THIS year’s Lagos Art and Book Festival (LABAF ’22), the foremost feast of ideas, literacy and development in the city by the Lagoon, has one of Africa’s greatest artists as headliner. He’s Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya. But other equally eminent artists of his respected generation will share podium with him in this yearly celebratory event. These include modernist poet Christopher Okigbo, literary giant Prof. Wole Soyinka and artist and architect Pa Demas Nwoko. These are masters whose imprints in the artistic scene have and will remain indelible as their works and personalities continue to be subjects of research and curiosity. The week-long festival starts on November 14 and ends on November 20, 2022, with all activities taking place at Freedom Park, 1 Broad Street, Lagos Island, Lagos.
But the day is not only for honouring the art grandpas, as it would also be spiced with art performances of rare type. Star performance artists Atiku Jelili and Yusuf Durodola will entertain the audience with their special art embodied in their persons where their bodies become the art on display. These two performance artists will make contemporary statements with their performances on current national and international political issues as they affect the Nigerian polity.
In ‘Songs for the Weaverbird…’ the ‘Poet of Ojoto’, Christopher Okigbo, returns for honours at LABAF 2022 on Tuesday, November 15. The day is dedicated as ‘Visual Arts Day’. The theme of the festival is ‘Pathways to the Festival’, and it is conceived to explore how Nigeria, and by extension humanity, can navigate its way to brighter prospects. LABAF is described as an open-air culture picnic of creativity, couched as a campaign for literacy towards educating, enlightening, and empowering the citizens to be active participants in the democratic process and enhancement of human capital development.
Though the entire week-long festival is dedicated to the celebration of the legend, Bruce Onobrakpeya, on occasion of his 90th birthday anniversary (August 30), and 60-year of illustrious career as a practising artist and teacher, a highlight of the festival is the exhibition dedicated to recalling the memory of the late Christopher Okigbo, the poet and librarian, who transited to ancestor-hood in the heat of the Nigeria Civil War in 1967.
Themed ‘Songs for the Weaverbird: Writing and Art’ in celebration of Christopher Okigbo, the 6-day exhibition, curated by the painter, art historian, Professor Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi, and produced by Sankofa Centre for Art and Creative Education, Enugu, opens formally at 11 am on Tuesday in the Museum Gallery of the festival village, Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos. The exhibition is, however, only one of the seven visual arts projects that would feature at the festival. Others are ‘Timeless Memories…’, ‘Do Not Eat Garlic near the Queen,’ ‘Eja Ni,’ ‘Erections are Coming’ and ‘Baraku Art Workshop.’
In explaining the rationale behind ‘Songs for the Weaverbirds,’ the curator Ikwuemesi says in his curatorial note titled: Remembering Chris Okigbo thus, “Christopher Okigbo was an electric personality. Although he had a tragically short life, (but) within that short period he had ensured, unwittingly, that he achieve creative immortality. Along with (Chinua) Achebe, (Wole) Soyinka, (JP) Clark, and a few others, he was part of God’s gift to colonial and post-colonial, even post-war, Nigeria. He was a poet – a “weaverbird” – which further endeared him to many more, including those who never knew him personally.
“As a writer, Okigbo was well aware of the powers of the printed word. But somehow, he also believed that the printed word had its limitations; he believed, like Nkurumah, that revolution and change could be brought about by those who thought like men of action and acted like men of thought. Little wonder he forsook his pen in favour of the gun in the bloom of the so-called civil war in Nigeria. But in doing so he forgot, as Azikiwe would put it, that revolution could also devour its children. So he died at Opi in a war which has been variously described as “useless”, “sanguinary”, “genocidal”, “costly”, and even “justified”.
“Had Christopher Okigbo lived on, I do not know what would be his response to post-war Nigeria, especially for its legacies, if any. Perhaps the dashing bard would have been disappointed and disillusioned. Perhaps he would have returned to the pen as a legitimate weapon of war. I don’t know. But the present collection of writing and art seems to provide some clues. Of course, it draws on the Nigeria which Okigbo left behind. The entity, we must admit, has simultaneously progressed and retrogressed in the last few decades, years, like the hand of an enchanted clock in a lonely dream. It is not the Nigeria of Christopher’s dream; the prevalent values are certainly not the ones for which he and many others made the supreme sacrifice over fifty years ago.
“Perhaps these are the facts which inform the many strands of thought running through the present collection in honour of Okigbo. The project, while saluting Okigbo’s creative industry and life, is also a reminder of the transience of life, the contradictions of the Nigerian project and the futility of all the vanity that now defines it. It is, perhaps, a cleansing metaphor and a challenge for the morass in which we are now mired. Yet it promises to kindle further interest in the person and work of Christopher Okigbo, at least in the younger generation and thus is a pointer to a time when the “prodigal” – “the moonman” – shall emerge from “under the sea” and the “singer” appear from “under the shade”, willing and ripe, to ride on the waves of “Mother Idoto”, through the sacred groves, to a place where we can all begin again.”
BORN August 16, 1932 in the town of Ojoto, about 10 miles (16 km) from the city of Onitsha in Anambra State, Christopher Ifekandu Okigbo died fighting for the independence of Biafra in September 1967. His father was a teacher in Catholic missionary schools during the heydays of British colonial rule in Nigeria, and Okigbo spent his early years moving from station to station. Despite his father’s devout Christianity, Okigbo had an affinity and came to believe later in his life, that in him was reincarnated the soul of his maternal grandfather, a priest of Idoto, an Igbo deity. Idoto is personified in the river of the same name that flows through Okigbo’s village, and the “water goddess” figures prominently in his work. Heavensgate (1962) opens with the lines: ‘Before you, mother Idoto, naked I stand,’ while in Distances (1964), he celebrates his final aesthetic and psychic return to his indigenous religious roots: ‘I am the sole witness to my homecoming.’ Another influential figure in Okigbo’s early years was his older brother Pius Okigbo, who would later become the renowned economist and first Nigerian Ambassador to the European Economic Commission (EU). He is today widely acknowledged as an outstanding postcolonial English-language African poet and one of the major modernist writers of the 20th century.
On the same Tuesday, November 15 that the Okigbo exhibition will open, six other projects will also be formally opened, according to the Programme Directorate at the LABAF, in a release, which reads: “At 12 noon, the Onabrakpeya @90 fiesta will kick off, with the first event beginning with the “Onobrakpeya showcase in the Park”, an exhibition of a few of Onobrakpeya’s metal and found objects exhibitions around the park, produced with Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation.
“These are conceptual installations by the iconic printmaker that are hardly seen in public. The works are being exhibited to serve as models of mentorship to younger artists, who usually lament their frustration of lack of resources to realise their vision and projects, that they could think out of the box, and use and adapt materials found in their environment to create works of enduring quality”.
By 1:00pm, the second event in celebration of the Festival 2022 Honouree, Onobrakpeya is a symposium, will take place. It’s an intergenerational conversation on the theme ‘Our Inheritance: What I took from Bruce Onobrakpeya.’ This would be held inside Kongi’s Harvest Art Gallery, and will feature renowned artists like Dr. Kunle Adeyemi, Barret Akpokabayen, Juliet Ezenwa, Nse Abasi Inyang, and Ogochukwu Ejiofor. Closely following this is ‘Conversation of the Grandpas’ that has as theme: ‘When we were young…. Dreams and Destinations,’ a conversation between Pa Timothy Banjo Fasuyi and Onobrakpeya. It’s co-curated with Tim and Carol Art Gallery.
Another exhibition opens at 3:00pm, tagged ‘Erections are Coming,’ which will hold virtually. Curated by the architect-writer, Ayo Arigbabu and the experimental photo and art-documentarist Aderemi Adegbite, the exhibition is described as a creative art space for artists to comment, introspect or engage in satirical fun as catharsis on the concept of elections, especially in view of the ego-driven antics that typically add spectacle to the campaign trail.
At 4:00pm, an art performance by Yusuf Durodola with the theme ‘Eja ni’ will hold, as a testimonial prediction of what is to be experienced in the next four years of Nigerian political life. A statement on the show says, “What we need is not what we are chasing! We embrace the mundane where our collective evolution is being discerned by some set of us. Is it not worrisome how our poor livelihood is being rebranded to assume a new look? How did we get to this dehumanizing situation, and for how long will it last? The answer is for us all to figure out.” The performance is produced by Yusuf Durodola Studio.
At 5pm, the exhibition, ‘Timeless Memories: Elastic Effects. Connecting the Lines between Soyinka and Fagunwa’ will open in the ground floor of Kongi’s Harvest. It’s in celebration of Wole Soyinka @88. A traditional Yoruba-themed installation exhibition and literary discourse, it is based on the book, Forest of a Thousand Daemons: A Hunter’s Saga, with translation by Soyinka. This 5th episode of the Timeless Memories: Elastic Effects series will examine the acclaimed book of one of Nigeria’s foremost Yorùbá fantasy writers, D.O Fagunwa.
The book, titled originally in Yoruba Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irumole (1938), is a fantastic story about a hunter who was caught in a mystical forest filled with a thousand demons. The exhibition will feature an installation and will entail the re-creating of an enchanted forest with recyclable materials. A variety of indigenous masks representing a thousand demons will be deployed to symbolise the essence of Yoruba spiritualism and the mythical depths of Fagunwa’s literary brilliance. The installation will be complete with a 6ft figurine of the embattled hunter in the middle. Ambiance will be provided by audio readings of different excerpts from the book; the voice-over excerpts will be taken from both the original Yoruba text and the English translation by Soyinka. This session is produced by Asiri magazine and Culture Advocates Caucus (CAC).
By 5.30pm, another performance art with Jelili Atiku will take place at Freedom Park arena with the theme ‘Don’t Eat Garlic Near The Queen.’ The internationally renowned performance artist, Atiku explains the show thus: “Did you Know? Choosing the right synonym for power is not limited to AUTHORITY, JURISDICTION, or CONTROL; it also stretches to COMMAND and implies the power to make arbitrary decisions and compel obedience. Did you Know? The death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth have brought up critical reflections and realistic stories about the queen’s legacy and British imperialism, colonialism and its horrors, its lies of white supremacy, and more complicated acceptance of democracy and ejections of indigenous political systems and values. Did you Know? Queen Elizabeth’s duties were largely portrayed as ceremonial, but the flamboyant ceremonies of her burial highlighted the British deep respect for their indigenous values and rituals. But back here! Fela Kuti has sung, Colo-mentality:
He be say you be colonial man
You don be slave man before
Dem don release you now
But you never release yourself
I say you fit never release yourself
He be say you be colonial man
You don be slave man before
Them don release you now
But you never release yourself
He be so
He be so them dey do, them dey overdo
All the things dem dey do (He be so!)
He be so dem dey do, dem think dey say
Dem better pass dem brothers
No be so? (He be so!)
The thing wey black no good
Na foreign things dem dey like
No be so? (He be so!) …
ALSO, from 6:00pm, there will be a presentation of Pa Demas Nwoko’s Concrete Thinking (New Culture Publications). Nwoko’s artistic practice, philosophy, and architecture have remained a critical influence in Nigeria’s creative and cultural space for all seven decades. His new book, Concrete Thinking, which was released in October 2022, documents his thoughts and philosophical leanings in the spheres of art and culture, as contained in various essays, both previously published and unpublished, written over the duration of his eventful multi-disciplinary career as a fine artist, lecturer in theatre arts, stage designer, architect, sculptor and builder. Concrete Thinking will be presented alongside his also newly published autobiography, The Happy Little African Prince. The book presentation is produced by Dreams Art and Design Agency while special guest of honour is Nwoko.
Capping the day’s event at 8:00pm is ‘Poetry in Motion’ at the FoodCourt. The event is ‘Word Slam… Feast of Artistic Flights,’ with ‘Dance for OBOMEYOMA’ as theme in celebration of Onobrakpeya. This is a session of spoken words, drama skits, dance and music in celebration of the Artistic Bard of Agbarah Otor. This session is produced by Culture Caucus Advocates (CAC) and CORA.