Sunday 1 March 2015

In Lagos, artists converge to mitigate hazards of e-waste dumping

 By Tajudeen Sowole
 A tour symposium, which included performance art works featuring Nigerian and foreign artists with a focus on e-waste is hardly a popular outlet to create awareness on abnormality of being a perpetual dumping ground.

Visiting  Dr. Shu Lea Cheang and Dr. Daniël Ploeger speaking during the symposium at UNiLAG.
But Nigeria's foremost performance artist, Jelili Atiku is not perturbed as he and others conversed on Bodies of Planned Obsolescence: Digital Performance and the Global Politics of E-Waste at University of Lagos (UNILAG) Akoka, Lagos, last week.

The gathering included two performances titled Capacitance Does Not Consume Power by Atiku and Do You Want to Listen to US by Marcellina Oseghale and Olanrewaju Tejuoso.
Participants in the one-year long project included Dr. Shu Lea Cheang (new media artist/filmmaker from US/France); Peter Dammann, (photographer from Switzerland/Germany); Kehinde Olubanjo (e-waste researcher based in Lagos, Nigeria); Dr. Daniël Ploege (performance artist and lecturer at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, UK/Netherlands); and Christopher Williams (an academic based in London and also a lecturer at University of London, UK).

As an individual, perhaps a lone ranger in the Nigerian performance art space, Atiku is not an ivory tower artist. His works in the past and till date has been outdoor, mostly on the streets of high-density Lagos areas.  Shortly after the UNILAG session of the e-waste symposium, Atiku described the gathering as a converge of performance artists and theorists from Nigeria and the U.K, designed to "exchange and develop digital performance practices and theories that engage with the cultural and environmental aspects of the economy as regards   electronic waste."

The U.K, he noted, was crucial in the project, being "one of Europe’s main producers of e-waste." Atiku said that quite a significant part of "British e-waste is transported to Nigeria, where it is partly dumped in unprotected areas." He argued that the "performances were relevant interventions in the technologically deterministic discourses around digital technology.”

A country like Nigeria that is battling with political instability, impunity at the unprecedented peak and gross mismanagement of resources, it is not surprising that policy on physical environmental concerns is not taken with deserved seriousness. For the artists, it's best not to leave the future of a nation in the hands of those who have no business being in government. The implications of the e-waste dump in Nigeria, the artists articulated, are enormous.  According to them, dumping causes severe environmental damage as well as socio-cultural fracture.   

The unstoppable era of technological advancement via electronic, they argued, leaves Africa more vulnerable to damages of unimaginable level.  "Bodies of Planned Obsolescence is aimed at developing cultural and critical conceptual strategies in digital performance that take into account the global socio-material aspects of a (mainly Western) culture of rapid technological innovation driven by a logic of planned obsolescence."

In artistic contents, the works included artists working with what they described as  "informal e-waste recyclers at F-Line (Kalambosa Area) of Alaba International Market, Ojo." The market, which is located outskirt of Lagos metropolitan axis is a notorious place for electronic gadgets from mostly questionable source of importations. 

Atiku explained that the artists' activities at the Kalambosa Area were aimed at establishing "a research network, which will facilitate discourses and new artistic strategies that extend current developments in cultural critical approaches to digital performance studies and respond to acute political concerns around the global economy of e-waste."  Local participants were also engaged as "masters" under whose guide the artists "acquired" some skills.

Back to the symposium, the result of the activities was presented via performances at Creative Arts Department, Unilag. The speakers at the symposium included Dr. Cheang, Dr. Daniël Ploege, Christopher Williams and Olubanjo who highlighted the importance of the project. Listed among the values was effort at checking "the prevalent Euro-American-centric perspectives in both digital performance and cultural studies of technology."

The project initiator, Dr. Ploege stated:  “the  activities will facilitate the establishment of long-term formal and informal networks of exchange between Nigerian and UK-based performance artists and theorists. This would enable artists and theorists from both countries, who presently have almost no knowledge of each other’s work, to build on a cross-fertilization of aesthetic, critical and technological perspectives that originate outside their own cultural paradigms.”

Next stop for the project is a collaboration with the University of Honk Kong, the participants disclosed.  Atiku will join others such as Irini Papadimitriou, Janet Chan, Dr Ploeger and Christopher Williams from 3 - 10 March, 2015. "It constitutes an unprecedented cross-cultural platform for exchange of knowledge and artistic practice with a critical focus that reaches beyond the boundaries of post-industrial Western societies.” Atiku explained.

Atiku’s activism via art is well documented. For example, he found a familiar terrain in the debate and protests over removal of fuel subsidy in 2012. While the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protests were on, Atiku also had a performance titled Nigerian Fetish in his Ejigbo local community. His thoughts: “As an artist, the only medium which I know to be effective in expressing oneself is art. Therefore on Friday, January 13, 2012, I enacted a performance, titled Nigerian Fetish as a theatrical dimension to debate on the fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria. 

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