’s Essay Writing/Children’s Craft Competition, Traditional Cuisine Competition, Continuation of Choral Music Competition and Cultural Splendor with the Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Jacob Buba Gyang, at his palace.
As the Plateau NAFEST 2020 was winding down, another tragedy struck in the arts & culture industry. Chief Emma Okocha, renowned author of “Blood on the Niger”, suddenly died on November 29.
Chief Emma Okocha bore the burden of exposing to the world the blood that flowed on the River Niger and on Asaba land on October 6 and 7, 1967 – a burden for which he forfeited family, money, wife, children and other comforts for the sole pursuit of the truth as documented in “Blood on the Niger”.
His Royal Highness, the Asagba of Asaba, Prof. Chike Edozien, on November 30, posthumously conferred on Emma Okocha the chieftaincy title of Ikemba of Asaba.
Through Chief Emma Okocha’s pioneering work presented in “Blood on the Niger”, the Asaba Massacre, which the Nigerian government, with the complicity of Britain, did everything possible to cover up, was exposed to the international community.
After it was published in 2012, “Blood on the Niger caught the attentions of Professor Elizabeth Bird and Professor Fraser Ottanelli, two anthropologists of international repute from the University of South Florida whose community-based research of the Asaba massacre in Nigeria produced the book titled “The Asaba Massacre, Trauma, Memory, and the Nigerian Civil War”, first published July 31, 2017.
The annual Lagos Fringe Festival also held, in spite of the prevailing circumstances. Guests were treated to enthralling performances, experimental works, exhibitions and an array of training opportunities at the event which began on Tuesday November 17, and ended Sunday November 22.
The third edition of the Fringe festival which is one of the largest outdoor festivals in West Africa, offered a hybrid program of both online/virtual and live interactions with social distancing measures in place. For six days, participants and partners interacted in the annual multidisciplinary arts celebration.
Themed, ‘Re-Creating the Future’, this year’s edition enjoyed partnership with Goethe-Institut Nigeria, Freedom Park and Orijin with support from the United States Consulate General. The Fringe fair featured a vibrant arts market on display throughout the festival period, short film screenings and, feedback session where film makers engaged the audience on their processes and motivations.
The festival Director, Kenneth Uphopho, explained that ‘Recreating the Future’ was inspired by “the experiences of the recent times where everything has changed from a level of systemic growth to an unknown variable in just a few months”.
The screen was not left out of the determination to survive the overwhelming period in the history of the country. An action-packed Hausa Language feature length film, ‘Voiceless’ by Native Media, a TV Production company, hit the cinemas on November 20.
The insurgency-inspired romantic thriller sub-titled in English, was written by Jennifer Agunloye, directed by Robert Peters and Produced by Rogers Ofime.
The riveting movie ‘Voiceless’ unearths the anguish being experienced by victims of the dreaded Boko Haram insurgency. The touchy film based on real events, offers not just a visual account of the abduction of the Chibok Girls and others, in addition to life in captivity, but most importantly, life after escape from captivity for the lucky ones.
The movie according to the director, “is aimed at sensitising society on the need to pay serious attention to victims of insurgencies”.
The literary industry couldn’t achieve much due to the pandemic. While the annual The Nigerian Prize for Literature competition sponsored by the Nigeria LNG, was postponed, its annual Book Party, usually held in collaboration with Committee for Relevant Art, CORA, held digitally. And this time, rather than featuring the usual longlisted contestants, it honoured all the past winners of the Prize.
Sadly, news of Africa’s literary icon, Professor John Pepper Clark’s death assaulted the entire world of letters on October 13. Abiding by instructions he left for his family, the highly revered poet, playwright and essayist was committed to mother earth the third day in his family home in Rivers State, without any form of elaborate ceremony.
Wrapping up events for the year was Joseph Edgars’ ‘Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again’, a stage performance held on the 25th and 26th December. The theatrical performance is quite significant in the push for the revival of theatre-going culture of Nigerians due largely to its content and venue.
Wildly known as The Duke of Shomolu, Edgar used the opportunity of the staging of his 7th play, to unveil his proposed 9-billion-naira theatre project aimed at creating wealth and jobs for the youth in 2021 and beyond.
Joseph who revealed his plans during a media chat in Lagos, noted that there is tremendous wealth in theatre which if properly harnessed, will reduce unemployment, boost the country’s economy and most importantly, stop dependence on the government for creation of jobs.