Showing posts from December, 2007

10 Finger Arts

The other day I finally received a painting, or rather two, I had commissioned some time early in November. I had met the guys from 10 Fingers Art Studio at the Borno Hotel Conference where they had a stall just next to Maiduguri’s Alhaji Mai Gana. I had particularly admired a picture of El-Kanemi, a reproduction of the most famous of all images of him, done in pyrotechnic on board. This was obviously impractical for me to buy so we discussed other possibilities. One idea was that they reproduce the image in oil on canvas for me in a radically smaller size. The other idea was that they paint me something that represents Adamawa culture or rather one of Adamawa’s cultures. This idea came out of the discussion in which both, Mustapha and Hassan, told me that they were actually based in Mubi, Adamwa state and that El-Kanemi had very little to do with their history. From my notes and memory we agreed they produce a cultural painting instead of the El-Kanemi one, after all the latter is a quite common image. And, I’m pretty sure I made that clear enough. However, yesterday Mustapha came around with two paintings, one of the El-Kanemi image and one of Wulma cultural dancers. He swore we agreed on two paintings. I don’t really want to accuse him of lying but I can’t help to suspect that he pretty well knows we agreed on one painting and just tried his luck. I mean, he wasn’t in the least surprised when I told him I remember to only have commissioned one painting and wasn’t the slightest bit willing to reduce the price for both together for me. And, I generally have the impression of he’s quite a clever businessman. For example he told me he would produce more cultural paintings for me and that this might just be the beginning of a good business relationship. And I would be very welcome to visit them in Mubi on my way to Yola – And I’m sure it will be very hard not to walk out there with another painting. In fact, the reason that I in the end bought both of them is the quite stark contrast between the two images. But have a look yourself:

I do seriously suspect that this has largely to do with the fact that the former is based upon an image, hence, the main composition and outlines are already provided, and has been reproduced by them at least one another time before, more likely several times.

Even more interestingly, Mustapha and his colleague Hassan have secured a contract with the Emir of Damaturu for a number of portrait paintings. While Mustapha was suggesting that he otherwise felt disrespected and mistreated by the organisers of the Borno State Hotel conference it is likely that this contact was made there.

Another Scare

23/12/07 Andrew told me to be careful if I go out in the evenings. Chenie (not sure about the spelling), the sister of his wife and about 22 or 23 years old, was almost kidnapped the other day. Apparently she jumped on an achaba at post office area, just the way you normally do it. Suddenly she passed out and the next time she remembers is how she got back to her senses and found herself being driven in a completely different direction, namely out of town towards the Army Barracks. She asked the driver where he was taking her and that this was not the right way at all, the just ignored her and kept on speeding. Only because she managed to scratch him, pull his hair and wrangle with him to the extent that they were almost about to fall over both of them, he stop and she got off the bike and onto another one home. Now, if that’s not scary. Especially as he also told me about some girls that have gone missing recently and that some have been found dead with parts of their body missing. And supposedly, I don’t really know how to interpret this, there are these guys around who just touch you and you’ll pass out … supposedly no drugs, no violence involved, or rather not at this point. Killing obviously involves violence. He referred to medicines and magic. And he’s a quite stout Christian and otherwise very … Just not the kind of person you could just say, well, he’s superstitious and doesn’t know better. Never quite sure what to make of those things; I have decided long time ago not to believe in any of these superstitions. But what other explanation is there. Volunteers please!!!

Hiking at Lake Alau

22/12/07 I’m still not in Christmas mood but feeling much less depressed after a nice outing to Lake Alau with Albert from Albito Arts. We left here about 8:30 or 9am and arrived at the dam about 40 mins later. And then we just walked and walked and walked along the shores of the lake until about 4pm. Now I’m dead tired but soooo happy. It felt so good to be out of the town, just me the lake and Albert’s company. A nice change after the Sallah chaos at Abakura’s house. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this and his mum and sisters are all lovely but 3 wives, 32 siblings plus other relatives and visitors and endless discussions about the different cultures, values and morals of north-eastern Nigeria and ‘the’ West – sorry, that’s simply who I am: I occasionally need a few minutes on my own during the day and if I don’t get them I find that really really exhausting. And Lake Alau and its serene, at times eerie beauty were a nice change for a day, fuel for the soul, rest for the mind and exercise for the body – I’m sure I’ll sleep like a baby tonight!

And before I forget to mention it: I was invited to the launch of the album of one of Lankester’s friends, Lankester being the owner of one of the art shops in town and an aspiring rapper/singer/musician. It was all quite different from what I had anticipated. Starting with the fact that I wasn’t only the only white person there – I kind of suspected this much – but until about 10mins before I left also the only girl. And this guy who, once they finally started, let through the show couldn’t stop making comments about the baturiya. And, of course, these comments were in Hausa. – What is it with people that they rather talk behind your back or discuss you in language they assume you don’t understand right under your nose rather then addressing you directly? I mean, the other day two chaps of about 12-15 years sitting right next to me in the taxi not only called me a whore but also concluded that I was about to drink oil because I dropped off in front of a petrol station. – Get a life! Or rather some manners!

Anyway, this CD launch party was supposed to start at 2pm and last till 7pm, so I felt safe to make an appointment for dinner with Nabil at 7.30pm. Well, at 5pm when I came there were just a handful of guys sitting around the pool chatting. At about 6pm somebody brought a generator, which duly went off in flames a few minutes later. About 6:30pm another gen was brought and somebody actually managed to get some light for the end of the pool that served as stage. At 6:50 Lankester (second left in below photo), who had invited me to see his performance, finally turned up. We just about managed to snap some pictures before I was told off for keeping these guys from performing and I left to meet up with Nabil. The funny and slightly disturbing things was, this guy addressed me as Abakura’s friend despite the fact that I personally can’t remember ever having seen him before! Back at the Lebanese restaurant, I suddenly hear ‘tsssssss Katrin’ and must find out that Lankester also does the DJ there, and even better he and Nabil are kind of buddies. What a village!?! And anyway, a weird experience after the day at Abakura's nice but stoutly Muslim family.

But now: Good night. Tomorrow morning I’ll have to try to finally get hold of Abdullah from the Islamic Art Gallery again. … Oh, and make up my mind whether to go to the official CD launch in the evening. Do you think it would be worth it?!


This has been a week of holidays and holidays there will be until next Thursday, first Sallah and now Christmas is about to come. Hence, the university is more or less closed though a number of final year students still work in their final projects and the required accompanying write-up. Anyway, I guess that’s not really what interests you right now, my research work I mean. Rather what I’m up to with regard to Christmas. Well, don’t you dare mention it!!! I absolutely hate that I won’t be able to spend this particular holiday with my family!!! And the worst: This town doesn’t even have those little phone boots I’ve seen in the thousands in Kano and Abuja where you pay the guy a certain amount of money and you can call abroad. Hence, the choice is between spending ridiculous amounts on calling abroad – and inland calls are already outrageously expensive, I mean, before you even realise it three or four pound of your pay-as-you-go credit are gone and you have barely managed to say “Hello!,” no, honestly I spend more on text messages and phone calls here then in London taking my mobile phone and the landline together!

Anyway, so the choice for Christmas Eve is between spending ridiculous amounts to call home from my mobile phone or not even talk to my parents at all on this most family-oriented of all holidays! Not happy. Will have to lock myself up in my room with a book and lot’s of tissue to dry my tears of loneliness! And the worst: Nobody here really understands this. My host family will be scattered between the homes of different relatives and friends for Christmas and Andrew considers this pretty normal. He takes care of them all year round so rather let them go to their grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends to collect their Christmas presents. And, also, he sees this as their chance to renew their relations with all those who at the end of the day will have to be there to assist them when he’s not around anymore. Well, different countries, different customs. Isn’t it? However, this doesn’t make me feel much better about not being with my parents and brother for Christmas. … And not getting my Christmas goose/duck and New Year’s carp.

Though talking about food: I visited Abakura’s place for the second day of the Sallah festivities and have to say: I loved this meat. I mean, the combination of cake, sweet drinks and enormous amounts of this deliciously fried meat in the virtual absence of vegetables is lethal – I was feeling so sick for the day as if I went out and got wasted the night before, which this having been a Muslim holiday I obviously didn’t – but its worth it!!! …

But unfortunately, that doesn’t change a thing about Christmas still coming up and me being here in Nigeria, all on my own – no, local friends who promised to pay me visits don’t count here, its family in the close sense of the word that matters!!! So, if you enjoy your Christmas meal together will all your loved ones, the very moment you feel like pushing a turkey leg all the way down the throat of granny to shut her up because she can’t stop nagging about the fact that at your age you’re still single or dad complains that your accountant boyfriend still hasn’t checked his tax bill or simply grandpa grumbles because the beer’s not cold enough - hold on for a second, think of me and be grateful to have these buggers around to spoil your Christmas! Andrew might be right that most of us complain about their relatives after Christmas but I still want mine to be around, even if they sometimes get on my nerves …

The British Council Workshop in Kano

Finally back in Maidguri and my back pieces are still hurting from the journey – the upholstery in these minibuses should be classified as instruments of torture and banned under the convention of human right! Well, or at least for these long journeys: I arrived at the motor park at around 7:30 – 8 am, got almost immediately onto a car, secured a comparatively comfortable seat (or so I thought), after an hour long row between the drivers and some guys from the motor park as well as an almost fight in the bus we must finally have taken off around 9 am. I arrived - back, arse, and knees hurting – at Andrew’s house around 4:30pm. How I love travelling in Nigeria! But I think it was worth it, at least as far as the workshop is concerned.

The workshop – well, I might have mentioned in an earlier entry that the British Council, Kano, in association with the Prince of Wales School of Traditional Arts, London, organised a series of workshops for local craftspeople on the subject of Islamic art. Well, this was the third one and the one during which participants worked – and still do work, as I left early – on pieces for an exhibition that is to be held in Lagos in February. In contrast, the first workshop focused completely on familiarising participants with the tools and principles of geometric designs as they can be found in classic Islamic arts all over the Muslim world and beyond. On an earlier meeting with participants many told me that before the workshop they didn’t know how to use a compass at all, they can produce rather complex geometric designs accurately – and, in fact, Ibrahim has already taken up teaching those skill, the first student being me.

I originally thought it a curious set-up, the British Council getting Fosuwa Andoh and David Barnes, both artists based in the UK and in one way or the other associated with the Prince of Wales School of Traditional Arts, to teach Islamic designs to local craftspeople, the majority of whom are Muslims themselves. And, in fact, I still think it is curious. However, like usually things are more complicated then it initially appeared; the coming about of the course much more complex.

In fact, the real curious thing is not that the two of them in association with the British Council set up a course teaching skills to local craftsmen – for a moment leaving aside that these are of all things Islamic designs being of all people taught by Brits - but the response by students and staff of the Department of Art and Industrial Design at Kano State Polytechnic where this workshop took place. Time and time again the participants, in particular those working in the department’s pottery studio and just outside it, were surrounded by students from the department admiring their skills. Don’t get me wrong these guys know what they are doing but … I mean, these students come from an environment were decorated calabashes are available aplenty but watch Farouk work as if they never have seen anything alike before; these are students of a department where textile design and pottery are being taught as part of the curriculum but they are baffled by Sadik and Murtala’s work at the throwing wheel as well as Hannatu’s batik. In fact, one of the lecturers said it himself: There is something really sad and weird about Fossua and David having to come over to teach a local audience to appreciate their own artistic traditions! And here we are again at the point Abdullah of the Islamic Art Gallery in Maiduguri already raised: locally produced art works are, for one reason or the other, not really appreciated here, imported works preferred.

Oh, and just a last word, this is already a long entry again but I haven’t even mentioned what the participants think about the course: I am under the strong impression that they consider the instructions and workshops to benefit them. On the one hand, this is certainly a room for them to experiment and further develop their skills and, for sure, participating in the exhibition in Lagos can only be beneficial for their reputation and, hence, business. On the other hand, the designs that were suggested during the course seems to be very well taken on by their costumers, as least this is what Sadik (ceramics) suggested, and not for their association with Islam but as design innovations. Also, Salisu (leather work) explained, that customers appreciated the ability to correctly reproduce successful designs thanks to having learned to work with compass and ruler. And, this is not even taken in account that a crafts association has been formed through the workshops, CADDAK, that hopes to pass on their knowledge and raise the standing of local art traditions. And, hopefully, hopefully some of those art departments at institutions of higher education decide to invite them for workshops to pass on their skills but most importantly enthusiasm for what they are doing.

So, yes, in a nutshell: Although I haven’t yet quite digested last week’s new information I do think it was worth going to Kano even though on a private level … well, let’s not get there and spoil it all by complaining about the attitude of some male lodgers at the Tourist Camp towards women from the West, or rather me in particular. Guys, just because in Friends and similar TV programmes everybody hooks up with everybody else doesn’t mean that just because I’m white I just can’t wait to get to sleep with you!!! In fact, that is a rather gruesome idea … brrrrhhhhh. And even if my favours were up for sale (after all I’m officially engaged and looking to marry in a year’s time or so, hence, officially not available anyway), do you really think a falafel would be enough?! Come on that requires deep dark eyes, respect, a refreshing smile, respect, a good sense of humour, compatible values, strong dark hair, respect, creativity, the ability to intellectually challenge and entertain me, good manners, one of those voices that sound of deep oak woods, respect, no potbelly, the ability to listen (as in ‘zuhören’), a minimum amount of charm, respect, no arrogance and oga-behaviour, that good and safe feeling in your company … … … and last but not least, that certain sparkle … and respect. Which you certainly don’t have for me because otherwise … oh, and even sooo plumb! (And did I mention old? You should have known better! At least as far as manners are concerned!!!)

A lesson learned the hard, well disgusting way ...

Okay, that's more of the travel anecdote kind, but as Anne said this should become a book at one point I thought its worth noting that ... also as a slightly belated Halloweengruselstory ...

Just a warning: Loli, don't read this: there is repeated use of the C-Word!!!

Basically, the lesson learned is that insect repellent even generously applied to the whole body does not protect you from cockroaches ... well, this is of course only an issue of you are as stupid as me: Getting ready to go out to celebrate Malam Ibrahim's admission to Swansea uni I was thinking that this was an occasion for a bit of eye shadow and mascara and wondering whether the afternoon light outside wasn't more appropriate for its application then the stuffy room in which none of the lamps works for lack of power. Hence, I just dropped around the corner, took a seat on one somewhere on the floor and started to focus on my reflection in the mirror ... occasionally there was a moth flying by, or so I thought. Anyway ... actually, did you know that cockroaches can walk all over you without you even feeling them? Believe me, they can!!! Because, obviously, those moths were actually cockroaches, cockroaches looking for a warm place in my trousers, jumper and hair ... only noticed it because one fell of my jumber when I got up again. And suddenly I noticed them all over me!!! Must have been a nice sight, me dancing there in the backyard of the tourist camp somewhere between panic and, well, panic trying to get rid of them again, the little monsters being thrown all over the place ... and again and again discovering another one!!! Honestly, I had to give Malam Ibrahim a ring, make a new, later time and have a shower!!! Oh, and I haven't worn the jumper since ... I'm quite paranoid now.

Now, can somebody pls. tell me, what cockroaches are if not insects?! Or for what other reason my insect repellent - good old agressive Autan - didn't keep them of!!! Especially when you're in public in an Islamic country and can't easily rip off your cloths outside your room but don't want to carry the beasts into your room .... grrrhhhh. I start to itch all over just remembering and writing this down!

Shike nan!!! I have to get back to my homeworks, or rather: I entered into a competition with Mr. Showoff, Nasiru Wada, about who can produce the better geometric design? Ocassion was his claim he could easily do what the participants of this course I'm attending are doing now that he's seen them doing in, in particular the beautiful batique Hannatu produced. Well, obviously I have great doubts about this ... but let me get back to this
Okay, it has been a while since my last entry. Why, well, first there was this week the uni was closed and then, well, I caught quite a cold and after almost passing out on campus on Wednesday I decided to take things easy for a few days. So, I haven’t really managed to fill the gaps I found in my knowledge about the department. I only have to report that the week before I managed to talk to some of the owners of art shops in the town, well, to talk to … have an informal chat, will have to see them a few times more often to get a bit more information out of them. Some of the artists in town I spoke to actually also make music. Quite an interesting mixture: hip hop basically but in Pidgin English and Hausa! And, believe it or not: They are quite good! If anybody can think of a way to promote them a bit, let me know. Another one of them interestingly is from Niger, which is as much as I could find out about him. He’s really sweet but only speaks French and Hausa. Interviews in Hausa? I’m not quite there yet! And don’t you even mention French!!! By the way that’s the pic he painted for me.

I’d love to know where he learned that. Doesn’t really look like he had some formal art training, doesn’t it. And I’m also not aware of any school of this kind in Niger. Though, that doesn’t need to mean anything. He might have attended art school in Cameroon or elsewhere. More interestingly though: What brought him here? Has it anything to do with attitudes towards arts in Niger and Nigeria? Or is it just the economic situation that is even tighter across the border then down here? I guess I just have to try in Hausa … or organise somebody else to translate for me. The friend of a friend who did it for me on a previous visit, Dr. Ibrahim, has deserted me to take up a job in Kaduna. By the way, just in case you’re reading this: Thanks again!!! That’s him, by the way.

By the way, it seems quite normal for you as the customer to quite clearly agree a motive and everything with the artist in advance. We spent quite some time looking through journals to find some motive for my painting. It’s a weird situation for me as a “researcher” – I’d like to know what he’d chosen, don’t want to impose my own vision upon you but at the same time this appears to be the practice. On the other hand, he chose the magazines in the first place and the only motives he offered to me where kind of cultural or wildlife. … Not yet quite sure what to make of this.

On an interesting side-note: In one of the studios I saw a painting of the Chinese Wall that had been commissioned. Crazy in a way. Abakura is most successful in selling his fantasy European landscapes, there somebody is asking for a Chinese motive, Abdullah of the Islamic Art Gallery tells me imported Chinese low reliefs sell better than his own work and Wale explains to me that the only African style landscapes that sell are extremely kitschy version … so, maybe Abakura has a point when he resists my pressures to rather than copy landscapes from books to go out and paint some of the idyllic places around him. … But then, is that really that different from those people collecting African masks, if possible really old and at least once used in some kind of ritual? I mean, at the end of the day this has as much to do with their reality of life as those European style landscapes with the life of Abakura’s clients. Maybe the only real difference regards the imported Chinese factory made wall reliefs … or maybe not, even though many of us would regard something handcrafted more highly at lot of people wouldn’t be able to afford it and happily buy in what I regard to be kitsch shops. And even those of us who disregard this as non-art - how much has the fact that we treasure individualised handcrafted works more than imported factory made once to do with the price of manual labour in Europe, which the fact that is a sign of a certain status that one can afford this? Maybe labour is simply cheaper here and because of that it’s the fact that something is imported that makes it more desirable? I really don’t know.

Tomorrow I’m hopefully off to Kano to attend a course at the British Council. I keep you updated!