Friday, November 11, 2005

atukwei okai - no show

There were lots of art/culture events of African interest happening in London yesterday - not to mention the various Ken Saro-Wiwa rememberance commemorations. But the only one that I'd planned to attend - and the only one doable for me in fact - was Atukwei Okai's much anticipated reading at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. Good thing I checked my email before leaving work to begin the tedious journey on the tube to the venue. I could hardly believe it, when I went into my inbox to find the 'urgent' email telling those planning to attend the event that - it was not going to happen afterall. Why? Atukwei Okai, apparently, had 'missed' his flight from Ghana.

The unspoken shame of Africa 05, of course, has been the reluctance of British Consulates in several African countries, to actually grant visas to some of the very artists whose vibrant works the United Kingdom has been so busy 'celebrating' all this year.

The first - that I was aware of anyway - was the case of Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso. He was the 'poster boy' of the major exhibition that flagged off Africa 05 - the Africa Remix. Fosso's autoportrait of himself togged up as a Mobutuesque African dictator, adorned magazines, posters and fliers, promoting the exhibition. It was 'the' signature image of Africa Remix. Three of Fosso's autoportraits were in an 'exhibition' of sorts also, as Platform Art at London's Gloucester Road Station for several months. But did Fosso get a visa to come into Britain? No. The 'face' of Africa Remix missed the exhibition's opening event because he was not granted a visa. British newspapers just made passing, mildly amused references to it, as though it was some ridiculous thing that happened to some ridiculous person - one that should raise no more than a minute's chuckle. No serious questions were asked about how this could happen. Surely Samuel Fosso could not possibly enter the country and become a burden on the British state? So, how is one to see the incident but as what it was - an insult, the type that ordinary Africans experience daily. But one which we are increasingly finding, happens to our more illustrious personas as well.

It was not until a month or so later, that Samuel Fosso was able to enter Britain - through France, to give a 'performance', posing as one of his autoportrait subjects in the 'Africa 05' commemorative window display at Selfridges departmental store, Oxford Street, London.

More recently, a West African film director, regarded as one of the continent's best, was denied a visa to attend the showing of his film at the Barbican, where he was also supposed to have given a talk on his work. So, here we have artists invited by major art venues/organisations, and yet they can't get visas. What will it take to convince British Consulates in Africa that someone traveling to Britain is genuinely going for the glory of art and culture?

It doesn't end there. At the UK launching of Kwani? billed as one of Africa's most exciting new literary journals, a Kenyan writer that was supposed to be pivotal to the launch, was denied a visa. 2002 Caine Prize winner and founder of Kwani? Binyavanga Wainaina, had to do the launch all by himself. And this was for an event at the British Library, organised by the Africa Centre.

With side-shows like these, 'missing a flight' has become some kind of euphemism for 'visa denied'. One hopes this has not been the case with Atukwei Okai.


Blogger afrofunkycool said...

Applying for a visa in your country to visit the uk or some other european country is a very chinese experience. The interviewing officer probably does not know who you are and doesnt care. you are just one more native who thinks he is too big for his shoes with ideas about art etc. methinks another face of racism and cultural superiority.The matter will only improve after our home countries have the economic clout to reverse the situation. Then maybe after a few western artists have been refused visas they will get the matter right.

2:29 pm, November 16, 2005  
Anonymous Onyeka Nwelue said...

Auntie Molara,

That is one of the things we have to look into. Let the blacks reexamine themselves about this...i blame whoever that put the Ken Saro-Wiwa stuff in London...meanwhile was Ken killed in Britain?

The Britons still think that we are in that voyage that took us away. Looking at the definition of colonization, that is exactly what Shakespeare shows in Macbeth, cos dictatorship is almost in their blood. I would also want them to know that God will never stop punishing them for invading Africa with destruction and ills.

Thank God that i can read these from you. You are absolutely a gifted writer, and i know that the truth is bitter, but nothing shall happen to you.

I blame whoever that put the Saro-Wiwa stuff in there, cos Saro-Wiwa was never celebrated here in Nigeria, cos the 'celebrants' ran to London to Soyinka...and that is the fact that they have been opted by a country that is hostile to the aspirations of the Black.

God knows the best!

12:50 pm, November 18, 2005  
Anonymous Sunny said...


Your words sound like the words of a troubled man. Meanwhile, all you said are true, cos Ken was hanged in Nigeria and not in Britain.

The British consulates must know that what they are doing now, is sort of fraud and prejudice...

Onyeka as you said, God knows the best.

4:47 pm, November 19, 2005  

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