Thursday 10 May 2012

Wanted: Migrants to Double Consciousness "Republic'

By Tajudeen Sowole
 (First published on Tuesday, 03 August 2010)  
AT the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Sabo Yaba, Lagos where the discussion and viewing of video art works on the forum, State In Time was held during the weekend, issues as well as graphical examples of disenchantment were examined.
The forum, according to the organizers, is an “artistic intervention” from collective of Slovenian artists otherwise known as IRWIN under the initiative tagged Towards Double Consciousness: NSK Passport Project.
Also, it was quite an odd mixed of participants involving the foreign initiators, Nigerian organizers and the uncommon people who got involved in the NSK passport project with a preposterous mindset.
NSK is derived from a German phrase Neue Slowenische Kunst (New Slovenian Art).
In Dortmund, Germany based curator, Dr. Inke Arns’ three video presentations: a musical compilation of two generations of musicians; art in public space; sport wear giant, Nike controversy in Vienna, Austria; the 1984 Bhopal, India, bio-chemical disaster, people’s disenchantment with development in their environment was stressed. Instructive, however, is the fact that corporate governance, perhaps, due to passiveness of governments, keeps making people feel like strangers in their own lands. And as seen in Arns’ presentation, not even the settlement hoax of the controversial activist, Andy Bichibaum, who, for less than an hour misrepresented Dow Chemical Company on the Internet and BBC would lead to a compensation for the victims of the Bhopal disaster. With an estimated 15, 000 deaths and over one million injuries and permanent disability, the Bhopal disaster was considered world’s worst industrial catastrophe.
And if there was any eagerness to see how State in Time “and its increasing significance in Africa, within the context of Nigeria” as earlier noted by the curator, Loren Hansi-Momodu comes in to the forum, presentations by Nigerian art activist, Jelili Atiku filled that yearning. 

A member of the NSK Passport Project, speaking at the event in Lagos
As an artist, he applies his thought about change more graphically. His work, originally were non-video performance, but presented at the forum in video.  One of such performances on screen was Paba Nbari (wonder) an “intersection of performance.”
Other screenings of his performance were clips from his 2005 work, E Wawo, The Awaiting Trial Persons, an installation which held at the Lagos State House of Assembly. Also in that context, his performance last year titled Agbo Rago (Ram Ranch) addresses injustice and inequality, depicting the class system. Earlier performed at the ram market of a Lagos outskirt, Ejigbo, Agbo Rago was re-staged at Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2009) as part of the art exhibition segment, Closures and Enclosures, which featured three other artists, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, Washington Uba and John Oladesu.
Sometimes Atiku got instant impact of his work as the case of the Awaiting Trial. He told the forum that after the performance at the Lagos State House of Assembly, “the house passed a resolution to abolish what is called ‘holding charges’ in the judicial system.”
It’s a common issue in Nigeria’s judiciary that detention of most accused persons in police cells is always linked to the holding charge clause, which, according to sources, has no statutory backings. Some of the images in the installation featured sculptures of Marquette size of male figures as each depicted different stories. In a metal object, the figures look like chickens chained and locked in a cage.
For Atiku, using his art to challenge policy of government is “something I opted for while in school, having been victim of continous shut down of schools during the military regime years.”
And that, he explained, was fuelled in 1998 “during my National Youth Service in Akwa Ibom when I visited Ikot Ekpene Prison.” The visit, he recounted, exposed him to the realities of Nigerian prisons, “and made me develop a strong determination to campaign for prison reform, through visual art.”

Members of the NSK Passport Project at the CCA event, in Lagos
Last year CCA, Lagos had started a similar project Identity: An Imagined State, a video art concept which dwelled on the identity issue. Drawing attention of the audience to this similarity, one of the presenters and the curator of that exhibition, Jude Anogwih stressed that Identity: An Imagined State and State in Time lend support to the need for a redefinition of value, particularly among black Africans and colour people in the Diaspora. 
However, for some of the participants, identity or double consciousness through an art initiative is a complex one. Prior to the gathering, the organizers must have had a handful trying to bring these unfamiliar customers to the reality that NSK state is just an art concept and not geographical expression for a state. Reason: some Nigerians who were not properly informed about the project and had “obtained the NSK passports” expected that the event, when holds in Nigeria, would lead to an immigration exercise.
Interview shots of other Nigerians screened as part of the gathering – perhaps to actually feel their pulse – indicated that the idea of double identity is widely welcome.
Shortly after the gathering and as it dawned on them that their expectation on migration to an NSK state was a mirage and illusory, one of such participants, Salako Mukaila insisted that he has no regret “carrying an NSK passport.” In fact, he was still hopeful that “something good will still come out of it.” He explained that “it was not easy getting the NSK passport as some people were lucky to get it online, but I got mine sending my particulars through hand-mail.”

Jude Anogwih of CCA (left) and a Lagos-based performance artist, Jelili Atiku during the event.

CCA noted that State in Time, evolved out of NSK artists’ earlier activities, finding formation as a ‘state’ at the collapse of Yugoslavia and the coming into existence of the Republic of Slovenia in 1991. “NSK’s State in Time transcends a physical geographical location or a defined statehood within a prescribed ethnic, cultural or religious belief, providing what IRWIN collaborator and writer Alexei Monroe describes as “a conceptual form of identification for individuals from diverse nationalities.”
CCA explained that after an earlier presentation across the world in the 1990s, the popularity of State in Time is on the increase.
This project, it was stressed, forms part of CCA, Lagos’ year long programme On Independence and The Ambivalence of Promise in celebrating 50 years of independence.  It is instructive that 17 African countries are celebrating the golden jubilee of independence on October 1, 2010.
Perhaps something more public-effective needs to be done to educate interested Nigerians that the NSK project is an art expression and has nothing to do with issuing residence visas to people who identify with the concept. “Yes, it’s important,” Anogwih agreed, “maybe a more elaborate public enlightenment will be done.”

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