Archive for September, 2007

Igun Eronmwon: Guardian of ageless tradition

September 25, 2007

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Eric Ogbemudia

Ancient bronze casting

For centuries, Igun Street in ancient Benin City has been the home of famous Benin bronze casting. When The Nation Group Editor (Arts and Culture) SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE visited the street some days ago, he found the street and its art tradition much unchanged. Descendants of the originators of the sacred craft still operate in close knitted communal exclusionism

Multi-coloured interlocking bricks cover the street. Much like ancient Benin City streets, it is a wide road. Should the government decide to dualise the road, there would be no need for demolition of buildings. The setbacks between the covered road-side gutters and the buildings make enough room for that.

The buildings themselves reflect the character of the street. It is a collection of bungalows that few living would dare boast of sharing the same age with. Rusty corrugated iron roofs all, they are all bungalows except for a couple of storey buildings. Built in the days of mud structures, their pillars stand firm as if defying change and modernity. The same sense of solidity creates an atmosphere whereby no structure needs a fence.

To grab the essence of Igun Street, one needs to enter from the imposing King’s Square via Sakpoba Street. A mammoth arched gateway welcomes the guest to the base of Benin Bronze Casters’ Guild.

A guild it is in the deepest traditional sense of the word. Igun Eronmwon as its Benin name is has been there for centuries. Membership is restricted to Igun Street indigenes who are in the art of bronze carving. The only other members from outside Igun Street are descendants of the original carvers who had moved on and settled in other parts of town.

More rusty than the dirt-brown corrugated iron sheets that shield the bungalows from torrential rainfalls and sunshine are the prescient precious pieces adorning the shops that line up the street. They attract attention of seekers from far and near. Whites travel across the oceans to acquire. Blacks travel across bridges to admire. For centuries, Benin bronze casting has been in a class of its own.

The Benin monarch, Ovonranwen Nogbaisi was in one of his most sacred retreats during which he was not supposed to receive any visitor when British expeditionary force leader Captain Philips rode into town demanding an audience with the former. Of course, the impossibility of granting his request – no matter what mighty empire he claimed to represent – was made clear to him.

Who were these barbarians in the deep heart of darkness resisting a “legitimate” request of the Crown representative for an audience with their man on the “stool”?

A force was mobilised. Captain Philips led an expeditionary force whose attitude Wole Soyinka described in You Must Set Forth At Dawn as:

“His Majesty’s Britannic servants were not to be denied however, and they forced their way into the city, with gruesome consequences. Such insolence was not to be countenanced! Orders were issued to mount a punitive expedition, and they were carried out with equally gruesome efficiency. Numerous treasures, the spoils of war were shipped back to England – to offset the cost of the war, the British dispatches stated, with admirable candour. Among them was the ivory mask, the alleged head of Benin princess.”

The ivory Idia head that later became the icon of the Second Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC ’77, was just one of the numerous artefacts the British stole during the expedition. The stolen works were predominantly bronze works. Their origin? Igun Street, the home of ancient Benin bronze casting mystery.

How did it all begin?

In those days when Benin knew no Oba – so far, there had been 38 Obas in the kingdom – the Ogiso reign supreme. The days of Ogiso Uwas was credited with being the beginning of the ancient art. That was sometimes around 300 to 500 BC. However, its specific roots can only be traced back to 1280 AD.

“In every invention,” Eric Ogbemudia, the Secretary of the Benin Bronze Casters’ Guild told The Nation, “there is always a point at which a man’s name is associated with the new invention. This does not necessarily mean there was no such an invention can undoubtedly be ascribed to the person.”

An HND holder in sculpture from The Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Eric Ogbemudia is the poster boy for Igun Street bronze casting tradition. When The Nation entered the street, the very first gallery owner directed the writer to him. “He is the one who can give authoritative information about the Guild and its traditions and operations.”

Born into bronze casting family, Ogbemudia traces his lineage back to Igwera. Igwera it was who was documented to have brought the bronze casting art to Benin in 1280. From where is a question nobody can really answer.

“There are speculations that it was brought from Sudan or Egypt,” Ogbemudia said. “We are researching that now. But there is the possibility that it could have been evolved in Benin here. There were many metal craft shops in Benin then. Metal workers made arrows, swords and daggers for warfare long before the Europeans came. In the process of metal smelting this particular metal could have been detected.”

Scientifically, this is a great possibility. Bronze melts faster than iron. In between, iron stands suspended above bronze liquid – the only condition in which the heavy metal stands suspended on the surface of any liquid – thereby producing a distinct raw material for any creative metal worker.

One way or the other, Igwera is credited with the exalted status of bronze work in Benin.

“The Oba of Benin blessed the Guild,” Ogbemudia said. “There are other guilds such as the metal fabricators and carpenters’ guilds. They are either extinct or in the process of becoming extinct. The Bronze Casters’ Guild remains because it was blessed by the Oba.”

Igwera’s son, Inneh, became the head of the Guild. To date, the Inneh remains the head while the Oba of Benin remains the grand patron. Closely related to the Oba both biologically and in physical location, the descendants of Igwera had carried on the tradition of being court artistes for these centuries.

When the British came calling – or shall we say stealing? – I 1897, what they picked were mostly small sized bronze works. According to practitioners of the art The Nation spoke with at Igun Street, the forage was more or less a mixed blessing. Generally, works were about 18 inches long then. Now they reach as tall as eleven-foot tall statue of the leader of Nigeria’s first revolutionary putch, late Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu which stands on a four-foot platform at his Okpanaku hometown near Asaba in Delta State. Executed by the same Eric Ogbemudia, it is a testimony to the coming of age of Benin bronze tradition.

In vain Nigeria waited for the return of the Idia head for the FESTAC ’77. The cunning British denied the entire Black race even its symbolic presence at the opening ceremonies.

Exceptional the British thought – and still think – their illegal acquisitions to be. No doubt they are of unquantifiable value. These are part of a people’s heritage for the sake of all that is good and sacred. Talking of sacred, these are sacred pieces. More on that later. Yet, the pieces they took away measured average of about 18 inches. Compared to what their arousal of interest had generated in Benin bronze artecraft, new works virtually dwarf their predecessors; if only in size!

From all over the world, arts lovers, historians, ethnologists, anthropologists and indeed all categories of tourists troupe to Igun Street to behold the marvel of Benin bronze culture. “They come here with high expectations,” said Ogbemudia, “only to behold our humble dwellings and wonder if truly all they had heard about emanated from this rustic settings. Not a view pay for a foundry demonstration of the production process.

Who blames them? Just a while ago, an Idia head sold for N6.6 million out there in the world market. Mark it, without any reparation paid to the original creators and inheritors of the artefact!

The curious can still experience the good old bronze casting process. Little had changed over the centuries. The lost wax method still reigns supreme.

Clay is moulded into desired shape. Then the envisaged object is shaped in wax. Another layer of clay coats the well-shaped artistic design. The next step is the firing stage. As the heat rises to up to 700 degrees centigrade, wax of course disintegrates into nothingness literally evaporating into thin – or thick – air. While this is progressing, the bronze is being heated. At 800 degrees, it melts. The molten bronze is then poured in to replace the absent wax through a funnel space created in the moulding process.

The entire thing cools down and there emerges the precious object. Cleaning, filing, scraping and other finishes complete the process after the clay that had fulfilled its part of the creative process has been dislodged, crushed for tomorrow’s production schedule.

To date, women are not allowed into the ogun ogwa, the foundry where the production of Benin bonze takes place. They can purchase products for further marketing anyway or assist their spouses, parents and relations in the later stage of the creative sojourn. Women’s presence at the foundry is a taboo kept over the centuries.

In the same manner, children get initiated into the production process early in life. From around the age of four, they are sent on petty errands such as fetching clay for the mould. As they grow older they naturally grow into the production system. It is natural and ritualistic.

The Benin bronze casters do belong to the Guild Igun Eronwon, no doubt. But each person chooses what God to worship. While someone like the secretary of the Guild boasts of four generations of Christians in his lineage, others adhere to traditional religious practices.

Yet they preserve some deep-rooted traditional rituals no one can breach. For example, be you an inquisitive journalist or a researcher in quest of facts, you have to donate something to the Guild. There is no fixed price but you would need to remember that the smallest figurine on display in the average gallery goes for not less than N6000.

Their lifestyles are generally normal. A good number are craft artists who reproduce existing figures and figurines. Those who are really creative types who delve into experimentation in new forms and shapes tend to have the nature of all artists worldwide. Isolation is a good companion in the creative process!

Their assignment, right from ancient days, had been a sacred one. No one cast any object without the permission of the Oba of Benin. The Igun people, led by their 12 titled chiefs at the head of which is the Inneh, served as the camera that documented important occasions at the court of the Omo N’Oba. When such an event is considered worthy of documentation, they are then commissioned to execute the project.

At the beginning, most of Benin bronze works were the kings and queens and other notable royalties. There were those that documented in one sweeping montage the story of the entire reign of a monarch. Such can be found at the National Museum at Onikan, Lagos and the Benin Museum. In the same manner, non-bronze products such as word carvings and paintings can now be found at the average Igun gallery.

As the British raid exposed the Benin bronze art to worldwide limelight, themes began to change. Today is not unusual to find Ife heads – an old theme, some of the practitioners argue – and other modern designs among the products on display in the some 200 retail outlets and galleries that line Igun Street. Next to the ancient images such as the abe and ada ceremonial swords, you would find images of Jesus on the cross and other artistic motif from other cultures across the land and beyond. Even abstract expressionism find its place in the creative foundry of Igun Street.

“Often times,” Ogbemudia said, “we receive commission from other states. They tell us what they want and we cast it for them.”

Patronage has grown beyond the traditional court collection circle. From all over the world people come to acquire Igun bronze works. Apart from direct collectors, there are arts dealers, especially those located within big hotels and other such outlets frequented by tourists and collector, who come an purchase in bulk for retailing.

In the same manner, battery-propelled bellows had made inroad into the once purely hand operated types. The yearning of the practitioners of the ancient art is that light would be stable. At least that would help propel their bellows. Beyond this, they aspire to using modern high tech bellows and cleaning machines.

If only the government would heed their call.

Walk down Igun Street. Where the road is intersected by First East Circular Street, the dream evaporates. The tile pavement of the road ends. What one is ushered into is muddy gullies dominated road that is practically out of reach bounds to vehicles.

End of the ancient dream that had been preserved over the centuries? Hardly. One only need to be reminded that one of the young “practitioners in training” is a medical student of the University of Benin. If an HND holder from Auchi Polytechnic returned home to take of the profession and a medical student is still growing within the family tradition, Igun Eronmwon, Guild of Igun Bronze Casters, surely has a future!

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Automated Trouble Machine

September 25, 2007

Automated trouble machine Automated Teller Machine, the banking technological magic that lets you withraw cash any time without minding banking hours and officials has become a great pain in the neck for many bank customers in Nigeria as The Nation Group Editor (Arts and Culture) SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE found out Akanji sat at the customer care desk of Access Bank, Iyana Ipaja, Lagos branch waiting for the official on duty to attend to him. Courteous yet slow by today’s banking standard in Nigeria, he chose to stretch his patience rather than react to the dark skinned lady in tandem with his fuming mood. It had been 23 days since his money was swallowed by the Automated Teller Machine at the bank. Nothing had been done to rectify the situation as far as he knew. It all began on August 29. Akanji skipped and navigated his way through the muddy ponds at the entrance of the bank to find his way to the ATM to collect cash. He needed fund urgently. His daughter had arrived Lagos the previous week on holiday. In fact, he had taken a salary advance in the office to meet immediate needs upon her arrival. Now he needed to purchase some things and retire the loan. The machine was on and he inserted his Sterling Bank debit cash. After entering the correct PIN he specified the amount he wanted to collect. The machine duly issued the receipt and asked him if he wanted to perform another transaction. “Don’t use that machine.” Akanji’s heart skipped as a hoarse voice barked at him. Turning around he saw body builder’s frame clad in Arksego security company’s uniform scowling at him. “Why?” he inquired. “Just don’t use it,” the fellow replied rudely. Turning back to the machine, Akanji noticed that despite issuing a receipt, the machine had not released his fund. He ended all operations and went into the bank to lodge a complaint at the customer care desk. The lady at the desk after some delay gave him a form to complete assuring him the amount would be refunded to his account. Not knowing his account number off head – who is supposed to memorise so many digits anyway? – he took away the form. On August 31 the form was returned to the bank duly completed. Now on September 21, he assumed the would have been refunded. On getting to the bank he discovered this had not been done. “Did you complete a form for refund?” the lady at the desk finally asked him. “That’s what I just told you. I did so 21 days ago,” he replied. “Was it an Access Bank card?” “No. It was a Sterling Bank card.” “Did you go to your bank to fill a form?” “Was I supposed to go there to fill another form after completing one here?” “Yes, of course.” Running out of patience, Akanji asked the lady, “Why didn’t anybody tell me this at the time?” Of course, the lady had no explanation. She only promised that the situation would be reviewed. In other words, they at Access Bank there would solve the problem without him needing to go to Sterling Bank. It was all baffling to him. What solution were they now going to find that they had not found in 21 days! The most confusing aspect was that the customer care officer at the branch of Sterling Bank were his account domiciled was aware of the problem. He had had to explain to her days ago while making enquiries about his account balance. If he needed to fill another form at Sterling Bank, why didn’t his banker tell him then? Akanji’s experience was not an exception. It is one of diverse frustrations Nigerians confront in using ATM on a daily basis. In fact, he was to face further huddles on that same August 29. Although his bank, Sterling Bank had a branch not too far from where he had tried to obtain cash, there was not ATM service there. In fact, Sterling Bank, which prefers to call its own debit card, has not seen any reason to install as many ATMs at possible in its branches thereby forcing customers who prefer this system to patronise other banks – and paying extra 100 naira service charge per in the process. So, Akanji went down the road to Intercontinental Bank located adjascent to Sterling Bank along ever busy Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway. “ATM? It’s temporarily out of service.” The security man at the gate explained as he turned him back. Zenith Bank had a branch down the road. All he had to do was cross the road – again – and walk down. The distances between the banks did not deserve boarding a bus. Alas! The ATM at Zenith Bank had the same answer awaiting him: Temporarily out of service. Now sweating in humid air of the early morning sun following the previous day’s downpour having walk quite a considerable distance from his initial Iyana Ipaja bus stop take off point, Akanji took a heavy breath as he walked in the direction of Akowonjo where the security men at Zenith Bank assured him there were many ATM points. He nearly cursed the day he was named Akanji Ekun ti nko’gba ode l’ominu, the wary leopard that puts fear in a thousand hunters. Then he remembered that his explosive temper might have been the basis of his being given the name in the first place. After trekking for about 50 minutes, he was finally saved by FCMB at Akowonjo. A glance at his watch told him some one and half hours had gone by since he arrived at Access Bank. He needed another 40 minutes at least to get to where he would board a vehicle back home. Even then he had to stop by on the way to do some shopping Then he would have to get ready for day’s activities outside and at the office. What was a quick cash withdrawal had virtually consumed his entire morning. Charles lives off Awolowo Road at Ikoyi in Lagos. With several banks located along Awolowo Road, he had never had problem obtaining cash for use over the weekend since he got his GTBank ATM card. That was until one particular weekend a few months ago. Saturday morning, Charles went to Awolowo Road branch of GTBank to obtain cash. His wife needed to go shopping and his mother was to travel back to the village the following day. On getting there, he saw a notice that said the ATM would be out of service till 11 A. M. Not bothered, he headed for the nearest bank with ATM, the UBA next door. There he was informed his service provider was unavailable. The same message greeted him at other banks around. So he returned home and informed his family they would have to exercise patience as he would not be able to obtain money till 11 o’clock. Giving allowance for some delay, he went back to the machine at noon only to discover many others who had been waiting all morning were there trying to cash money. The problem was the machine, now rectified, dispensed money but not to GTBank card holders! People whose ATM cards were on other banks’ accounts could withdraw but not customers of GTBank. Mohammed’s experience was completely different. On two occasions, the machine had simply refused to cough out his card at the end of transaction. On another occasion, it told him his transaction was complete but there was no receipt. Receipt did not matter. What mattered was that the machine at Zenith Bank, Matori branch had not issued a single note of the 20,000 naira he sought to withdraw. It was a Friday evening. So all financial plans for the weekend had to be put on hold till he got to his bank on Monday to report the machine. Evangelicals opposed to gambling describe the gambling machine as the one-armed devil. The Automated Teller Machine is armless. So, what does one call it. Its problems are plenty and diverse. The variety Zenith Bank uses for example demands that you insert the card and withdraw it immediately before entering your PIN. The question is this system, called swapping, requires that the card stays in the hole for within a specific number of hours. In other words, if you are not ready to engage the services of the security men at the bank, you need to “go back to school” as it were to learn how to insert a card for specific number of seconds. A good number of times, the temporarily out of service notice and receipt without cash crisis are results of lack of fund in the machines. How an institution like a bank would not be able to estimate cash withdrawal is baffling. Even the illiterate Niger Republic-born security man who sells petty stuff beside one’s compound knows when to replenish his detergent and chewing gum stock. At the extreme end of this ATM troubles is a machine that had a penchant for miscalculation. Often out of paper to print receipt, it would miscalculate the customer’s balance at the end of the transaction. How did this come out? A worker at the bank, a First Bank branch, advised this writer sometimes ago, “Egbon, don’t use our ATM. It mixes up your balance calculations at the end of the transaction.” A case of the machine stealing for the bank. While Akanji was lodging his complaint at Access Bank, Iyana Ipaja, on August 29, he noticed that there were others with similar problem who preceded him. Others soon joined. One then wonders: Is it not possible to shut down a machine that is causing such problems or at least post a note or a human being there to warn customers? Must the customer go through such troubles in the name of withdrawing cash? Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria sent out signals that there would be a price to pay for banking based on sexual entrapment. Good. The question is that, as the industry regulator, does the CBN not have a duty of regulating operations of the Automated Teller Machine? Someone once wrote an article entitled How did we ever live without the ATM? Such is the prevalence of the use of this technology in the advanced world although it did not enter the shores of Nigeria until recently. An automated teller machine (ATM) is a computerized telecommunications device that provides the customers of a financial institution with access to financial transactions in a public space without the need for a human clerk or bank teller. On most modern ATMs, the customer is identified by inserting a plastic ATM card with a magnetic stripe or a plastic smartcard with a chip, that contains a unique card number and some security information, such as an expiration date or CVC (CVV). Security is provided by the customer entering a personal identification number (PIN). Using an ATM, customers can access their bank accounts in order to make cash withdrawals (or credit card cash advances) and check their account balances. ATMs are known by various casual terms including automated banking machine, cash machine, hole-in-the-wall, cashpoint or Bancomat (in Europe and Russia). In Nigeria for example, Yoruba speaker of Lagos call it owo ara ogiri, money on the wall. The ATM was invented by Scot John Shepherd-Barron. The world’s first ATM was installed in a branch of Barclays in Enfield, Middlesex, United Kingdom in 1967. A mechanical cash dispenser was developed and built by Luther George Simjian and installed 1939 in New York City by the City Bank of New York, but removed after 6 months due to the lack of customer acceptance. The ATM got smaller, faster and easier over the years. Thereafter, the history of ATMs paused for over 25 years, until De La Rue developed the first electronic ATM, which was installed first in Enfield Town in North London on 27 June, 1967 by Barclays Bank. In Nigeria, the ATM was introduced in 1989 by the defunct Societe Generale Bank. In October 2003 InterSwitch ATM system took off. Since then, ATMs appear to have spread their tentacles across Nigeria. Not only does it link branches of a particular bank it also links other banks within the system. Many had come to rely on it for cash needs especially during the weekend and while away from their bases. Apart from banks, there are business points such as supermarkets, filling stations and eateries where ATM service is available. At the beginning – and this remains the practice in many banks except in those trend-setting banks like BTBank – one needed to apply for it. Initially, only the Nigerian elite, mostly those who had lived abroad and had become familiar with “cashless society” concept, applied for it. The major fear of Nigerians at the beginning was that it could be used to defraud them. For example, a senior official in a media lost his new card and PIN number to someone who had access to his drawer in the office. He did not even know until his cheque bounced. Armed with the knowledge that what was in his account should have met the cash demand on the cheque he gave his driver to cash, he went to the bank himself to demand explanation. It was only then he learnt that “he” had used his ATM card to make three major withdrawals thereby depleting his account. However, there are few cases of such occurrences. A stolen card for example is of no use except the thief has the PIN. After seen the obvious advantages ATM, other Nigerians soon jumped on board. As its use spread, banks started issuing it automatically with new accounts opened. With a bank like Sterling Bank, you still have to apply for it. Even then, you are not sure of how long you would wait for its arrival. When it finally comes, you have to wait for your PIN to be sent unlike say GTBank where you receive both simultaneously. You might need to make several calls to the telephone numbers on the card before somebody finally gets it for you. The problems of ATM seems not to be limited to Nigeria. For example, there is the story of a Nigerian whose credit card was literally chewed up in the United States of America. Our is however made more complex, maybe because while the whole world is online we are still on foot. Just like interconnectivity is a problem in our telecommunication industry, online transaction remains problematic in the banking industry – even between branches of the same bank. In recent times, Nigerian banks had been opening new branches anywhere space is available, especially at the nation’s business centres. Recapitalisation has been praised for this trend. The question analysts are asking is why the same factor has not considerably improved IT development in the banking sector. No doubt it more fund is injected into this area there would be an improvement. Another factor that critics had pointed out aside CBN negligence and IT backwardness is the human factor. No matter what technology is available, they argue, the human factor has to be brought in. Technology does not operate itself. A lackadaisical official, for example, who “forgets” to enter a complaint cannot blame a machine for not processing it. Another aspect is the level of competence of some of the people running the system both administratively and technologically. Of course, epileptic power supply also comes in. Technology relies on power to operate. Till these lapses are addressed, Automated Teller Machine remains Nigerian users Automated Trouble Machine.

Conflicts and confluence: Emmanuel Eni finds his level

September 17, 2007

(First published in The Nation on Wednesday, September 12, 2007) eni_portrait.jpgEssential Eni

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The Nigerian Diaspora is not a small community. Emmanuel Eni is one of them. Eni who turned forty last Sunday is a Germany-based artist whose works reflect the contradictions and resolutions of a Nigerian who has to settle in a strange land as The Nation Group Editor (Arts and Culture) SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE reports

Tall, black and muscular, Emmanuel Eni is the poster image of the Black man. His works depict strength and boldness.Take Elephant as an example. It is sculpture made of reinforced concrete. The central amateur was constructed from iron and steel. Many different sizes of rods and pipes were cut, bent, twisted and bound with industrial binding wires the form took shape. After this, the whole body was bound and wrapped with small and large industrial mesh. The four legs were then cast in concrete followed by systematic modelling of the rest parts of the body. This was done with a finer aggregate of grey high-alumina cement and sand.The internal metal construction has an approximated weight of 4,000 kilograms, the reinforced cement brings its total approximated weight to 18,000 kilograms. Measuring 3.5 by 2.5 by 10 metres, where it stands on the German street, it dwarfs other objects nearby.Eni is a sculptor. But he is more than that. A native of Igbanke in Edo State, he was born on September 9, 1967. He studied fine arts at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and obtained a Masters degree in Sculpture in England. A poet, playwright and stage performer, Eni lives in Berlin with his German wife and children.Black Man in European Kitchen. The title itself betrays the conflict the work was all about. It is a recital poem the Eni performed at the Goethe Institut – the German cultural centre – in Lagos early this year. The theme of blending into a society so different from that in which one was raised is common in his works.When Eni took to the streets in Berlin, it was to cry for resolution of the Middle East crisis. Entitled Israel and Palestine, the performance was built around poetry, dance, drama and exhibition. At the end he wrapped the flags of Israel and Palestine signalling dreamed of brotherly cohabitation of the duelling duo.From Niyi Osundare to Olu Oguibe, E. C. Osondu, Ogaga Ifowodo to Victor Ehikhamenor, Sola Osofisan to Nduka Otiono and Sanya Osha, the Nigerian Diaspora is scattered abroad like the biblical children of Israel. They are creative minds whose artistic outputs show what conflicts they have to live with.Emmanuel Eni is a product of this contradiction. Just as Victor Ehikhamenor does with colours, Eni’s works are bold assertions of the Black man’s identity. When he chose to construct a leaf sculpture, he made it rise 7.2 metres tall. Hamburger is stuffed with human beings. It is an acrylic on latex on canvas painting that speaks of a system that squeezes life out of people. White Killing Black is a 2002 painting in which a White man’s pointed nose pierces the forehead of a Black man. The White man appropriately has Nazi logo painted on him in red.The essential Emmanuel Eni as a sculptor and painting manifest in his poetry. Take this: Every light/brings/a new spirit/and it lives/despite man. His last performance in Germany was an artistic indictment of curators and their roles as middle men in the art world. Emmanuel Eni argues that the people would have better access to works of art if the middle man is removed. It was an exhibition and a performance. A 14-metre limousine stuffed with art was used in a Performance from the newly published drama. Apart from the works in the limousine others were thrown here and there on the road side. There the performance of the drama took place. Entitled Death of the Curator, the poetic drama was written in rich expression meant to be accompanied by music and dance.Eni has been actively exhibiting since 1987. He has exhibited in Africa, Europe and America.Olu Amoda is a renown Nigerian painter and arts teacher. Ndidi Dike is a famous sculptor. Segun Adefila is a dramatist and theatre director. Throw in a couple of dancers and drummers and you begin to wonder what they were meant to produce. Others included Liadi Adedayo, Ayo Aina, Njideka Eke, Adetona Gboyega, Chuka Nnabuife, Tola Nwokedi, Joseph O. Olaniran, Mike Omoighe and Ben Osaghae.When the came together at Goethe Institut in Lagos on Monday, July 9, it was not until the first break that they got to introduce themselves. It was the beginning of a five-day workshop of blending all sorts of artistic expressions to create a presentation scheduled for Saturday, July 14. Essentially there was no script. Each artiste was expected to bring in a small script the following day. Blunting the lines that divide different art forms, these Nigerian artists put up a glorious show entitled characterLAGOStika. It was basically a reflection of what life is in the city.CharakterLAGOStika was a melting pot of facets of creation underlining the energetic life of the estimated 15 million populated metropolis Lagos. This theme included commerce, globalisation, urban congestion, music, crime, drama, etc. On Saturday July 14, the results of the workshop was presented to the Lagos art scene and interested public. The night also featured a live presentation of Emmanuel Eni’s new performance titled Do You Love Machine?

Emmanuel Eni, at forty, is a symbol of the new frontiers of artistic expression. At the same time, he is a symbol of the Nigerian artistic Diaspora seeking to find meaning out there in strange lands.

“Both here and there are homes,” he told The Nation last July. He does not deny discrimination and racism. Be he believes he has found a balance. His painted face on stage, his artistic displays are those of a true African. He is uprooted yet deeply rooted in his culture. In the conflict of cultures and interests, a new cultural and artistic personality has emerged.

No doubt, Eni believes in this conflict that Black will emerge the winner. He does not say so in words but in artistic expressions. Bold images and expressions he uses to preach his message. He dresses bold and displays his dreadlocks without apologies.

Of his earliest contact with art, he said, “I was first greatly inspired at the age of five, probably earlier, when I visited an exhibition in the company of one of members of my family. Who I do not remember.”

Whoever the person was, he or she has given us one of the best arts ambassadors of this land rich in artistic outpourings.

Lack of theatre bane of drama – Sola Fosudo

September 3, 2007

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Fosudo 

From the stage to the screen and the classroom, Dr. Sola Fosudo, Head of the Department of Theatre Arts and Music at the Lagos State University is drama personified. During the rehearsal for Life’s Journey of Choices an adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s Twingle Twangle and Twynning Tayle that was staged as part of Toyota Nigeria Limited’s tenth anniversary that he directed, Fosudo took time of to share some of thoughts on Nigerian theatre scene with The Nation’s Group Editor (Arts and Culture) Solomon Tai Adetoye 

The stage is a funny place to earn a living. Yes the consuming public expect to be entertained. The come to relax; and be enlightened, of course. But the amusement of the theatre and the effervescent nature of most artistes make most people get the erroneous impression that career in the field is one lifelong picnic. Not so. Theatre is hard work.

Sola Fosudo is an icon of modern theatre in Nigeria. His name is very popular among home video lovers. But he goes beyond that. Dr. Fosudo is also a theatre arts teacher. And a teacher of no mean stature for that matter. In fact, he is the Head of the Department of Theatre Arts and Drama at Lagos State University, Ojo. As a theatre manager, he has his own production company named Centre Stage Production where he serves as Executive Director. Beyond these, he is also competent in the production area of theatre. He is also a director. It was in the last capacity The Nation caught up with him at the Arts Theatre of Lagos State University where rehearsal were going on for the staging of Life’s Journey of Choices.

The stage play which was an adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s popular Twingle Twangle a Twynning Tayle, was staged as part of the tenth anniversary of Nigeria’s leading automobile importer, Toyota Nigeria Limited. Centre Stage worked in conjunction with Smiling Fortunes, a fast rising Lagos-based events packaging, marketing and artistic consulting firm. The creativity of Smiling Fortunes merged with Centre Stage’s experience to win them the project in the first place. At the end, their clients and patrons who watched the two performances that held at the MUSON Centre in Lagos were more than satisfied.

Billed as a consummate actor, director, theatre manager and lecturer, Sola Fosudo trained in Ibadan and Ife under some of the best theatre scholars in Nigeria ranging from legendary father of modern theatre in Africa, late Hubert Ogunde to Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Iyawo Alhaji, Glamour Girls I and Confession were among the dramas that exposed his drama to the world. Also to his credit were others like the Yoruba classic Amin Orun (Birthmark), Village Headmaster, The Third Eye, Ripples, Koko Close, Playing Game and Grace to Grass among others.

The rehearsal had commenced before Sola Fosudo appeared. He had apparently been attending to some other businesses within the campus. The tempo changed as soon as the Director dressed in business suit entered. Not a single facial expression, choreographic move or tonal inflection escaped his scrutiny. This was the Sola Fosudo Nigerian theatre lover apparently never met. The role playing on screen and on stage and the friendly mien he used to display at the special members’ corner of Niteshift was gone. Here was not even a teacher. The side of him that came out was that of an accomplished director seeking perfection.

“Cut!” he would shout. After pointing out what was lacking in a particular taking he would state the exact point at which a retake should commence. Then the countdown: “Five… four… three… two… one… GO!” The lively spirit of the theatre was still present. Yet here was a man who took stage production with all the seriousness of an aeronautical engineer. From old hands like Kola Oyewo, Rmi Abiola and Tunde Adeyemo to rookie undergraduate artistes, Fosudo was in charge of the entire team.

The amiable Sola Fosudo returned when he took a break to speak with The Nation about the production. He took the writer to the back of the hall where he found means of cleaning the dust that gathered on the unused classroom benches to reduce the impact of the rehearsal sound coming from the stage. Enthusiastically he answered questions about the production. His infectious enthusiasm boiled over when the topic turned to the state of the theatre in Nigeria. At points he bent forward and grasped the writer’s wrist across the aisle to emphasize a point. His expressions drove home his obsession with the issue on the table.

There is the belief in some circles that since the return of democracy theatre in Nigeria has enjoyed better fortune than during the crises-ridden days of military dictatorship.

“No,” came Fosudo’s emphatic answer. “I don’t think so. Maybe in Abuja according to some information reaching us. But in Lagos, the theatre is not faring better in any way.”

What then shall one say? After all, it was believed that the major problem facing theatre was the lack of peace especially following the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential polls.

“That is not the main problem of the theatre in this country,” Sola Fosudo contends. “The problem of drama in Nigeria is the lack of theatres. There are just no theatre halls where drama can be staged.”

Then the “Prof.” in him came out as he pontificated: “There are basic elements of theatre. Number one, there must be the play to present; there must be a script. Then there must be the production team – cast and crew. When these two are in place, you still need the theatre hall where you will stage the performance. A good script and a good production team that has nowhere to present a drama is as useless as not having anything to begin with.

“In Nigeria today, where are the theatre halls? Apart from the National Theatre and the MUSON Centre, where can stage a performance in Lagos? And maybe the University of Lagos theatre. In those days the Law School hall used to be there. Mind you, there is a difference between a theatre hall and say an events hall or a cinema hall. Tragically, these theatre halls are more less centralised. How do you expect a man living at say Alagbado or Ikorodu to go to Lagos Island to watch a performance.

“The Cultural Policy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says the government shall ensure that there is a theatre hall in each local government area… each local government. Where are those theatre halls? If that policy where to be implemented, one can even take his play to each location apart for the vital fact that development of theatre in each locality would be encouraged.”

Well, maybe one should just thank God for the boom in the film industry. No. Fosudo does no agree.

“There is no film industry in Nigeria,” he affirmed explaining that “What we have is video industry. It is home video industry. The absence of cinema halls alone testifies to this fact. Where are the cinema halls of those days – Roxy, Pen and many others? Those that had not been sold off are both redundant and obsolete. Apart from recently opened Galleria and New Metro, there is no cinema hall in Lagos that is at par with modern cinema halls in the world.”

He went on, “There was a time the cinema culture was booming in this country. Films were brought in from outside and the local film industry was taking off. Then government policies threw everything off balance. Not only was importation of films banned, nothing was done to encourage local film production.”

Sola Fosudo then took the subject in intellectual realm. “The issue of culture is vital in the growth and development of any country,” he said. He went on the explain the link between cultural tools like theatre and literature and societal growth and development. The theatre presents an avenue for the society to hold a mirror up to itself to see its faults. Thus reflected it then becomes impossible to discover and implement necessary corrections. In the absence of this, what the society gets is the type of culture Nigeria has today in which cultural malfunction is the order of the day. Fosudo contends that the downward drift will continue if nothing is done to reawaken our cultural values through literature, theatre and the media.

What then ought to be done?

Dr. Sola Fosudo advocated inter-ministerial cooperation. Because what is involved is an overhaul of the media and culture, there is the need for the Ministry of Information and that of Culture and Tourism to work together a programme for the nation to pursue. He explained that at the moment, there are government agencies under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism that have regulatory roles to play in the theatre industry. At the same time the media housed that handle the dissemination of products of the theatre, literature and music are under the Ministry of Information.

“What is needed,” Fosudo told The Nation, “is an all inclusive participation of all stakeholders – government agencies, the different associations of practitioners, the media, corporate bodies, individuals, the academia… everybody has to be involved. Many of the associations that feel they can handle matters don’t even know what they are doing.”

Lamenting government neglect of the arts and culture sector of national life, Sola Fosudo said, “They were even talking of selling the National Theatre at a point in time.” When he was informed that the idea has come back and not just the National Theatre but also Tafawa Balewa Square and the Trade Fair Complex were slated for sale, in utter frustration and anger, he threw up his hands. “You see,” he exclaimed. “Why are they not talking of selling the National Stadium? Provision of social services is a government responsibility. The government is just showing that it is not interested in fulfilling its social responsibility to the people. Is there anywhere in the world where you hear of a national institution like the National Theatre being auctioned?”

Meanwhile the government does not seem to be keen on listening to the learned counsel of people like Dr. Sola Fosudo either for the purposes of cultural development or income generation through tourism. It is arts loving individuals, foreign missions and corporate bodies that uphold the sector. The staging of Life’s Journey of Choices itself bear testimony of this. The Chairman of the command performance, firs post-charter Chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of Management and the Osayuwanoba of Benin Kingdom, Chief Lugard E. Aiminuwu said this much in his opening comments.

The performance which was also attended by Professor Femi Osofisan was better than anybody in the audience’s expectation as Sola Fosudo added “salt and pepper” to the already mouth watering dish Osofisan prepared years ago and presented as Twingle Twangle a Twynning Tayle. The twingling and twangling tale of the theatre in Nigeria is after all a journey of choices. One only hopes we will make choices that will lead us to a desired end.