20TH CENTURY CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART
(Section in Encyclopedia of Sculpture, Chicago, IL: Fitzroy Dearborn/Routeledge, published
Contributor's page at Routledge
This article evaluates the sculptures produced in Africa in the 20th Century
and their demonstrable impact on the 20th Century world art and popular cultures. While we continue our interrogations of
the traditional-modern, old-new, and the contemporary-postmodern dichotomies in African art, the term "contemporary art" will
be openly used in this text to encompass the diversity of art that continued to be produced in Africa since 1900.
was in contact with the rest of the world before the said discovery of the continent by European adventurers in the 15th Century.
Africa*s interactions with the Western and Islamic worlds means that the formal and contextual roles of the arts are now more
complex than is usually assumed in extant discourses. The issue of African independence and nationhood, made the second half
of the 20th Century a period of unprecedented change in art practices in continental Africa. Independence and nationhood brought
about freedom of visual directions, untold creative energy, and government commissions as well as private patronage for the
modern sculptor. For instance given his sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II, by the time of independence, the sculptural practice
of Ben Enwonwu meant that contemporary Nigerian sculpture enjoyed very great visibility. Hence, the range of options open
to the sculptors became marginal. The sculptures that are produced in modern-day Africa can hardly be grouped into popular
(commercial) art, academic (modern) art, and traditional (indigenous) art as commonly written about. The continuing development
of these artistic traditions, diverse like the continents inhabitants, remains widespread into the 21st century.
the second largest continent in the world has about 760 million inhabitants with over 3,000 ethnic groups who speak more than
1,000 languages. Arguably, they too are African artists, of the Arabs, Asians, Europeans, and other significant inhabitants
who intermingle and work with the population already mentioned above. Archeology seems to suggest that the evolution of humankind
started in Africa, at the Great Rift Valley, 5 million years ago. Perhaps, the theory is valid; perhaps, acceptance of such
construct by the Western world today is only intended to localize Africa to less global prominence. The TV image of Africa
in the West still associates the continent with jungles and wild game reserves in the same manner museums construct collections
of African art based mainly on the aesthetic traditions of pre-colonial African societies. However, the pre-eminence of traditional
African art (mainly sculpture) in these museums is slowly but surely giving way to acknowledgment of the diverse range of
contemporary art in the continent. However, these indigenous traditions have had great influence on the constitution of European
modernism as Western artists turned to African sculpture in search for new paradigms of representation in the first decade
of the 20th century.
Within the same period that artists like Picasso began to appropriate the formal elements of
classical African sculptures, the Nigerian artist Aina Onabolu adopted a mimetic approach to art thus nullified the colonial
misconception that African artists could not work in a naturalistic mode of representation. Within the first quarter of the
century, under the impetus of a new cultural consciousness, African American artists began to view African sculpture as a
shared heritage and used its formal solutions in their work. This process of reclamation, which intensified during the Harlem
Renaissance, progressed into the 21st century1, yielding new interpretations of age-old African aesthetic practices.
history of international appropriation of African aesthetics is well known but there is a less studied history of voluntary
migration of continental Africans artists to the West in the 20th century. For instance, Oku Ampofo, a Ghanaian sculptor traveled
to Europe in 1932 to study art and medicine. The past two decades and a half have seen a numerical rise in the number of African
students, scholars, businessmen, workers, and political refugees in the West adding to the growth and visibilities of continental
African communities. In most cases, the expatriates Africans artists explore issues of cultural identity in relation to their
host communities as well their indigenous heritage.
The Harmon Foundation, a New York based private organization that
supported African American art sponsored an exhibition of works by the Nigerian Sculptor, Ben Enwonwu, at Howard University
in 1950. This was the first exhibition of contemporary African art in the United States.
After 1960, the emergence
of independent African nations engendered a growth in art academies from which emerged numerous influential artists; the consequent
periods of political freedom, prosperity, urbanization, political upheavals, economic downturns, and dictatorships lent credence
to art that emerged from these institutions. The schools continued a tradition of cultural relevance espoused by earlier institutions
like Makerere Art School formed in the 1930s, which flourished for a long time as a principal center for modern art in East.
Other art schools in Addis Ababa, Khartoun, Abidjan, Dakar and Zaria extended this initial focus into a militant affirmation
of African identity in art. In line with the Negritude and Pan-Africanist ideals of the 1950's and 60s, which propagated uniqueness
of the Africa culture, these premier schools forged a philosophy of cultural essence discernible in works of their early graduates
and those of subsequent generations.
Contemporary African artists deploy varied styles and aesthetic orientation.
For example, Vincent Kofi, of Ghana utilized themes of Akan social and artistic terrains to sculpt figures in wood, bronze,
cement, and stone. Kofi received art training in the indigenous and European contexts; his role as a teacher, artist and writer
influenced the directions of contemporary sculpture in Ghana. The sculptures of Amir Nour have also been influential. He drew
from his memories of growing up in Sudan to create geometric forms. Grazing at Shendi (1969), an installation of 200 semi-spherical
tubular stainless steel in repeated shape but varying sizes immortalizes Nours memories of watching goats grazing at his birthplace.
Grazing at Shendi as well as more recent ones, Spoon (bronze, 1975) and Calabash 4 (cold-rolled steel), are impressive artworks
whose timelessness transcends the cultural space that inspired their evolution.
In addition to the formal art schools
discussed above, European art teachers and culture critics created workshops schools where they conducted informal training
in art. From the National Gallery Workshop School in Harare established in 1957, encouraged by its fonder Frank McEwan, a
new tradition of stone carving emerged in Zimbabwe known as Shona sculpture. These sculptures are generally of strong indigenous
content, largely figurative and monumental owing to their peculiar modes of execution. Within the shared techniques and aesthetics
of Zimbabwe stone sculptors, the evolution of individual styles can be perceived in the sculptures of Sylvester Mubayi, John
Takawira. Joram Mariga, Richard Mteki, and Nicholas Mukomberanwa. The Zimbabwean Workshop School like the Nigerian Oshogbo
Workshop School, have captivated the international art market.
Following the First World Festival of Negro Arts (1966),
held in Senegal and Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC "77) held in Nigeria which brought to African shores peoples of the
African descent from all over the world, the reclamation of aspects of African heritage grew stronger in the arts of the Africans.
Across the continent, popular tourist art and commercial sculptures, largely derived from traditional sculptures have grown
to be sources of income to the middle artists. Lamidi Fakeye is a contemporary Nigerian Sculptor who works in the indigenous
style of classical Yoruba sculpture extracted from the ritual and secular contexts of village and palace commissions. Fakeye,
an internationally acclaimed sculptor, has held several important fellowships and was an artist in residence at Obafemi Awolowo
University in Ife, Nigeria, among other places.
Towards the end of the century, there was an increased movement to
the West among African artists who accepted invitations for exhibitions, short-term art residencies, education and work. The
professional contacts and international exposure transformed the works of these sculptors but the degree of effects of market
forces, imported tools, and international aesthetic ideals on their works is still in debate. The evidence of interchange
is in every artistic tradition. It is thus inaccurate to refer to the sculptures of contemporary African artists as mere mimicry
of Western artistic culture, just like it would be incorrect to read 20th Century Western modernism as solely a provincial
extension of traditional African aesthetic modes of representation- the two cultures have been culturally symbiotic. Contemporary
African art sprouts from radically divergent historical, sociocultural and political trends akin to the continent (Nzegwu,
1998). From 1900 to1960, African artists and scholars engaged in debates about matters of artistic, historical, political
and social import and after many African nations became independent of direct colonial control, issues of decolonization of
African art became primary to these debates. At the turn of the new century, the attention of African artists, scholars and
writers remained focused on questions of artistic identity and cultural distinctiveness in relation to the continued dynamism
of contemporary African visual culture.
El Anatsui, the Nigerian-based Ghanaian sculptor and a prominent member of the
Nsukka School, uses chainsaw and pneumatic tools to inscribe ideographic images on wood, which he then chars with fire. Anatsuis
themes reiterate the complexities of Africas cultural history and the brutal episodes of colonial domination whose effects
continue to affect contemporary existence in Africa. The slash-and-brand technique pioneered by Anatsui has been extended
by his former students, graduates of the Nsukka School, including such notable female artists like Ndidi Dike, one of the
most significant artists to emerge from Nsukka School. Dike incorporates shells, metal objects, animal skins and fibers into
her branded wood pieces. Her Pennies and Palms, a free standing carved wood sculpture made up of four figures representing
kidnapped people who tied with ropes who are on a forced march to the coast. The installation alludes to the century-long
slave trade in Africa. Gender-sensitive issues fore grounded in sculptural assemblages of Ndidi Dike and the complex metal
ensembles of Sokari Douglas-Camp attest to the changing roles of women in Africa. Douglas-Camp, based in England, draws from
her childhood memories and recent visits to her Kalabari-Nigerian homeland to create monumental figurative metal sculptures,
often motorized to simulate cultural performances and events. Whereas Douglas-Camps kinetic sculptures reflect the exuberance
of indigenous Kalabari performances, the ceramic sculpture of Magdeline Odundo, a Kenyan artist evoke a classical solidity
of form in their elegant and burnished surfaces. By manipulating the physical qualities of clay, Odundo produces ceramic vessels
whose ritualistic forms transcend their functions as containers.
South African Township art, an urban art form associated
with South African black artists was a vehicle of indigenous resistance to the colonial order of South Africas Apartheid regimes.
In the 1980s, due to the ban on the creation of politically oriented art by the government, anonymous community art projects
known as "Peace Parks" became an alternative mode of public protest. "Peace Parks" were site specific installations chiefly
comprised of items derived from the cultural detritus of the urban landscape. The Apartheid government frequently destroyed
these installations. The demise of apartheid brought a new orientation to South African arts, which are now characterized
by themes of multiculturalism and pluralism. Jackson Hlungwani is a self-taught Venda artist whose sculptures bear Christian
messages. Andries Botha is renowned white South African sculptor who, in his search for appropriate visual language, appropriates
the grass-weaving traditions of Zulu women.
Sculptures executed in bronze, cement, stone, even wood commissions from
academy trained and self-trained artists now adorn public spaces in African towns and cities. The inclusion of innovative
works by the Ghanian carpenter and coffin maker, Kane Kwei, in major exhibitions of contemporary African art like Africa Explores
in New York City (1990) and Magiciens de la Terre in Paris (1991) attests to the changing discourse of African art. According
to Oguibe (1995), Kweis fantastic designer caskets transcend the confines of carpentry and reflect the postmodern materiality
of African artistic localities. However, many African artists and critics seem to suggest that Euro centric postmodern art
is ahistorical , intellectually and conceptually sterile, and has hardly anything important to offer contemporary Africa sculpture.
In spite of this opinion, several contemporary African artists engage unstable spaces of modern culture in their works. The
eclectic installations of Olu Oguibe, and Ike Udes evocative body painting are unmistakably postmodern.
Modern and contemporary African sculpture reflects the diversity and distinctive sensibilities of 20th century African
spaces. The practice of contemporary African sculptors reflects this diversity and its inherently dynamic nature and this
ensure that it will continue to develop in positive directions in this new century.
Ezeh, Peter: In the Heart of A Re-christened
Old Child: Postmodernism and Art in Africa in Crossroads: Africa in the Twilight, Lagos, Nigeria: National Gallery of Art,
Gaither, Edmund Barry: "Heritage Reclaimed: An Historical Perspective and Chronology" In Black Art, Ancestral
Legacy: The African Impulse in African-American Art, Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art. 1989
Kasfir, Sydney: Contemporary
African Art, London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 2000
Kennedy, Jean: New Current, Ancient Rivers: Contemporary African
Artists in a Generation of Change, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992
Nkurumeh, Barthosa: "Overview"
In African Presence: Visual Activism in Philadelphia, catalog and art exhibit,
Philadelphia: Afro-American Historical
and Cultural Museum, 1997
Nzegwu, Nkiru, also editor: Introduction: Contemporary African Art and Exclusionary Politics
in Issues in Contemporary African Art, Binghamton, NY: International Society for the Study of Africa, 1998
Olu: Art, Identity, Boundaries in "Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art", Fall/Winter, 1995
New Traditions from Nigeria: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group,Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997
Beier, Ulli: Contemporary Art in Africa, London, UK: Praegar Publishers, 1968
Brown, Evelyn: Africas Contemporary
Art and Artists, New York, NY: Harmon Foundation, 1966
Fosu, Kojo: Twentieth Century Art of Africa, Accra, Ghana:
Artists Alliance, 1993
Kelley, Bernice: Nigerian Artists: A Whos Who and Bibliography, edited by Janet Stanley. London,
UK: Hans Zell Publishers, 1993
LaDuke, Betty: Africa: Through the Eyes of Women Artists, Trenton, NJ: Africa World
Mount, Marshall Ward: African Art: The Years Since 1920, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press
the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace, edited by Olu Oguibe and Okwui Enwezor, inIVA and MIT Press,
Williamson, Sue: Resistance Art of South Africa, New York: St. Martin Press, 1990
Younge, Gavin: Art of the
South African Townships, New York, NY: Rizzoli, 1988
ARTLYRICS: PREFATORY FROM AN ARTIST-POET
In a simplistic term, my poems and enthused works of art are describable
as "Artlyrics". Artlyrics may sound less commonplace than lyrical works of art associated with some artists of the Nsukka
School. The word "artlyric" is a domestic word. On one hand, the word means a work of art inspired by the content and mechanism
of poetry and on the other hand, it denotes a poetic work derived from the visual arts. My art transcend visual activism;
in its linear admission and implied narrative; my art is a visual diary of life. In my work, including poetry, I probe human
nature. I look beyond the physical form because the human mind is the infinite human "being" to comprehend. In my work, the
viewer will notice a dialogue between aesthetics and symbolism, between culture and self in which complexity over weighs simplicity.
In the verses, the reader will come across oral traditions in form of idioms, proverbs, and in recent works, except from conversations
with people. My concern is not to copy nature as exponents of Naturalism do but to make contemplative statements about life:
its complexity, its uncertainty, and the vitality of our collective existence. Narrative and intellectual rigor are more explicit
in my work than Photorealism and erotic sensuousness.
Thus, in this portfolio, I mean to share with the viewing reader
a range of art and poems of mine from the decade I spent at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and some obliging visual art
from the Home Stories and Cyberscapes intervals. I refer to the Nsukka period of my life as an artist as an evolutionary era.
In the early 1980s, I wrote some lyrics for song compositions and made guitars as my interest in the performing arts flourished.
After attending some classes in Prose and Poetry at Nsukka, I began to write poems, few of those early poems survived. Along
with innumerable poets, some of them renowned, I read some of these poems at the Anthill on Wednesday Musings. I am one of
the several artist-poets to emerge from the Nsukka School. Uko Akpaide, Chike Azuonye, Toni Ndikanwu, Greg Odo, Sylvester
Ogbechie, Olu Oguibe, Chika Okeke, Obiora Udechukwu and of course, Gbubemi Amaritsewor are all artist-poets associated with
the school who also read their poems at the Anthill, that poetry liar at Nsukka. For example, the political and social nuances
in What the Mad Man Said: Poems by Obiora Undechukwu published by the Boomerang Press (Bayreuth) is evidence that a true artist
can express himself/herself in whatever creative medium that is available. The book is a poetic sigh about the human psyche
and the shared failure of leadership in the country. Olu Oguibe*s A Gathering Fear also published by Boomerang Press, and
Songs for Catalina are likewise compelling volumes of poetry by an artist-poet whose root is Nsukka. Accordingly, Cyberscapes
from the Old Country is an anthology of illustration poems of mine that I wish to publish. "Cyber" as used here means to navigate
and "scapes" relates to the environment of the mind. From the compilation, The Anthill Annual, in 1988 published two poems,
"Just a Tale", and "The Travellers" and in 1990, "No Beef" appeared in West African in London.
For me, the chance
to share my knowledge is as important as the process of creating my own work; indeed, the two roles are symbiotic. Hence,
"Home Stories" an exhibition of my art in the recent past traveled to museums and galleries in the United States. It was suffused
of my experiences of growing up in continental Africa. On the surface, my work appears to have changed in the course of traveling,
schooling and working in America but that linear rendition of form, narrative approach, and economy of means resulting from
the training at Nsukka is still intrinsic in both my literary and visual activism. Surprisingly, I consider my literary and
visual arts public service. As an American artist who grew up in African in the 1960s, my work still contextually, remain
subservient to my binary cultures, to our differences and commonalities- to our basic human nature. "Oyiogu" (ink, 1990) is
dedicated to my mother, Onwudiwe (death is cruel) whose maiden name is Oyiogu meaning the dread of war that kills the weak-willed.
Certainly, I knew the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War years and those years of reconstruction; it is our basic nature to have conflicts
and resolutions. Poems such as "Travails Jungle" and "Aborted God" are about the conflict of cultures of African and of the
West. "Purgation", and "Journey After Dawn" announce some resolution. I wrote "House of Hunger" after my visit to Olu Oguibe's
then residence at Nsukka called House of Hunger and I dedicate "Forest Path" to "Amaala" Nsukka Visual Communication Class
of 1997. These two poems rely on Igbo proverbs as I executed them during my graduate training in art at Nsukka. "These Little
Ironies", "Flying Wondrous Mechanical Bee", "Ancestral Rhythm", "Travails Jungle", and "Expectations" are from the "Home Stories"
era. During this era, I had the privilege to read some of these poems at Pen and Pencil in Philadelphia. "Cyberscapes: Open
ends" were written in the 21st century, I describe them as a homemade poems in an electronic, cyberspace age.
again does my poetic arts cohere to my visual arts? Poetry and my type of narrative art contain language within language;
in the conventional mechanics of poetry, there is heavy reliance on imagery, simile, metaphor and other means of association,
likewise, my art relies on symbolism that may require knowledge of my world to understand. The reader will realize that both
forms (visual an poetic arts) emerge from life, from my sensory experiences with events and people. In both artistic forms,
in the poetics of the deceitful, rather, concealing differences in the cultures of Euro-America and African, I narrate the
communally shared values; I emphasize the universalism of human existence. This is because since my childhood I have always
heard from the elders: "As it is prevalent among the Oru people (here in, West), so is it among the Igbo".
my work can be grouped into four distinctive evolutionary stages. These progressive units are the Pre-Nsukka Years (1970-1982),
the Nsukka School Decade (1983- 1992), Home Stories Interval (1992- 1996), and Cyberscapes Era (1997-date). The poems and
art in this portfolio include examples from the eras except the Pre-Nsukka epoch. The Moonwatch visual narrative has been
dominant in importance in the Cyberscape progressive unit. In accord with this notion of navigating the human psyche, the
Walt Whitman Cultural Arts Center in Camden (NJ) in 1997, hosted an exhibition of my works entitled "Cyberscapes from the
There are 40 bass-relief panels in the Moonwatch suite. The narrative panels recount a boy*s transitory
thoughts. In this context of narrating, rather navigating the boy's mind, the suite is conceivably a visual book as each panel
is a page. Each page panel in this collection measures 32"x42" and is in the bas-relief technique of engraving into the board;
often, I pull prints and casts from the recessed boards before layering with paints. In the first panel: "Weeping Moon", an
exonerated prodigy in nocturnal serenade is observing the moon. He notices on the lunar surface the peculiarity of human face
with what seems to be a teardrop in the eye. As a youngster, a child, he identifies with the circumstance such that the personified
teardrop drops unto his face. In such enthrallment, as in "Boy Viewing", speculations beget cogitations. Judiciously, these
panels tell of his ordeal in localizing the appertaining subliminal image on the moon generated by his senses. If, in deed,
reminiscences of the folk stories he has heard of the moon were consequential to the imagined presence of the lunar mass,
we are enforced to accept that prior knowledge of forms have a place in the interpretation of images before our eyes.
variety of sources apprized the making of the Moonwatch. St. John*s book of *Revelation* in the Bible is one of the sources
of inspiration for this collection. Similar to *Divine Comedy* by Dante, Moonwatch is in three parts. Igbo (African) folktale,
moonlight plays, the artist*s experiences as a youngster as well as his proximate experiences are influential in the formal
basis of numerous panels in Part I. Part I constitutes of panel #1-20. These twenty panels provide the boy*s terrains of dissonance
in understanding the working of the human mind- the dynamics between visions and realities as these conceptions and actualities
elate our times and localities he has experienced. The works in this portfolio are from Part I of this Moonwatch visual book.
In Part II, panels #21-30, the boy prodigy attains a state of divine clarity; his conjectures dissipate while certain
plangent truths about the essence of life emerge. To an unimaginable extent, his mind has the propensity to control his being
as he is aware of an event-honored verity that God is the ultimate controller and the eventful judge of all indulgences and
beliefs. Where as, in Part III, panels #31-40 we notice that he is ostensibly of a significantly mental age. The tempo of
his meditation has slowed. They have become wedged to the joy that is his and for others who live by the word of God. Some
who have been observing the development of the Moonwatch series believe it is the biography of the artist. Well, that is a
subject of another discussion.
Instantly, Moonwatch raises various questions for our contemplation such as: What is
the relationship between form and the viewer's perceptive mode? In the mind of the viewer, when, if it does, does form become
real image, latent image and mere projection of the mind? Can thoughts of the absorbed manifest as visual impressions that
only the absorbed can become aware of it? Can the boy moonwatcher be regarded as an "artist" as he projects his unconscious
awareness on the lunar body or does art become art only when it can be seen, witnessed by others? So, is act in its purity
art in view of the fact that some see beauty in the laughter that comes from the heart? I must state that this writing, this
studio note, does not played to subscribe to traditional art criticism, it is the song and laughter of a workingman. I am
aware of this: I am aware that these statements are of great consequence, for the art critic must return to them, our times,
and the artist source to fully access the works.
THE LYNCH PANEL
Panel" is about the disasters of military dictatorship in Africa today, the 1995 lynching of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other
civic rights advocates of the Ogoni people in the oil-rich Delta region of Nigeria. Through a work like this, we again come
to gabble with Africa*s political quagmire in the 20th Century where adaptation, synthesis, transition and tradition have
become precepts to usher in a new social order for the next centuries for what it teaches us about industrially advanced countries
and our collective history. Like in my poetry, my art is suffused with the narrative. In the lynch panel narrative, the boy
recreates images within the limits of his own situated experiences. In his rural wisdom, in his apprehensive mood, we again
come to gabble with the existence of certain inalienable political problems in some countries in Africa.
"Lynch Man" and "Lynch Panel: Moonwatch" are about the calamities of the post-independence era in Nigeria, the lynching in
1995 of the writer, Saro-Wiwa and other members of civic rights activists known as Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni
People (MOSOP) by the General Sani Abacha Regime. The advocates were complaining about the share and the environmental decadence
produced by foreign oil companies because of the drilling of oil in their land. The tension generated by this execution has
not subsided. The advocacy has now spread to other oil-rich areas of the Niger Delta region, armed youths interfere with oil
production asking the same questions why their people should not receive a share of oil drilled on their lands; several people
have die. Through a work like, we come to bear the realities of transition for a newly politically independent state for what
it teaches us about industrially advanced countries and our collective history. "Twigs Across the Moon", Barthosa Nkurumeh
(hardboard print, 1991), for illustration, explores the impact of the acculturation of the African to the Western ways, which
makes him a child of neither world. Towards the right hand side of the print are huts, representative of African, his culture,
ways and unadulterated state. On the left are twigs across a spotlight and people conferring with each other in obvious confusion.
In the concept of the artist, the acculturation of the African is a descent from an orderly pattern of existence into a valley
of disorder. Invariably, "Missionary Series", Nkurumeh (etching, 1992) is about culture contact and culture resolution. In
it, the artist recalls that the continued trade link between West Africans and Europeans opened an avenue for Christian to
fully permeate West Africa. The new culture fused with the traditional values. These series of prints provide footings for
assessing some of the prospects and problems created by this commutation of culture. In deed, all economically advanced nations
went through this process of political purification.
Sequel to Charles Darwin*s delusive theory of evolution, "On
Origin of Species" (1859), the Berlin conference of 1884 for European states marked the end of an epoch of reciprocal relationship
between African kingdoms and European polities and the beginning of a new era- the scramble for and fragmentation of African
nations by Europe for industrial and imperial motives. Is it depository to assume that African kingdoms could have developed
into higher cultures enviable to the West without the impositions of foreign leadership and industrial traditions? Is this
intrusion really the major source of Africa*s political quagmire in the 20th Century where adaptation, synthesis, transition
and tradition have become precepts to usher in a new social order for the next centuries?
In both political and economic
terms, there was equanimity in Nigeria from 1958-65, when the decimation of the political oneness became noticeable. In October
1960 Nigeria gain political independence from the country of Britain. A Civil War disrupted the short-live freedom. I can
recount the happy and sad memories of the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War, as I was a child growing up in Biafra, in fact, there
was no growing up on the Biafran side. An oil boom preceded the thirty-month political crisis of 1960's. From the 1980's to
the 1990's, there was an economic crisis owing largely to the failure of leadership. There was a return from military leadership
to democracy by the end of 1999. Given the enormous natural and human resources, the possibility of Nigeria emerging as one
of the most industrialized countries in the world remains conjectural only when viewed against failure of leadership.
scenario that this panel proffers reminds us of crucifixion scenes of the Renaissance art of Europe. Has lynching not transcended
our times and places, has lynching not occurred in every land, some even more flagrant, more atrocious than scene the lynch
panel proffers? Within the last quarter of 1998, the clash between Muslims and Christians resulted to over 250 lynching across
Indonesia (McCarthy, 1998). In medireview Europe, the Santa Hermandad extralegal system of Spain and the fehmic courts of
Germany espoused lynching. The gibbet and Cowper judicial systems of England subsumed lynching as additional means of discharging
constituted authorities (Britainnica.com).
From the last quarter of the 19th Century to the first quarter of the 20th
Century in America lynching evolved into an indescribable legal instrument for racial dominance. Suspects were tortured, hung,
and burnt to death by raging crowd. In the Midwestern and Western states, Asians, Mexicans, Native Americans, even Whites
presumed of horse thievery, murder, rape, and other criminal acts were lynched. After the American Civil War, lynching became
most pronounced in the Southern states such that from 1882 till the end of the Civil Rights movement, nearly 5,000 Blacks
suspected of crime against Whites, even for minor offences like protesting a lynching episode or not making way for a White
man*s automobile were lynched (Lacago, 2000:122-3). There is an unpopular belief that the Ku Klux Klan and other resistant
groups were instrumental to this lynch mob experience.
"John Brown Going to His Hanging" is a 1942 painting by Horace
Pippin of a procession to the lynching of a convicted White man in the state of Virginia for involvement in activities to
liberate Black slaves. The abolitionist, by placement, is the center of attention in this oil painting. Manacled with a rope
are the state of John Brown's hands. Seating on a coffin, he is driven by a wagon to his execution on December 2, 1859. The
artist was not yet born at time of this incidence. Pippin painted "John Brown Going to His hanging" as narrated by his grandmother
who witnessed the lynching of Mr. Brown. Thus, the grandmother became one of the figures in this painting (Gilbert, 1998:7.)
Through the collection, the artist contemplates on how the observer*s mind realizes the image viewed. Hence, it is
meaningful (according to an Igbo proverb) that the one who observes ought to view with meticulousness for a tree-stump would
not haul a bag. It is repository to hold that the subconsciousness germinate thoughts, processed in the cerebral domain, and
further passed down to other parts of the body. However, the memory of the event must be reclaimed by the mind. On the other
hand, to hold that the mind, not the head, is the spiritual abode of the body is disconcerting. The mind is more a repository
of knowledge, innate or learned; it deals with the realities that coalesce the human body with the body of God. The spirit
governs the mind. The mind controls the body. The body, in turn, exerts influence over the external catchments environment.
In certain earthly traditions, the person in a state of trance feels his/her body transformed and the spirit rises
through the person*s head. The spirit that is now outside the human body engages is activities in incorporeal reality. In
witchcraft, the spirit is known to afloat from the sorcerer*s body. On the contrary, in a state of trance, the spirit is customarily
embodied. In the proximate years, non-verbal sharing of cerebral episodes would be feasible with a clinical invention, as
in the artist*s imagination, known as Cerebionault. A Cerebionaut will be capable of encoding mental activities, which can
then be decoded by a device to be, perhaps, known as Videosonault. With a Videosonault one can reproduce with accuracy the
mental images with associated audio relevance.
In the panorama, "Ojemba: Moonwatch" there are
two figures, a strangely Herculean robust person with his pet, striding advertently into town. At the background is an approximate
lunar configuration. Another panel, "Old Neighborhood", shares one-quarter of this lunar association. His face is lit up,
his mouth is ajar and his teeth are exposed, he must have sighted something of immeasurable interest to him in the distance.
Any way, he is a tourist, an adventurer and a person from another town.
In the 1980s, "Ojemba" was a popular program
on the Imo Broadcasting Service (IBS) in Imo State, Nigeria. "Ojemba" in Igbo language means "one who visits towns". Accordingly,
the "Ojemba" radio program worked to reenact the customs of disparate Igbo communities. The adventurer, Ojemba, visited most
autonomous communities in the state to relay the indigenous social and host political structure of the communities. In each
town visited, the hero commits a taboo and would be presented before the Chief and a Council of community elders. After an
elaborate court session, prescriptions were spelt to appease the offended. Without carrying out these dictates, engagement
with Ojemba in social activities by the titled members of the town would be viewed as detrimental to the community bonds.
The central theme in the Ojemba play is discernible in the adage: "Ojemba ewe iro" which translates to English as "A visitor
owns no hard feeling". Appreciably, or so it seems, "The visitor knows not where the environment is uneven". The environments
here, refers to both the internal conditions among the indigenes and the features of the land. Visitors are hence, abundantly
taken in their choices.
In "Act V: While Gone, Done" of the poems "Cyberscapes: Open Ends", I spoke of "Inroads into
self, undiscoverable*" Elsewhere, I stated that if truth is told, the human mind is the most random, the most incongruous
existence to apprehend. The adjective, "incongruous" imports the words "mask", "irony of judgment", "editing the truth", and
other social integration skills that foreigners must understand to benefit from the host community. As we, oftentimes, do
not want the other to feel regretful; we have come to learn that there are various forms of truth. In this context, the stories
portrayed in the "Cybesacpes: Open Ends" become more overt.
In intense moments of engrossed thinking, the turgid line
between realism and surrealism is effortlessly, rather, adventurously crossed. Is this oddity, or perhaps, the illusive nature
of human perceptive mode, the possible explanation for the moon*s predicament? Could a frame from the visitor*s choices, or
that of the child*s spur of the moment thoughts of the object moon be equally varied read, even, disobligingly interpreted
by informed adults?
CLOTHES LINE BOOK
This work is also known as "Clothes Line Poetry". "Clothes Line Poetry"
provides apparent freedom to play around with space, to ingrate the external environment of the book. This piece is in an
altered book format, when it is closed, the shape is that of a book. Pulling the spine reveals a drawl. A thread, rather a
rope, runs out from the bottom of the drawl and runs through a corrugation of transparent vellum papers, mono-prints, texture
papers as well as plain papers. The vellum papers bear sections of various poems I wrote. "The Virgin", a rather short poem
is the only poem that is in its entity. I see visual poetry in the orchestration of the papers on the rope. I sandwiched the
tasseled end of the rope in between a flat piece of wood and the bottom of the drawl. The rope is 7 feet long. The other end
of the rope, also in form of a tassel, which is similarly laminated in between, structured papers. The book could best interestingly
read with an assistant who would hold the end of the rope away from the book shape while the reader peruses the text and textured
pages. Ordinarily, the reader should hang the end of the line for access to the pages. The pages spread out not less than
five feet of the length of the rope line. Hence, the title is "Clothes Line Poetry".
Why clothes line as the conceptual
basis for this piece? Clothes hung not properly closely pinned to the rope will tell of the ordeal of the clothes in the first
stanza of this poem of mine entitled "The Harmattan". The line is as follows: "We hear the cracking sound of... Living and
We hear the cracking sound of
Scorched banana leaves
Dancing in the sky
ochre dust and grains
We caught our
Clothes at our
And the trees
Bowed to reach out again
For the sky splendour
Living and dying;
Clearly, we will hear
The buzz again
To homage to pay
Hey! Our already peeling
Lips, and bare skins
Crave your grace
The immediate lines, lines 6 through 8 tell of this condition of clothes hung outside during a windy day.
Conceptually, the cover image is based on symmetry that seem to; in a way resolve the historics of male female dichotomy.
Contradictorily, as an extremist feminist may perceive it, at reading position, the book bears an image of a man by indication
of geometric brain structure. Portraying the image of woman first would be equally arguable. Rotate the book to 180 degrees
of its reading position; the book will bear a shape indicative of a woman by virtue of the organic composite of the brain
area. This male-female representation by no means is an assignment of roles. They are rather, the socially prevalent appearances.
I tried to avoid clichés like the binary oppositions of "hot" and "cold"; "up stream" and "down stream" used in anthropological
texts to demarcate male and female orientations. The attempt was to probe the difference, if any, in the brain components
of a man and a woman. Conventionally, some spoke of women as being more emotional, calm grandeur, and taken to decorative
lines and involvements but men are more analytical. I presented this case to a group, one woman in the group contented that
men are not always logical creatures as we hold them to be; that they over think things.
No matter how the reader*s
opinion may digress from the on-going lines of thought, what is evident in the symmetric composition on the cover of this
altered book is that in the Western world, while it is socially understandable that men should wear black, blue and brown
suits; women are taken to ornate patterns and bright colored clothes. This I tried to animate on the book cover. One of my
questions remains unanswered, perhaps, may linger for many years to come. Are these patterns of outward social appearance
products of internal environment or are they estates of locales of conformity to the innards of our cultural precedence?
In the panorama, "Ojemba: Moonwatch" there are two figures, a strangely Herculean robust person with his pet,
striding advertently into town. At the background is an approximate lunar configuration. Another panel, "Old Neighborhood",
shares one-quarter of this lunar association. His face is lit up, his mouth is ajar and his teeth are exposed, he must have
sighted something of immeasurable interest to him in the distance. Any way, he is a tourist, an adventurer and a person from
In the 1980s, "Ojemba" was a popular theater on the Imo Broadcasting Service (IBS) in Imo State, Nigeria.
"Ojemba" in Igbo language means "one who visits towns". Accordingly, the "Ojemba" Radio Theater worked to reenact the customs
of disparate Igbo communities. The adventurer, Ojemba, visited most autonomous communities in the state to relay the indigenous
social-political structure of the host communities. In each visited town, the hero committed a taboo and was brought before
the Chief and a Council of community elders. After an elaborate court session, prescriptions were made to appease the offended.
Without carrying out these dictates, engagement with Ojemba in social activities by the titled members of the town is detrimental
to the community bonds. The central theme in the Ojemba play is discernible in the adage: "Ojemba ewe iro" which translates
to English as "A visitor owns no hard feeling". Appreciably, or so it seems, "The visitor knows not where the environment
is uneven". The environment here refers to both the internal conditions among the indigenes and the features of the land.
Visitors are hence, abundantly taken in their choices.
In "Act V: While Gone, Done" of the poem "Cyberscapes: Open
Ends", I spoke of the "Inroads into self, undiscoverable*" Elsewhere, I stated that if truth is told, the human psyche, the
motivating force with human (as in the Nsukka era poem, "The Travellers"), is the most random "be-ing", the most incongruous
existence to apprehend. The adjective, "incongruous" imports the words "mask", "irony of judgment", "editing the truth", and
other social skills. As we, oftentimes, do not want the other to feel regretful; we have come to learn that there are various
forms of truth. In this context, the stories portrayed in the "Cybesacpes: Open Ends" become more overt.
Act V: While Gone, Done
Heart, sweat, and home
When I am gone, done
Left will be these notes
into the self, undiscoverable
Heart, tears, and wholes
While I am done, gone
Right will these immigrant routes,
Or they would politely simply say
Here, was a person from another town
water because he thirsted
Heat hearts, tears, and now sweets
Again, and again braying and layering
When I am gone, done
Left will these tones, codes
Inroads into a self, undiscoverable
As this put,
as that you thought it was
Where will my children*s children play
Day by day, rewording and layering
While I am
Heaving will these hills heel
Or they may hear the pastor retold
Not so hard to be intimate with
from other shores
Or rewrite of me, she may
Of someone who wore an amour
And scaling, falling will these coats
In accord with the principles of correct reasoning, in intense moments of engrossed thinking, the wall
between realism and surrealism is effortlessly, rather, adventurously crossed. Is this oddity, or perhaps, the illusive nature
of human perceptive mode, the possible explanation for the moon*s assumed predicament? Could a frame from the child*s spur
of the moment thoughts of the object moon be equally varied read, even, disobligingly interpreted by informed adults?
FOR RAIN MACHINE
This is a suite of six impressions of a future technology. When detonated into space, this Rain device
can prevent rain from falling and can conversely cause rain to fall even on desert lands. The verticality of structure and
linearity of form in their geometric configuration tell of the involuntary dispensation of this hypothetical rain control
satellite of the artist*s invention. The Rain Machine is based on the culture contact and culture interchange. It involves
traditional Igbo (African) method of making rain and contemporary computer wave. In Igbo Land today, rainmakers generally
work in a guild system. Some rainmakers still call rain from earthen bowl of water, and Rain Stone. In some localities, during
the Rainy Season, celebrants must pay the guild of rainmakers to have a day free of down pour. In the story poem "Rainmaking",
the mischievous rainmaker, apparently a powerful one uses his tool stone to ruin a day of celebration.
In the Studies
for Rain Machine, the powerhouse is the circular form atop in which there are pictographs encoded to cause and stop rainfall.
The circles surrounding these motifs act as a maze protecting the core of the larger circle. Through this series, Nkurumeh
meant to urge us to be open to other world cultures because they can inspire us beyond the limits of our individual cultures.
Test on innumerable viewers, these visual impressions of a rain appliance have been commonly described as pencil, bullet,
cruise vessel, "ironing board with pretty covering on it", "window pane of an African American Church", "confusing apartment
building", and "mini rocket ship from another world possibly very artistic culture".
Immersed his stone
And vowed it must
Be a gloomy turn.
For the sun*s porridge
A tussle blindness
Stirred, and the day
Ezeh, Peter: *In the Heart of A Re-christened Old Child: Postmodernism
and Art in Africa* in Crossroads: Africa in the Twilight, Lagos, Nigeria: National Gallery of Art, 2000
in Encyclopedia Britannica
[On Line] www.britainnica.com
Gilbert, Rita. Living with Art. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill,
Kasfir, Sydney. Contemporary African Art, London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 2000
Fosu, Kojo. Twentieth Century
Art of Africa, Accra, Ghana: Artists Alliance, 1993
Lucago, Richard. *Blood at the Root* in "Time" Magazine, April
McCarthy, Terry and Leidhold, David. *Descent into Madness* in "Time" Magazine, December 7, 1998
Barthosa. "Overview" In African Presence: Visual Activism in Philadelphia, catalog and art exhibit, Philadelphia: Afro-American
Historical and Cultural Museum, 1997
Oguibe, Olu. A gathering Fear, Bayreuth, Germany: Boomerang Press, 1992
for Catalina, London, UK: Savanna Press, 1994
Ottenberg, Simon. New Traditions from Nigeria: Seven Artists of the
Nsukka Group,Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997
-The Anthill Annual. No. 1. Nsukka: Anthill Press,
Udechukwu, Obiora. What the Madman Said, Bayreuth, Germany: Boomerang Press, 1985
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