Sunday, October 30, 2005

Poem by Tade Ipadeola


There was Lu Xun-all pith
Robed in silk he sought
The sum of all singing
And seeking walked
Spare into one sunset.

There was Sun Tzu
When he smiled, when
He deigned to smile,
The shogun retreated
Withe their lives as pryze
Out of heavy ground.

Then there was Okigbo:
Son of thunder
Unfriend of guns
Who lies buried
In a plot of gunpowder
Angry as hell.

And there was you
Passed-over poet and priest:
You were all good-
Giving blackbirds a song
And the world a glimpse
Of Icarus.

(For R.S Thomas)

©Tade Ipadeola
*Reproduced with permission

Talaria is taken from
Tade Ipadeola's second
volume of poetry, The Rain Fardel.

The Rain Fardel was published in 2005
by Khalam Editions
The Khalam Collective
Ibadan, Nigeria.

My review of The Rain Fardel, and other poetry by
Tade Ipadeola, including Sailing - can be read online.

Ipadeola's first poetry collection,
A Time of Signs -
was published in 2000 - by
Intersect Publishers,

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Fire in Sandile Zulu's Art
By Molara Wood

“Working with fire - mistakes do happen,” South African artist Sandile Zulu admitted during ‘an afternoon of spontaneous combustion’ at London’s October Gallery. It was a seminar exploring the creative potential of fire as both a tool and a metaphor in art-making practice. Artists including El Anatsui, Raimi Gbadamosi and Emmanuel Jegede, were on a panel with Zulu, discussing pyrographic arts and ideas surrounding the contemporary use of fire in performance, conceptual and process-based art.

As Anatsui pointed out during the seminar, the use of fire in art is merely an extension of the primordial branding of wood. Sandile Zulu’s art is line with this idea, and echoes a long tradition of painters who have used fire as their erosive media. His “raw and exciting” work, with its unconventional use of the elements - was on display at the gallery; the artist’s first solo exhibition in the UK.

Zulu has participated in numerous group exhibitions, both in South Africa and abroad, and his work is represented in many private and public collections around the world. The October Gallery show coincided with the launch of a new monograph on the artist, by critic Colin Richards. The twelfth title in the TAXI Art series on contemporary South African artists initiated in 2000, the publication is the first book on the work of Sandile Zulu.

According to Richards, Zulu is a pyromancer, a collector of natural elements, and a scavenger after industrial debris. Born in 1960 in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, the artist now lives in Johannesburg. Over the last decade or so, he has developed a working method that relies as much on repetition as it does on the unpredictability of the elements (the unpredictability asserting itself during a live demonstration of fire-drawing by Anatsui in the open air after the seminar, when suddenly, it began to rain).

Zulu’s work harnesses the natural effects of fire, and “alludes to life, to creation and destruction, to colonisation and decolonisation, to revolution and liberation, to purgation and cleansing, to purification and renewal.” When he first began working with fire back in 1990, the artist had seen the element’s action as an allegory for the violence all around him. With the Apartheid regime’s use of fire and firearms as tools of repression, Zulu saw his experimentation with the media as a form of resistance - his way of ‘fighting fire with fire.’

“When I first began using fire, it was very powerful for me,” he said, recalling his early experience with the element he describes as having “a long history.” With the black majority in South Africa still fighting for liberation, Zulu saw the potential for a “radical transformation” in his ‘playing with fire’, as well as many “parallels in terms of context, as an African.” According to the artist, his use of fire back then was “a revolutionary suggestion - I was also aware of the broad symbolism.”

Fire became the core of his art, but other elements - wind, air and water - were later introduced into Sandile Zulu’s processes, as a way of responding to what he called the “winds of change” sweeping through South Africa at the end of Apartheid. The symbolic associations, he explained, are multi-layered, ambivalent and ambiguous, affirming and negating each other. The art is a complex work of immense organic beauty, suggesting, amongst other things, healing and restoration.

More recently, the artist has been introducing elements of colour into his work by stitching onto canvas minute pieces of red fabric, heightening the decorative patterns and - according to the gallery - “leaving one wondering if the canvasses are bleeding.” The ‘bleeding’ quality is a feature of some of the monumental canvasses on show in the recent London exhibition.

Originally conceived as ‘Fire This Time’, the exhibition’s title was ‘Planetary Cycle’ and as the artist explained, the intention is to look into art as a scientific language. “I need to draw upon a scientific discourse,” he said. “To me, science is an all encompassing language; it has God within, ecology, physiology, medicine, astrology - then social and political sciences, there is no boundary.” Therefore, the new works are looking at what he called: “the endless transformations of the mind, the spirit and the emotion,” in an attempt to understand how humankind evolved over time. Zulu suggested that: “Art is also one of the languages that should be considered… as science; art need not be rarefied.”

“I see fire as a metaphor for how bridges are being burnt,” said someone in the seminar audience. African artists, he argued, “should not bring everything to the West.” For his own part, Zulu does not think that much has changed in the West’s ethnographic attitude to art from the African continent, observing that “you still have ’Africa Remix’ - it’s still the same narrative.” He believes that the same stereotypes are still being perpetuated, the same questions, the same paradox, to which an artist must adopt a standpoint. “My standpoint is that I want to work outside the mainstream rhetoric. If you adopt a principled standpoint, you have to tell them: ‘my work is important’,” said the artist. He conceded, however, that an African artist taking such a standpoint is left with little or no scope in which to perform, due to power relations that have been in place for a long time.

Ultimately, Sandile Zulu’s works in the exhibition are concerned with the cycle of life, looking at civilisation and radical transformation because, as the artist declared, “there is a need for revolution, even today.”

Fire This Time - Planetary Cycle by Sandile Zulu, was part of Africa 05.

Bamboo Dreams...

--- Taken @ Alfa Beach, Lagos...
...12 September 05... ©M.Wood

Emmanuel Jegede and the Fall of Time

Discussing the use of fire in art, at the October Gallery, London, Nigerian artist Emmanuel Taiwo Jegede was in fiery form, telling the audience: "I am a political artist. There is no African alive today who is not aware of the injustices faced by our continent." The 'injustices', relate to the unequal structures of power which ensure and perpetuate Africa's subservience to the West - even in matters of the arts.

Touching on a wide range of issues, he demanded: "Cement in Nigeria; who owns it? The British." News about a gorilla whose painting carried a £14,000 price tag, led to another question. "You want to tell me a gorilla is more superior to Ben Enwonwu?" The gorilla’s work, Jegede argued, was being valued more highly than the efforts of many African artists. "They are dictating to us, fooling us that 'Africa is free'." Then, "somebody brought a shark and they paid 17m for it. Can they pay 17m for African art?" In the end, John Picton, Professor Emeritus of African Art, could only say: "I think we all have to thank (Jegede) for the fire in his belly!"

Commenting on a 1994 exhibition by Emmanuel Jegede (The Joy of Living a Race, October Gallery), Picton wrote of the artist: "His sculpture has all the marks of his Ekiti background, his painting likewise, and his poetry is manifestly informed by the Yoruba tradition of oriki." And yet, "all his art work, in whatever medium, is as manifestly marked by his own ebullience and distinctive presence, indeed by a spiritual power personal to him alone."

Emmanuel Jegede, a painter, printmaker, sculptor “in wood and in words”, bronze and ceramic - is also a poet and storyteller, since stories are “art in its more narrative form.” Born in Ekiti, Nigeria, in 1943, he began to study art under Akerejola, a sculptor in his local community, continuing with Edo sculptor, Osagie Osifo, at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. Jegede later moved to London, where he became a key figure in the Black British Art movement of the 1980s. Despite international acclaim and long years away from his homeland, Jegede remains grounded in the philosophy and aesthetics of his Yoruba ancestry.

Having kicked off the Fire seminar with a performance of his poem, Sango Onile Ina (Sango the Fire Spirit), Jegede told the audience his grandfather was also an artist. "Where I was brought up, way back then, there were 100 to 200 pillars, all carved; the pots, ornate; the throne, decorated." He continued: "Where I was brought up, we had artists' quarters, poets' quarters… We have our natural patron of the arts, like the Ogboni cults, the Oba…" Jegede's words, preceded by the touching nostalgia of, 'where I was born', were an essential, impromptu education in Ekiti-Yoruba art. For those who cared to know, the artist informed that surnames like 'Onabolu', 'Onasolu' are indicative of artistic lineages. In Ekiti, "artists had six to ten wives", easily done, in fact, since "they never had to pay dowry". As to the patronage of the arts by modern Africans, Jegede acknowledged some decline, but reported that: "Things are changing. Most of my sculptures are bought by Africans."

Despite the constraints of his immediate environment, the artist's embrace of Yoruba lore and language, seems as keen as if he had never made the move to Britain. In non-English conversation with this writer, Jegede observes a deeply ingrained Yoruba courtesy, although he is the older - by decades. He does not write in English, and though much in demand across Britain for poetry readings, he performs them as composed, in Yoruba.

His published writings in English, therefore, are works of translation, and include children's books: Omo Olode (Children of the Hunter); Jigi Oju Oba (The King's Mirror); and African Dream, a book of stories accompanied by images of Jegede's sculptures. A longstanding collaboration with his translator, Gordon Tialobi, moves the process along; 50 poems are due to be translated, before going into print with Karnak House, Jegede's publishers.

The artist is planning a trip to Nigeria soon, to record some of his Yoruba poetry "in the proper way," to the accompaniment of Ekiti drummers. However, the larger body of the works, numbering hundreds, remain untranslated and unpublished. Yet he continues to write; major world events like the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, tend to trigger intense poetic activity in the artist. The hope is that the writings will be of interest to others, someday.

Jegede's latest exhibition, at the Swiss Cottage Library, London, showed how his work "intersects a profoundly poetic aesthetic with wider political concerns to create a deeply beautiful yet subversive art." The artist described the works in the exhibition, titled Isubu Asiko (The Fall of Time), as a "prayer for tolerance and understanding, and a challenge to invisible forms of oppression all over the world." The paintings reveal the his concerns over the many injustices he sees facing the African continent, including: bad governments, international exploitation of Africa’s raw materials, daily hardships and environmental degradation.

One work, Ipade O Dogba (Unequal Meeting) comments directly on the G8 summit. "How can they be exploiting Africa and they say they are helping us?" Jegede asked. He cited Western initiatives like sugar factories in Kenya and textile factories in Lesotho - which he suggested, are deliberately rigged to fail, keeping the societies dependent. Pointing at a symbol in the centre of Ipade O Dogba, the artist informed: "That is my invention of Yoruba calligraphy." The language, he reminded, was never meant to be written with Roman letters. Believing that "someone has to take the challenge," Jegede has been working on a full dictionary of Yoruba calligraphy for some 20 years. His commitment to the language also means the coining of new words not known to previously exist in Yoruba. He has come up with words for The American Space Programme, and the earth's inner core (ogoto).

Speaking at the opening of Isubu Asiko, Emmanuel Jegede revealed that: "When I work, I work in conjunction with poetry." On the insistent writing in Yoruba, he explained: " I believe a language is a part of your history. Once you disengage from it, you are just following the trend in the world." And so, having supplied those present with explanatory notes in English, he performed more Yoruba poetry, watched by fellow artists, El Anatsui and Tapfuma Gutsa, and his children - including the classical composer Tunde Jegede. The poems, combining Jegede's spirituality and political concerns, included: Owo Mimo (Holy Hands, about Africa's dependence on Western help) and Ododo Ni Mi (I Am A Flower). Rendering a third poem, Ekun Abiyamo (Mother’s Tears, about AIDS), Jegede was moved to tears.
  • Isubu Asiko was on display during July and August. Jegede is one of five artists short-listed to design a Living Memorial for Ken Saro-Wiwa. Drawn from 47 artists who originally submitted design concepts for the monument, those on the short-list (including Sokari Douglas Camp) are busy working on their makets. The winner will be announced at a ceremony on November 10.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Olamide Adeyooye - Sad Update

The sad news today is that Olamide Adeyooye has been found dead. A body found in a burnt out chicken coop in Mississippi has been identified by dental records as that of the 21-year-old, who went missing in Illinois two weeks ago. More information here.

May the beautiful Olamide now rest in peace.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Missing - Olamide Adeyooye

This is Olamide Adeyooye, a 21-year-old student of Illinois State University, US. Olamide has been missing since October 12. She is Nigerian, about 110 pounds and 5"3 tall. She drives a dark green 1996 Toyota Corolla, licence plate LBG 927. The car has now been found abandoned. Police does not seem to be making progress. The media networks have not given the case enough coverage, in the opinion of concerned friends & relatives of Olamide.
Anyone with information should please call Sergeant Johnson of the Normal, Illinois Police Department, on: +1-309-454-9535. Please see this link for further information

Thursday, October 13, 2005

African Visions 2005

So folks, having gone on and on the other weeek,
about the Cheltenham Literature Festival - taking
place in Cheltenham, UK - I acted very ‘London’
and shied away from making a trip out of the capital
to attend the festival. However, African Visions,
taking place this weekend at the British Library,
however, is very much doable.
Details below.

Saturday 15 October

10.30-11.30am - Caine Prize Winners. Brian Chikwava (pictured above), winner of the Caine Prize 2004, and the 2002 winner, Binyavanga Wainaina - in discussion with journalist and critic, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

12-1pm - New Writing and Nigeria. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Purple Hibiscus, and Helen Oyeyemi, who wrote The Icarus Girl - in discussion with Aminatta Forna, herself a writer, broadcaster and journalist.

You'd probably sniff: "Any excuse to publish lovely pictures of Chimamanda." And you'd be right!

View Armet Francis' photos of Africa 05 Literature Events, including shots of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - here. Francis is the official photographer for Africa 2005. He is one of 3 photographers taking part in an exhibition of photos of Black London, Roots To Reckoning, at the Museum of London.


2-3pm - Hiwar Ma’ A Al-Tayyib Salih - Sudan’s most famous novelist & author of Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih, in discussion with Dr Ahmed Al-Shahi, Sudanese scholar and commentator.

2-3pm - The Last of the Sweet Bananas - Malawian poet, Jack Mapanje, reads from his latest poetry collection.

3.30-4.30 - The Noma Award For Publishing in Africa - The announcement of the winner of Africa's most established literary award. With Walter Bgoya & Femi Osofisan.

3.30-4.30 - Sudan at the Crossroads - A discussion & extracts from the film, All About Dafur.

Children’s Event
Beverley Naidoo in interactive talk and reading (10.30-11.30am). She is a teller of “fascinating stories,” dealing with childhood in South Africa, Nigeria and the UK.
Sunday 16 October...

10.30-11.30 - Theatre in Nigeria - Femi Osofisan (pictured right, at the 7th Lagos Book and Art Festival, last month) in conversation with Biyi Bandele & James Gibbs.
10.30-11.30 - A Is For Africa - Young people's workshop, with Ifeoma Onyefulu.
12.00-1.00 - The Role of the Writer - Discussion, with Alex Agyei-Agyiri, Lindsay Collen & Beverley Naidoo.
12.00-1.00 - Tell Me A Story - Children's workshop with Fatou Keita & Walter Byoga.
3.30-4.30 - The launch of 'Africa's most exciting new writing initiative, Kwani? gets its UK launch. Kwani? was founded by Caine Prize winner, Binyavanga Wainaina.

Monday, October 03, 2005

7th Lagos Book & Art Festival

The 7th Lagos Book & Art Festival took place in Lagos, Nigeria, earlier this month - from the 9th to the 11th of September. I was there to see much of it and yes! I intend to blog it.

But first, a selection of what the Nigerian press had to say about the Bookfest, organised by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA). The Sun newspaper, Lagos, ran many articles on the event, including an interview with the keynote speaker, Antjie Krog on September 18. Ms Krog is the author of Country of my Skull, one of the 100 Best Books of Africa. She also gets a mention in a piece published on September 21.

Here's another from Vanguard newspaper, published on September 22. 'An evening of literary rebirth' - was how the same paper described the first main event on the programme, a seminar on the treatment of Lagos in recent Nigerian fiction. Going back a bit, The Guardian ran this, on the last day of the Book & Art Festival, September 11.

Alfa Beach, Lagos, Nigeria -- ©M.Wood
Shot taken Monday 12 September, 2005.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2005

Wale Okediran & Diran Adebayo in the British Museum Reading Room, July 2005 - © M.Wood
"Africa is all over the news this year but many of the words heard and images seen, not least Bob Geldof's Live-8 line-up, have only confirmed to me that the position that vast continent occupies in the British imagination has barely moved on in the past 20 years. My plan for Cheltenham '05 was to put a bit more African nuance and depth on the table, as well, of course, as showcasing quality new writing. Journeys, both mental and physical, is the theme of our event with British-African diasporans Ekow Eshun, Bernadine Evaristo and Dee Jarrett Macaulay, and African heritage bubbles through the consciousnesses of the British protagonists of Orange New Writer's winner Diana Evans and her fellow debut-novelists. We have a new Catch-22 style satire in the shape of Patrick Wilmot's Seeing Double, and perfomance and discussions on the current health of African literature and Brit-African / black British theatre with a cast of luminaries. Oh, and did I mention the Cabaret> As they say, in my part of the old country, 'Eku gbadun' (Enjoy!)"

- The above is what writer Diran Adebayo had to say about this year's Cheltenham Literature Festival, which takes place 7-16 October in Cheltenham, UK. Adebayo is a Guest Director for this year's edition and has programmed exciting African writers, in keeping with the idea of Africa 05.

Some events & writers to look out for:

Saturday 8 October
African Journeys (Venue: Town Hall)
Extraordinary journeys, some into the past, and some into themselves, shape the recent work of writers Bernadine Evaristo, Delia Jarrett-MacCauley and Ekow Eshun. They talk to Diran Adebayo about the powerful journeys behind their latest books.

Diana Evans @ Africa Remix, April 2005 - © M.Wood
Diana Evans, David Nwokedi & Valerie Mason John (Town Hall)
Is being caught between two cultures a pro, a con, or something in-between? This is precisely the question asked by three of Britain's most exciting young novelists, Orange Award for New Writers winner Diana Evans (26a), David Nwokedi (Fitzgerald's Wood) and Valerie Mason John (Borrowed Body) - in conversation with Diran Adebayo.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie @ Africa Remix, April 2005 - © M.Wood

Defining African Writing (12.15-1.15pm, Town Hall)
Romesh Gunesekera, judge of 2005 Caine Prize, and authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Patrick Wilmot join publisher Kadija George to discuss why the literary world still searches for that elusive 'African voice' from the worlds most disparate continent.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie @ the Orange Prize ceremony, June 2004 - © M.Wood

Diana Evans & Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie @ Africa Remix, April 2004 - © M.Wood

Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina, winner of the 2002 Caine Prize, will appear at the Festival at 7.15pm, on a panel discussion on the world's attembe to define 'African Writing'. Wainaina is the founder of Kwani? a literary magazine. He also reads at the Town Hall on Sunday the 9th, at 7.15pm.

The UK's leading African Theatre company, Tiata Fahodzi, performs the play The Estate - an adaption of The Cherry Orchard - at the festival, Town Hall at 7.15, Saturday the 8th.

Sunday 9 October

Kwame Kwei-Armah, Biyi Bandele, Jude Kelly & David Oyelowo (Town Hall, 8.45pm): Kwame Kwei Armah was the fist black British writer to have his play Elmina's Kitchen in London' s West End. He and the other panelists talk about this watershed in black British theatre. David Oyelowo was the first black actor to play on Shakespeare's Henry VI on the British stage.

Other Events

  • Two writers, Andrea Levy (Small Island) & Maggie Gee (My Cleaner) in discussion - Sunday 9th, 4pm.
  • Maya Angelou discusses her new book, Hallelujah, Town Hall, Saturday 8th, 12pm.
  • Alice Walker in a rare UK appearance, at The Centaur, Saturday 8th, 2.30pm.
  • Zadie Smith discusses new novel, On Beauty - Saturday 15th October, 2pm, at the Everyman.