Showing posts from January, 2008

All about Town this week!

Last Monday one of my informants, Abdullahi – I might have mentioned him before, took me around to introduce me to some other artists in town. This came quite handy, as with some of them I had tried to make contact before, others I hadn’t even know about before. But in any case, in the end this yielded some interesting information. Especially as one of them is actually a sculptor by profession and when he decided to stay in Maiduguri after his Youth Service Year in Borno State had to think about ways of practicing his craft that would be acceptable locally and also earn him a living. Now he’s doing some really nice iron works, stair cases but also mirror frames, chandeliers, chairs, tables etc. And, occasionally he’s doing one or the other figurine he sells down in the south – one of which I now call my own and its really beautiful. Maybe one of these days I’ll post a picture.
I have also finally been to the museum again, though they didn’t seem to remember me from my visit in early July last year. It was actually quite interesting because I went with Abdullahi and the owner of one of the art shops he took me to. Curious how differently we react to different things and how much they seem to have enjoyed the visit and place while I’m actually quite critical of the lack of labelling, the state in which some of the exhibits are etc. In any case, I will have to go back, even though I still don’t really know how to best fit it into the context of my research and all the ideas of how to organise I have in my head.
Next week will be a challenge as I will have to finally get started seriously with the crafts in the town – I should have started earlier but I will need a translator and feel a bit shy about this … I know its silly, especially that this has stopped me to look at a whole sector of things in town but … I’ve never been an employer before, not even on small-scale.
Oh, and on a private note for all those who are not on facebook: Last week was the best ever food-wise. There were guest in the house for dinner on Friday and Saturday – the latter being Sarah’s birthday dinner – and accordingly some delicious food was prepared. I had lots of salad, fried fish, fried chicken pieces, jollof rice and yam balls. And on Sunday I was invited for a cheese, olives and Lebanese bread breakfast and later pounded yam with groundnut sauce for lunch!!! And, I’m invited for more of the same coming Sunday, only at a price: I have to watch Champions League, Manchester United against Tottenham … and I really loathe football. Not good right now anyway, as everybody gets excited about the African cup of Nations. And, I really haven’t had cheese since I’m in the country so … what else could I do but go?

Presentation at the Borno Museum Society

Alright, finally some impressions on my first research paper presented in Nigeria, ever. Its now almost a week since the presentation but because it came about on such short notice I spent so much time last week preparing, i.e. in front of the computer, that I had a strong desire to stay away from it for a few days … alright, the whole truth is, in addition I did some typing for some friends and (host) family who had to hand in assignments and by Saturday I was so tired that I left half of my equipment at the internet place, in fact, a quite important part: the power cable. This is the second time I left something essential in that place and got it back – last time it was my purse – and I seriously start to wonder whether I do have a whole set of guardian angels, plural because there must be at least one fully occupied with looking after all the things I loose and forget all the time!
Anyway, getting back to the presentation: You probably haven’t heard of the Borno Museum Society yet but they do have regular lecturers and occasionally publish really interesting books with regard to regional history and culture. Last week it was my turn for the presentations. “Contemporary Arts in Northern Nigeria – Research Notes.” I had been told in advance that attendance to the lectures fluctuates a lot depending on the topic, speaker and time of the academic year but could be anything between 10 and 50 people. To be honest, after I heard the 50 I became very reluctant to hand out any of the invitation letters I was given. I mean, 50 people is quite a daunting number, isn’t it. Especially if you are not familiar with them and the ground rules of the lecture series. And even more so, if you are expected to talk about a department of this very same university at which you’re giving your talk. And even worse, if the head of this department is chairing the session. I was even more discouraged when I first entered the lecture hall, or rather the conference room of the Centre for Trans-Saharan Studies, and found that the whole arrangement was very formal, rather for 50 than for 10 people and no way to rearrange anything to make it feel a bit more intimate. However, in the end only about 15 people turned up, most of them about 15 to 30 minutes late.
So, I started my presentation about 20 minutes late and actually made my way through it without any major complications, in fact there were not even the usual complains that I was speaking to quickly! (Not sure whether I’ve really become slower as a result of the teacher training with the WEA last year or these people are just used to quick speakers.) However, the questions at the end were … how do I put it? Challenging?
Some of them were to be expected, for example, I was very well aware of the fact that I hadn’t yet paid sufficient attention to the crafts in the region. Others came a bit to my surprise but mainly because I never had thought about it - like the request to include primary and secondary schools into my research. This makes of course a lot of sense if you think that this is were art education starts and children are prepared or discouraged from taking the subject further. However, at the same time there are probably thousands of primary schools in the region of northern Nigeria and I can’t really think of how I could ever choose a representative sample. And, of course the question of religion or rather Islam and arts was raised.
This was to be expected as I am talking about and trying to conduct research into the arts in a dominantly Muslim part of the country. And, obviously, I am interested in any argumentations with regard to that relationship. But, it should be equally obvious that as non-Muslim and not even an expert in Islamic arts I’m less than qualified to have an own opinion with regard to what is permitted or not. ence, I’d really like to hear all the different arguments, those of artists and art teachers but also local Muslim scholars. (However, with regard to the latter I’m not quite sure how best to make the contact.) And, maybe, but only maybe, by the end of this year I will be able to have a more clear idea about the relationship between arts and Islam or rather how it is understood here in northern Nigeria. – And with regard to that, I will have to have a more detailed discussion with some of the members of the audience to better understand their view and the arguments it is based upon.
So, yes, at the end of the day it was a good and intellectually stimulating experience – and it surely helped to refocus me after the holiday break. However, I have just been asked to present another paper or even the same one in another context and I have to confess the little scare in my tummy is right back with me!

Presenting a paper?!

Today (04/01/08) around 1 pm I received a message from Gisela Seidenstricker-Brikay, an expatriate researcher based at the University of Maiduguri, asking me whether I could possibly present a paper about my research, past or now, next Friday. My first reaction was: No way I’m not going to do that, I’m not feeling ready to present anything, last of all my undigested impressions of the Creative Arts Department at the University of Maiduguri to a room full of members of this same university!!! On second thought, I tried to see it as an opportunity to get feedback, hints and corrections on what I have been doing so far – and as a means to force me back into focus after the holiday period. Honestly, I’ve become lazy!!! But, in my defence: There were hardly any students or lecturers around, the owners of most of the art shops also travelled. And, hmmm, my mind was somewhere else … Fichtenwalde, Berlin, London, … and, last but not least, trying to figure out how to navigate local moral standards and still enjoy an occasional dinner at the local Lebanese restaurant. Not that I have to come to any conclusions in this regard. – Yes, forgive me: I love most of the local food and especially the women of my host family always rustle up some delicious food but once in a while I really feel like something different … and I don’t mind the company either. So, I thought, yes, let’s do it and hope the pressure will get me focused and organised again. But now, a few hours later I’m panicking at the very thought of it.
For once, I don’t really know what to present. I mean, yes, I’ve talked to students and some lecturers, attended performances, went to Kano for the British Council Course on Islamic Art, talked to the owners of some of the independent little art shops in town BUT I don’t think I have properly digested all this yet, I still haven’t managed to locate a proper documentation of the department’s history or any kind of archival material (it doesn’t really help that the current Head of Department only occupies his post for about two years and doesn’t really seem to take any interest in the department’s history or that I’ve not been able to win serious attention from his predecessor Dr. A.L. Satti, who has been at the department for a long time but appears to be constantly too busy to see me for more then a split-second), haven’t still met all the lecturers at the department (its been exam period so they were not required to be around) or with others I’m just not good enough to impose myself onto their time, there are still many areas in town where I haven’t checked for art shops, and I not been to the local museum. And those are only the faults and gaps I’m spontaneously aware of!!! Arrrrghhh, what have I done the last two months?!
A second reason I’m extremely nervous is that I don’t yet really know the context of this presentation. Yes, she wrote it would be informal and the audience would be made up of university folk but how informal is informal in the Nigerian academic context?
The third one is my not very good experience with such research colloquiums in the past. You ask for feedback but what you sometimes get is an all-round dismissal without any constructive criticism or someone getting hooked upon some minor detail and ignoring the wider context and all the questions you actually had to completely destruct all your self-esteem and belief in yourself and your work.
So, what have I got myself into?!
Unfortunately it’s too late and I need to send her the details and title sometime tomorrow. So all that is left is to panic!!! … … … And once, I’m trough with this, go to bed, hope for the good old wonder of sleeping it over and pray for a Geistesblitz!!! Wallahi!