On Yinka Shonibare’s Art

sho-at-brighton-festival-2014_21Yinka Shonibare, MBE, The British Library, taken from Turner Contemporary

Yinka Shonibare’s work blurs easy distinctions people make and the categories created between class, race, identity, belonging, and reality. His biggest concern seems to be the complicated historical relationship between the West and the South, and his wide range of work re-present those interactions and influences in ways that conventional analyses miss.

There is a tendency to read Shonibare’s work as essentially postmodern. An interpretation of this nature would go along with Victoria Rovine’s very important note that “forms identified with (African) tradition and those associated with (Western) fashion may interact, blend, and elucidate each other as part of the negotiations by which contemporary identities are declared. Just as Western designers have long drawn inspiration from African forms, so too have African designers been influenced by Western styles, techniques, and materials.”* While this conclusion may not be wrong, the artist himself has no interest in easy conclusions. There is an underlining sarcasm and mockery in his work and personal interviews which, rather than de-confirming notions of originality and authenticity, question the process that created products like the so-called African textile without failing to locate its original identity.

*Rovine, Victoria. “Fashionable Traditions.”

Sin, the root cause of mental illness?

Is this pastor’s tweet a re-presentation of the diabolical?

Popular Nigerian Charismatic pastor, the founder of Daystar Christian Centre, Sam Adeyemi, has set the internet rolling. In a series of tweets on mental illness, the pastor declared that the “root” cause of mental illness is sin and the solution is salvation.

Dami Ajayi has written back. Bisi Alimi, the Nigerian gay man and activist in London, has also fired back on his Facebook page. Chioma Agwuegbo, the Fairy God Sister, tried to intervene but public attacks and cusses wouldn’t let her. It’s an unfolding drama.

I have attended Daystar Christian Centre a couple of times while I was working in Lagos, in the company of Red Media’s Chude Jideonwo (pun intended), so I know the mammoth crowd that the esteemed church attracts. I see a sort of convergence in this pastor’s tweet and Nollywood’s characteristic presentation of ‘were’ (Yoruba word that translates to ‘mad’) and mental disorder as results of an evil deed or an evil plot. Is this pastor’s tweet a re-presentation of the diabolical?

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Situating Africa: 2

Through this documentary, “Road to Timbuktu” episode 5, 1999,timbuktu-1

Henry Louis Gates shows the image of an ancient city, Mali, deep in the heart of Eastern Africa that had civilization and organized ways of life long before the advent of Islam through the Arabs, and the Europeans; an image starkly different from Western portrayal of black Africa as a place of darkness inhabited by people of no intellectual ability.

Gates compares the mosque of Jenna which dates back to the 13th century to the cathedral at Notre Dame, and comments that “these discoveries prove that the medieval kingdom of Mali and the great towns of Jenna and Timbuktu grew out of a civilization as old as the Roman Empire.”

In Mopti, Gates discovered slavery and in Dogan, male and female circumcision: “Like the slavery I found in Mopti, female circumcision is a custom whose barbarity no appeal to tradition can ever justify.” Could it be taken that slavery was indeed practiced in pre-colonial Africa and the transatlantic slave trade was a logical next step aided by the might of colonial power? What implications would this inquiry have on our understanding of pre-colonial Africa and colonial strategies of control?

Situating Africa: 1

In “Talking about ‘Tribe’: Moving from Stereotypes to Analysis,” the writer (Chris Lowe) establishes the argument that the persistent use of “tribe” in the Western world – and also other places – to refer to Africa and African people is inaccurate, carries misleading assumptions, and contributes no specific understanding of African events and realities; and to prevent inappropriate policies, the term “tribe” as a construct for characterizing ethnic groups and cultures in Africa should be avoided.

In the real sense, the popular categorization of conflicts and violent events in African societies as “tribal” signify not only intellectual laziness, but also serves the presentation and portrayal of Africa as a land of savagery, of “people fighting senseless wars” as used by Chimamanda Adichie in her 2009 TED speech “The Dangers of a Single Story,” all at once. This generalized illusion makes sweeping claims and pushes catch-all concepts and theories, and the critique of “neopatrimonialism” as a “deux ex machina”, a catch-all concept, by some scholars in the literature of African Studies could be taken as evidence. The point is succinctly made in Page 1 of the Pamphlet: “Offering no useful distinctions, tribe obscures many.” Rather than treat events and peoples distinctly, “the Zulu people were lumped into a single sum, “thus the Zulu “tribe” was composed of several hundred tribes” (Page 6), masking the reality of wide diversity and differences in African societies.

The Communications Professional as an Intellectual

Public-Speaking

The Nigerian PR/Communications space may not look like the place for grand theories and ground-breaking, paradigm-shifting, society-reforming inventions. “This is a serious business and we take pride in our work”, Chude Jideonwo of Red Media Africa declared resoundingly during a training for new hires. Once, I have introduced myself to someone and told them I work in a PR firm. “You mean a PR agency?” was the response I got. I nodded, howbeit lost in an affirmation-disapproval conflict as I wrapped my mind around what a very popular view of PR as agency says about the nature of campaigns – work, really – that Communications professionals engage.
Merriam-Webster defines agency as “an establishment engaged in doing business for another”. Indeed, public relations is about connecting anyone and any organization with a message to their target publics. This basic understanding, however, only serves the interests of those who do not see beyond the image of PR as a middleman, merely servicing the aims and objectives of clients without any original and visionary direction.
In what I consider a strong article titled “How Intellectuals Create a Public”, Corey Robin takes on the thicket of confusion surrounding the notion of the public intellectual, setting out two competing expectations: on the one hand, he’s supposed to be called by some combination of the two vocations Max Weber set out in his lectures in Munich: that of the scholar and that of the statesman, while on the other, he’s supposed to possess a distinct and self-conscious sense of style, calling attention to itself and to the stylist. “Unlike the ordinary journalist or enterprising scholar, she is writing for a reader she hopes to bring into being. She never speaks to the reader as he is; she speaks to the reader as he might be. Her common reader is an uncommon reader”.
While Corey’s public intellectual creates the public for which they write, convinced about the nonexistence of the public, my communications intellectual speaks to the reader as he is, calling existing publics into how they might be. Whatever the medium, the communications professional is always speaking to an audience that is there, as they are – calling them into a new, imagined form. It is in the creative process of connecting the present to the future – commanding public action and reception, creatively inspiring publics to take action – that a communications professional is formed into an intellectual.
Whatever the message that the communications person seeks to pass across, she must understand the value inherent, and be happy to change perceptions and attitudes. The goal may be to promote the waterways as a trustworthy alternative to roads, or get low-income earners in rural communities to pay more attention to diabetes and seek care in support centres, or project what makes a first generation bank special and better. She adequately commands tools and information necessary to implement her brief, envisioning the change she’s creating as she deploys her innovation. Every new project is not just another opportunity to meet end-of-month responsibilities; every new assignment is a chance to renovate the human estate.
The problem is not that Nigerians cannot trust, the problem is that trusty individuals, products, and organizations are scarce. Here – in trust and delivery – lies the charge of the new order of communication professionals.

AUTHOR: Ifeoluwa Adedeji is a Communications Associate at Red Media Africa. He holds a degree in political science from the University of Ibadan.

For Nigeria

I’m thinking about children
who die at birth;
Children who never grow
to become parents.

I’m thinking about children
whose names I will never learn
to pronounce;
children who learn to sing
a dirge at dawn.

I’m thinking about abandoned children;
children whose words are chaste, holy
like a temple, like an altar;
children who do not know why
they see blood on the streets.

I’m thinking about the images
of children that clump my head:
their postures, their laughter,
their bodies buried like wastes
in those wooden coffins.

I’m thinking about children who
die in the bomb blasts; children
who will never pray for this country.

(This beautiful poem was written by my good friend Rasaq Malik Gbolahan- a fine poet and writer. I first came across it here: http://heartjournalonline.com/rasaq/2014/12/30/two-poems-by-rasaq-gbolahan)

HOLLOW

The sun adores
        your gold-rimmed tyres
Screeching
Melodies on your marble roads

Naked eyes and brown teeth
Lurk- invisibly
Around your visible compound
Separated
Low, suspicious wall
Evil gate which strolls, ‘éémo’

These naked eyes
See your children’s blindness
Brown, indignant teeth that
   love your kola but hate you for
Stains, decay
Seeking to taste your blood-
Perhaps, brown go red, love’s own colour

The cloud resents their heads
Torrents lift roofs
Fearlessly
Send landlords scampering
Jackboots stumping pedestrian paths
Shameful stains from mud splash
Your armoured machines
Stampeding their brothers
For generous tokens
Floating in the air, freshly minted
Released from silver-laced hands
Hands of god.

Their children see your children
With clear vision.
Keep their faces in  the tight
Grip of their middle-class brown teeth
Whispering, not in Queen’s English
You use to keep them down,
But native tongues
You refused to teach your children
Perhaps, one day, through it,
They overpower you.