* LABAF to tackle chequered history of Nigeria’s democratic struggle in the past 24 years
* Lagos Fringe to challenge Africans as docile recipients of cultural handouts
By Ozoro Opute
LAGOS culture landscape usually comes alive in the last quarter of the year. This year’s culture calendar is no exception. Lola Shoneyin-led Ake Festival (although it’s sometimes hard to determine its exact location – sometimes Lagos, sometimes Abeokuta), Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), Lagos Fringe Festival, MUSON Festival and Lagos International Poetry Festival. These festivals are must-see and usually animate Lagos’ culture landscape, with an influx of performance artists from within and outside. To not be in Lagos in the last quarter is perhaps the worst cultural disservice.
What is, however, of concern to watches of the culture scene is the likely clash of programming that does not give much room for culture enthusiasts to seamlessly navigate from one programme to the next without the needless opportunity cost one programme might inflict on them. Culture analysts believe that the audience for culture is a fairly small one that can be expanded with the right structures, programming and balance, noting that it would be best to manage the existing audience effectively by avoiding a clash of programmes. That way, they argue, audience can maximise on the gains of the various culture offerings without rueing not seeing one because it clashed with the other equally important one or ones. Analysts also hope that culture programmers will come to some understanding through consultation and schedule their programmes in such a manner that allows for space between events on offer at the last quarter of the year.
Already, some culture programmers have begun to roll out their schedules and themes ahead of time. The oldest cultural fiesta in Nigeria and self-styled ‘Africa’s culture picnic,’ Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) 2023, organised by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), has set aside November 13 through 19, 2023 to hold its feast of books and art. To this end, it has chosen a theme that sums up the mood of the current political times Nigeria is going through: ‘The Reset: History on a Darkling Plain’. The fiesta will be LABAF’s 25 unbroken years of staging uninterrupted culture picnic, the longest in the country. CORA hinges LABAF’s success on its proud history of interventionist agency and longevity, and recently rebranded it as ‘Culture Landscapist’!
Veteran filmmaker Tunde Kelani (2nd from right) flanked by young culture enthusiasts at LABAF 2022
Founded by the duo of culture communicator, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo and geologist and culture writer, Mr. Toyin Akinosho, Programme Chairman and Secretary respectively, on June 2, 1991, CORA’s agenda is expressly stated as follows, “It’s a culture activist organisation with the agenda to facilitate creation of an enabling environment for the flourishing of the contemporary arts of Nigeria, in the forms of Literature, Theatre, Fine Art, Movie, TV Programme Design and Production as well as Music. In these past 25 years, CORA has been at the forefront of championing the major issues that have shaped – directly or otherwise – the cultural landscape of Nigeria. The members operate as a body of facilitators of the sharing of ideas through the creation of the sort of ideas interactions that lead to the birth of ideas or sharpening of existing ideas. Some of the most forward-looking initiatives in the Nigerian culture environment came out of CORA-organised fora. CORA has carried on this intermediation role through the vehicle of its various programmes, projects and activities. In 2006 he organisation was a recipient of the Prince Claus Award for Culture and Development.”
The Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) is CORA’s major culture project alongside the Booktrek and ArtStampede (now experiencing some lull), all designed to stimulate conversations in Nigeria’s art and culture environment. Freedom Park, Lagos Island, is home to LABAF’s yearly cultural offerings. CORA spearheads these programmes and projects with the ultimate intent to immerse the entire population in cultural engagements through active patronage of all forms of artistic expressions. Importantly, CORA’s long-suffering purpose also is how to use culture to humanise governance and those who govern a space like Nigeria where the humanistic values of culture hardly find root to ultimately lead to better living conditions for the citizenry.
Both Anikulapo and Akinosho further explained the rational for the choice of theme for this year’s festival. According to Anikulapo, “Reset is, of course, in the context of the new transition in Nigeria and the promises and challenges ahead. ‘History on the Darkling Plain’ relates to the chequered history of Nigeria’s democratic struggle in the past 24 years.”
For Akinosho, “Every LABAF is a review of arguments about the nation building project and our state of being as humans. Our theme, every year, reflects these arguments as constructed, enunciated in texts (books). ‘The Reset: History on a Darkling Plain’ is a continuation, extension of past themes.
“What informed the choice of this theme for LABAF 2023 reviews? In 2020, we examined the nation, the world in a state of flux (Covid-19), a period of languour. In 2021, we (the nation/the planet) had left the state of flux, but we were at a crossroad. So we chose ‘A Fork in the Road.’ In 2022, we were glimpsing 2023, a year in which we would go for elections. What better way to prepare than examine what kind of future we wanted for ourselves? That’s why the 2022 theme was ‘Pathways to the Future.’
“Now we have a newly elected government which has taken over an estate nearing a Failed state. The world abroad is in a bigger turmoil than the one that greeted Donald Trump in 2016. To get a grip of how we can reclaim our country, we have to examine where we are coming from. It is those historical texts that we hope to engage more at the 2023 feast. Understand the past, learn from it and organize the future.”
Barely a day’s interval after LABAF 2023 would have come to an end, another cultural fiesta specifically designed for young cultural enthusiasts, Lagos Fringe Festival, will start from Tuesday, November 21 through 26, 2023. Orgainsed by Mr. Kenneth Uphopho-led Pawstudios, Lagos Fringe has as its theme ‘What Future for Creatives? – The African Experience’. In an age where ‘japaing’ has become the norm for young creatives seeking better environments to showcase their talents, Lagos Fringe’s theme is not surprising but an apt manifestation of current realities. In the last few years, Nigeria’s culture sector has lost many of its vibrant personnel to the West. Perhaps, the most notable name is Mr. Wole Oguntokun of avant garde theatre group, Renegade Theatre, who relocated to Scotland, UK long before the new wave of ‘japaing’ seized young Nigerians on account of the unrelenting economic hardship that hampers their artistic trade and stifles their talent.
But beyond the ‘japa’ syndrome, Lagos Fringe will examine Africa’s cultural space in relation to its counterparts in the West and seek answers to certain disturbing trends. Why Africa contented to be a perennial recipient of cultural favours without reciprocating same? Uphopho is concerned that all major cultural projections come from the West with Africa championing none. World Theatre day, World Book and Copyright Day, World Literacy Day, World Music Day, World Poetry Day, UNESCO World Book Capital, World Dance Day, etc, all emanate from the West, with Africa happily queueing behind these to celebrate them. The consummate theatre director is saddened that Africa has become a dumping ground for all sorts of cultural proclamations that smack of cultural imperialism and condescension. Even artistic and cultural associations and organisations all emanate from the West with Africa as a happy consumer who must belong or be left on the way side. How do Africa’s creatives respond to this cultural challenge is uppermost in Uphopho’s mind, and he said this would form the basis for stimulating conversations at Lagos Fringe Festival.
Perhaps, this explains why Uphopho and a few others have dug in and still holding forte on the home front in spite of provocations that could easily have forced him to ‘japa’ like others. Uphopho just returned from Brighton Fringe Festival 2023, where he took his sterling production, Esther’s Revenge, the excruciating diary of a female prisoner who committed a crime of passion. The performance emerged the best overall production as The Brighton International Fringe Encore Award 2023, sponsored by Soho Playhouse of New York City. The duo of Kenneth and Brenda Uphopho of Pawstudios got the International Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Fringe festival experience. For its 2023 programming, Lagos Fringe is calling for participants to put forward their works for showcase at the festival. All creators in Theatre, Film, Dance, Comedy, Spoken Word, Music, and Fashion are encouraged to apply. Freedom Park is also home to Lagos Fringe.
Fusi Olateru-Olagbegi; Director of Lagos and Abuja Fringes, Kenneth Uphopho; Country Director, British Council Nigeria, Lucy Pearson and CEO of Brighton Fringe, UK, Julian Caddy at this year’s Brighton Fringe Festival
According to Uphopho, “Back for its 6th edition, Lagos Fringe Festival, the largest outdoor arts festival in West Africa, is an open-access multidisciplinary arts festival that runs for a week every November in Lagos, Nigeria. The festival offers a thrilling and vibrant selection of workshops, masterclasses, networking events, theatre, comedy, music, dance, visual arts and spoken word, which promise something for everyone. The Fringe programme is also designed to stimulate, educate and entertain creative discourse within the culture and creative industries. Submission deadline: 11:59pm Friday, 1st September, 2023. Follow @lagosfringe and Click on the link in the bio to get started: https://forms.gle/ftX5Be2inEMHfAfN6.”
Long before LABAF 2023 and Lagos Fringe Festival open, Lagos International Poetry Festival (LIPFest) 2023 would have concluded its activities, as it starts on October 26 through 29, 2023 at Alliance Française, Mike Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos. Readings and performances, panel discussions and workshops, film screenings and exhibitions will characterise the Efe Paul Azino-led LIPFest 2023 as usual. According the spoken word artist, “This year we’re holding space for stillness, rest, and renewal #LIPFest2023 #Sancutary.”
He added that, “As the accelerated pace of hyper-capitalism continues to splinter our attention in several anxious directions, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain private and public environments for the kind of contemplative attention to which we owe the most profound of human achievements. The consequence has been the steady dissolution of silence into noise, independent thinking into groupthink, and as the Korean philosopher, Byung-Chul Han, cleverly put it, “a low tolerance of boredom,” that disallows “the profound idleness that benefits the creative process.”
“And so for LIPFest 2023, we draw on the psycho-spiritual resources of art and poetry, literature and culture, to call us back to solitude and a re-connection to self and truth. The festival is proud to present a line-up of poets, writers, artists, activists, healers, and thinkers, invested in creating an immersive four-day sanctuary for reflection and wellness. Visitors can also look forward to yoga and wellness sessions, a movement therapy space, a game room, and an on-site private oasis for writing and reflection.
“Come and see!”
According to Azino, Lagos International Poetry Festival owes much to Obii Ifejika on this year’s theme design that highlights “stillness, rest, and renewal #LIPFest2023 #Sancutary.” As is customary with LIPFest, festival director Azino will unveil the star performance acts who will converge from all over the globe for a four-day poetic feast in Lagos.