Showing posts from June, 2009

African Animation Scholarship Programme

News update from Paula's contacts:

SAE presents the African Animation Scholarship Programme

Calling all aspiring African animators! From pixels to puppets, cutouts to claymation, the world of animation is becoming an increasingly popular area of study.
For those looking to join SAE to expand their animated horizons, SAE is proud to announce the availability of 15 coveted part-scholarships.

SAE Cape Town will be offering 10 scholarships for Sub-Saharan African students and 5 South African students, allowing prospective students the opportunity to pursue their dream career in animation.

To secure your head-start in this exciting field, simply log

Art Moves Africa: Call for applications

Art Moves Africa (AMA) is an international non- for-profit organisation aiming to facilitate cultural and artistic exchanges within the African continent. AMA offers travel funds to artists, arts professionals and cultural operators living and working in Africa to travel within the African continent in order to engage in the exchange of information, the enhancement of skills, the development of informal networks and the pursuit of cooperation.

Who can apply?
Artists and cultural operators living and working in Africa.

Which sectors?
Performing and visual arts, music, cinema, literature and cultural advocacy

What type of projects?
To establish partnerships, to participate in festivals, biennials, artist residencies, productions, touring, workshops and professional development meetings.

To go where?
To travel within and between the African regions

Next deadline for applications:
1st September 2009

Application guidelines and forms:

On the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos

When I was in Nigeria last year members of the National Gallery, who’s archive and library I had come to use, pointed me towards a gallery that had only recently opened and housed a well equipped up-to-date library. So I went to Yaba and after a bit of searching – the place was still new and, of course, neither the taxi driver nor any of the people I asked on my way through the immediate neighbourhood knew the place – found the best equipped art library I had seen since coming to Nigeria. But probably more important than the library, the Centre of Contemporary Arts is still alive and kicking and Bisi Silva is promoting contemporary African and Nigerian arts worldwide. – If you want to know a bit more, start with her blog. Anyway, now the effort, talent and energy going into the project have been acknowledged by Next Magazine:

Bisi Silva’s Art Place

By Obidike Okafor, 26 June 2009

When the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) opened its doors in 2007 for its first exhibition, ‘Democrazy', a show displaying the works of the trio of artists, Lemi Ghariokwu, Ndidi Dike and George Osodi, it only marked the beginning of a stream of exhibitions and programmes that have brought over twenty five speakers and drawn international collaborations.

"I feel we have packed five years of programmes into these eighteen months," said Bisi Silva, curator at the CCA.

The journey to the promised land where CCA stands, started out as a teenage fascination from Bisi Siva, stimulated by images of the Incas civilisation from Peru.

She grew into a woman armed with an MA in Curating and Commissioning of contemporary art from the Royal College of Arts in the UK (she is also believed to be the only curator in Nigeria with a professional qualification in curating contemporary art, and the first in Africa).

"Starting my space has always been a personal and professional dream, I did not know when or how it will become a reality. It was when I decided to take that leap of faith to start in an environment where there is little or no funding for the arts and almost nothing for those who want to set up projects that deal with art," she said.

The status quo "remains embarrassing for a nation such as Nigeria, with one of the largest and richest heritage in the world. Successive ministers of cultures have not been able to build a befitting cultural infrastructure even during the oil boom. It shows a total disregard for who we are and what we can be."

In trying to break uncharted areas in the art world, the curator felt that there were few avenues for critical discourse. So, like a scientist experiments, discovers and develops, Silva set out to create a space that like a laboratory will allow artists to develop themselves, experiment on new ideas and interact with colleagues from different parts of the world and the African Continent.

"There was nobody out there for the teeming population of artists who needed to keep abreast of what is happening in other parts of the world," she said. Thus, the CCA was born.

Curators are not exempted from CCA's searchlight, as Silva constantly tries to use the centre to raise the bar for curatorship. "Curating is not about bringing artists together and knocking paintings on the wall," she insisted.

"Curating is a highly complex undertaking which involves the ability to articulate profound ideas about a society in which we live, whether historically or contemporary; the ability to engage with the past and communicate it with the way it impacts not only on the present but the future; and to find artists who are not compromising conceptual depth and artistic output."

Tucked away in a corner of the Sabo area of Yaba, the CCA which doubles as a gallery and library, is far from the fashionable stretch of galleries that dotted the Victoria Island side of Lagos. "We are an educational establishment and not a commercial gallery," Silva maintained.

"Besides that, there is the never ending traffic and of course the very high cost of rent." Yaba will do just fine for the CCA, it seems. The curator believes the location is perfect for a major percentage of the centre's target audience.

"This includes students (three of the nation's major citadel of learning are located at Yaba). "We show works that raise questions and compels the viewer to find answers," she said.

The centre's library started with books from Bisi Silva's own library and grew with the addition of titles purchased as well as those donated by International organisations. "Interaction with the library has not been great," she said, suggesting the virtually nonexistent reading culture in the country.

"It's true that few artists have made use of the wealth of publications that exists in CCA library. I can only presume that they have personal libraries or they don't read and don't keep up with developments, which is most likely. The results are there for you to see.

"A stagnant artistic scene in which the repetition of the same artistic strokes is the rule and not the exception and which contextual superficiality prevails unchallenged." she added.

This year alone, the CCA has embarked on projects to give more visibility to African artists and also generate income for long-term sustainability. Their first port of call was the Johannesburg Art Fair, where they were the only African based organisation outside of those located in South Africa.

Featured artists for the CCA were from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa. Next was a collaboration with the Sakshi Gallery in Mumbai, India, with an exhibition of works by artists including El Anatsui, Uche James Iroha, Nnenna Okore, Moroccan Safaa Erraus, and others from Zimbabwe and Gabon.

Bisi Silva is satisfied in the belief that there are tangible results to the CCA's activities. Based on exposure acquired by Emeka Ogbo at the Video Art Workshop held at the CCA, he recently featured at the Venice Biennial. Uche Joel Chima will also head off to a video art residency in Holland next year.

Performance artist, Jelili Atiku, has already exhibited in Japan. In October 2009, the Centre for Contemporary Art will hold its first ever video art exhibition; participating artists to include some of those people who have benefitted from the centre's initiative over the last 18 months.

Sharing what she feels will be the next step for the centre, Bisi Silva said, "The advantage of being a small organisation is that we can run faster than others with our ability to look inwards for inspiration and our global reach. The organisation will continue to mutate, all things being well."

2010 promises to be an exciting year for the CCA. Silva called it "a landmark year in the history of Nigeria. 50 years of independence; and CCA will be asking who we are and who do we want to be, through a diverse programme that explores art, fashion and post colonial identification."

"What Maketh a Northerner"

One of my recent Google-ing procrastination exercises - come on, I got to do something in the morning while I'm still practically brain dead and waiting for my first cup of Earl Grey to cool down to a drinkable temperature! oh, the magic of quality tea! - had me come across this gem of an article by Abubakar Suleiman, which I think is quite interesting in the context of my research and article in particular, you know, some kind of background reading:

Yes, what makes a northerner a northerner, northern culture northern culture? What makes northern Nigeria northern Nigeria, distinct from Southern Nigeria or the Middle Belt? What makes northern Nigerian culture, Hausa culture, Fulani culture, Kanuri culture and the cultures of the many ethnic and linguistic minorities living in the area northern Nigerian culture? What does 'northern' stand for in the Nigerian context?

Not a question for me to answer but one that lurks somewhere at the back of my research topic because that is how I naively framed my research topic (now almost three years ago): How shall I address this? Shall I address it at all? ... Well, as far as this blog is concerned from now on I will simply refer you to this article and the following discussion that developed in the comment section because it is probably closer to what 'northern' stands for in the Nigerian context (or shall I say for different Nigerians?) than anything I could ever write. – Well, yes, I am aware that internet fora such as the ones on which I found the article can only ever reflect the opinions of the few who actually access the internet but I think they still provide an interesting insight into the variety of opinions (and, let’s face it, most of the people I have been seriously discussing such things with in Nigeria belong to those elected few anyway). – So, yes I am a bit uncomfortable as regards this question but as not only my research topic but also the name of this blog point towards it let’s briefly address it here, though I will refrain from any analysis but let the below speak for itself – the least, I hope you will gain from it is an insight on why I am as an outsider feel pretty insecure about the definition of the very same ‘northern Nigeria’ I am referring to in my title, how the very question could draw me into Nigerian identity and power politics.

I found the article on Busuguma’s Dan Borno blog but it looks like it has been originally published at the The Nigerian Village Square – this is also where you find the equally or even more telling commentaries (at the bottom you can navigate to, currently, 17 more pages of reactions). It has also been republished in the Daily Triumph.

Here just a little excerpt of the original article, for the complete entry check out any of the above sites:


And yet again, I am a northerner! A ‘hausa-fulani’, a ‘northern apologist’ and a ‘mallam’. I am a dozen failed presidents and a thousand crooked ministers. I am a murderer of Igbo traders, a street urchin and a beggar. I carry the burden of the ruling elite, the military junta, the feudal lords and the religious cults. Yes, they call me a northerner and they say I am the problem of the nation. I am the one who built Abuja with stolen wealth, I refuse my people immunization and silently decreed illiteracy so that people will not read and understand. I am the man that counts my cattle and adds it to the population of my people, the same man that collects the ‘soft earned’ oil money from the Delta to buy luxury homes in Dubai. It is I that is renovating petroleum institute with more than $100 million dollars so that the ninety percent of my people who till the land can get better produce. I am the northerner, the unschooled, the corrupted, the lazy and the most ‘stupid’ and yet I am the ruler of a quarter of black humanity.

A Negro and an African, a Nigerian and a Northerner and, yes most definitely a Muslim. I carry the burden of the world on my shoulder yet I stand straight. I stand with my head held high because I am truly all that I have been called but I am far more than that. I am a man. I have my principles and a clear objective. I seek to live an ethical life, a life of impact. I am hard-working, I read, I listen and I talk. I think. I think Ngozi is good (brilliant) and Ndidi is bad (disastrous) , I hold Bode Agusto as exemplary and Bode George a shame, I know Sanusi to be straight and Shamsudeen a sham. You see, I am beyond the north, I am more than the nation, I am better than the continent and black is merely the color of my skin.


Next time you talk about the northerner, I want you to know that you are talking about me and that I am more than the sum of failed leaders with ethnic agendas (How an agenda can be considered ethnic when it subjugates 99% of the same tribe beats me). Next time you call on the north to step aside, remember you are asking 99% of my people who are nowhere near Aso Rock to step aside- from their desert encroached farmland and their dry muddy wells, from the tree shades where their children are taught the alphabets and the irrigation canal that has found a home in a luxury estate in south Africa. You are asking for my silence in the face of tyranny, a tyranny that killed my children before it gave your offspring dysentery but I shall not be silenced. What you are asking is that Nigerians should be made to shut up because Nigerians are fraudulent- we will not be silenced even if a million Nigerians are fraudsters and drug barons. Even as my sister from Edo is walking the ‘street’ of Rome, so shall my brother from Benin be crowned an Archbishop at the Vatican. As you seek to crucify UMYA, so you shall seek to enthrone Ribadu (these are difficult times so we must lower our standards). The north produced Buhari & Babangida; we are also responsible for Major Abubakar Umar and Major Al-Mustapha. This system produced Ken Nnamani and Andy Uba. Africa is responsible for Mandela and Mugabe; and both Mobutu and MLK Jnr. are black. You see, I am a northerner but not that ‘northerner’, no! I am not the northerner who engages in ‘nocturnal meetings’ to take complete control of my country. I am not the northerner on whose behalf these meetings are held and in whose interest these crimes are committed. I am that other northerner, the one whose uncle cannot afford fertilizer; whose niece has no school to go to. I am the northerner that Nigeria needs because I am half the nation and none of its problem. I am more than seventy million men and women waiting to be unleashed, raising my voice and voting for change.

There is a depths of (for the researcher/anthropologist interested in ethnicity/identity) interesting commentaries in the comment section. I beg you to have a flick through them as they contribute a variety of different views upon the same question and in doing so locate the writer’s opinion in a wider Nigerian context. In addition, there’s probably a lot more on the net and certainly in the literature on ethnicity, ethnicity in Nigeria, Hausa (Fulani, Kanuri etc.) identity in particular but let’s leave it here for the moment … Got to get back writing on my chapter and I’m already slightly behind schedule!

On Piety, Pietisation and Contemporary Arts

I have been thinking and subsequently blogging about iconoclasm a lot, primarily in an attempt to clarify my own approach and possible arguments regarding iconoclasm as one extreme in a spectrum of relationships between religion and the (visual) arts, or different regimes of visual piety if you like. You might have noticed one recurrent theme throughout the last blogs, probably most palpable in my ramblings on Arts, (Religious) Politics and my Research: how to address and conceptualise what I perceive of as a pervasive influence of religion/religious politics with regard to the art forms I’m concerned with (and beyond). I have been using terms such as religious politics, socio-religious context and alike but never been particularly happy with them. Now, yesterday I was searching for literature about other aspects of the relationship between the arts and Islam actually addressing contemporary, to use these terms again, socio-religious developments and the views of Muslim scholars speaking to contemporary Muslims about the legitimacy of different art forms. In this course, I came across a special issue of the journal Contemporary Islam particularly concerned the contested notions of art, leisure and entertainment in contemporary Muslim societies. The journal and the articles I will be referring to in due course are freely available here. While there were a number of (in comparative terms) useful ideas, concepts and observations in other articles as well, what I would like to briefly introduce you to here, is the concept of ‘pietization’ introduced by Bryan S. Turner and constructively employed by Karin van Nieuwkerk.

Following the (socio-) political developments in the Muslim world through the medium of mainstream Western press as well as popular political analysis one is left with the impression that almost everywhere religious fundamentalists/Islamists are gaining ideological as well as political influence. To which extent this reflects actual developments, increased concerns with (national) security and terrorism after 9/11 or a lack of appropriate terminology to account for nuances in the identified renewed interest in Islam not only as a framework for individual spirituality but the organisation of whole societies is, as far as my research is concerned, almost a mute point. More importantly, concepts such as religious fundamentalism and Islamism borrowed from political science not only draw me into Nigerian religious politics but, I believe, cannot appropriately account for the effects of recent socio- and religio-political developments on local popular culture. Instead, Turner suggests the concept of ‘piety’ and/or ‘pietization’:

Turner equally rejects fundamentalism a as suitable analytical tool as the term ‘carries too much ideological baggage to be useful in the sociology of religion’ (p. 6) and, instead, suggests that ‘the religious revival which we witness in Islam worldwide’ should primarily be understood as ‘movement[s] to rationalise the everyday world through adherence to pious norms.’ (p. 4) Drawing upon a critical reading of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism he argues that

Protestantism or more generally piety movements are culturally creative. They typically involve the destruction or overcoming of many traditional or taken-for-granted ways of practicing religion. They involve either a new emphasis on religious practices or the invention of practices that are then claimed to be orthodox, or more exactly orthprax. Piety tends to have a radical impact on the everyday world of believers by encouraging devotees to change their habits or in the language of modern sociology to transform their habitus or their dispositions and tastes towards the material world. Piety is about the construction of definite and distinctive life styles of a new religious tastes and preferences. In short, piety or the pietization of the everyday world has the … characteristics of combining new elements to create a religious habitus that stands in competition with other possible combinations in a competitive religious context. (p. 2)

He continues to suggest that ‘being virtuous or pious can be effectively measured by contrast to those who are impious or lacking in virtue,’ piety then conceptually requiring ‘impiety,’ ‘faithlessness’ or, indeed, ‘sin’ as its Other:

There is therefore a competition over virtue – who in a given community is the most virtuous and how can that be measured and known? The central paradox of piety is however that to display it openly – we might say to provocatively flaunt piety – is to demonstrate its very inauthenticity. To show piety publicly is to destroy it, and hence piety must be subtly insinuated and suggested by indirect comparisons with those lacking in religious virtue. … piety necessarily creates hierarchies of religious virtue in the form of pious status groups that are defined by their successful combinations of orthodox practices. Within this competitive struggle over virtue, there is a hierarchy of virtuous values and practices … (p. 3)

As such, an approach of contemporary politics of culture in northern Nigeria – to relate the concept to my own research – that considers recent socio-religious developments in terms of a (politicised) piety movement might provide useful insights. It certainly provides a means of avoiding the prejorative and problematic notion of fundamentalism/Islamism and to acknowledge ‘Islamic idea of the call to renewal or da’wa without adopting an alien terminology.’ (p. 6)

Taking Turner’s argument as a point of departure, Nieuwkerk considers the effects of ‘the growing influence of Islamist and pietistic movements in the Muslim world and in Muslim communities in the West’ in terms of ‘an increasing ‘Islamization or “pietization” … of the public sphere.’ (p. 169):

… with regard to the cultural sphere attempts are made to bring art, leisure and entertainment in accordance with religious commitments. Pious sensibilities seem to be a moving but not necessarily dominating force in the creation of new forms of artistic expressions and leisure activities. Secularism, in particular, and 'the grand project of nationalist progress' (Schielke, this issue) are still very influential in the field of art. In much of the Arab world, mass culture is still one of the few remaining bastions of secularism. (Salamandra, this issue) Secularist regimes perceive art and entertainment as important strongholds that are in need of defence. For that reason religious notions of art, leisure and entertainment are highly contested. (p. 169)

‘Popular culture, entertainment and performing arts,’ she continues,

… are specific targets for the cultural politics of competing groups because they are very influential in people’s daily lives and lifestyles. Art and popular culture are vital in identity construction of individuals and communities. Art is a boundary marker between different cultures, subcultures and ethnicities. It can therefore be expected that in art and expressive culture different imaginations of identities, ideals and belongings compete. (p. 170)

In the arena of cultural politics then - and I think a similar argument could be made for discourses about a number of recent developments concerning the cultural sector in northern Nigeria – secularists and representatives of piety movements (to simplify complex socio-cultural/socio-religious constellations for the sake of argument) quarrel about social norms and new regimes of (primarily public) piety:

Secularists have used art for their national pedagogical projects or to combat ‘extremism.’ Islamists alternatively, generally have a strained relationship with art and entertainment. (p. 170)

Here, however, Muslim piety movements do not generally condemn the arts nor do they agree with ‘the secularists’ call for absolute freedom.’ (p. 171) Here, in particular [t]he emotional affect of music and singing, the stirring effect of musical instruments, the “corrupting” influence of dancing and movies, and the “illegitimate” nature of human images are sensitive matters for religious scholars.’ (p. 170) Drawing upon her own research in Egypt Nieuwkerk notes that

At present, the views of several religious scholars seem to be on the move towards a more relaxed and accepting position of art and entertainment within the limits of religious sensibilities. The new Islamist trend in Egypt, or the wasatiyya movement, embraces art and argues that an Islamic community without art is unimaginable. The God-given talents should be used to express core religious values. They neither agree with the total condemnation of art nor with the secularists’ call for absolute freedom (Baker 2003). ‘Respectful’ art and entertainment can promote Muslim lifestyles. Amr Khaled, for instance, calls upon artists to return to art. They should help the Islamic revival and create an Islamic alternative and ambience. He tries to promote ‘art with a mission’, ‘al-fann al-hadif. Islamists and secularists thus compete for the art producers’ and consumers’ tastes and preferences. (p. 171, my emphasis)

(On this note also cf. an article by Nabeel Shabeeb on The Psychological Barrier Between Islamists and the Arts published on, a website associated with the Egyptian-born scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi)

In fact, she suggests, ‘the revivalist and nationalist projects regarding art and entertainment converge in their claim that artistic expression and diversion should have a purpose,’ (p. 172) whether it is to serve nationalise or pietistic purposes:

The Islamist ideas mainly differ in that their goal of art and entertainment is moral improvement and the pietization of the believers’ lifestyle (Schielke, this issue). (p. 172)

On the other hand, as artists individually and collectively position themselves in relation to diverse socio- and religio-cultural forces, Nieuwkerk cautions that ‘[p]ious sensibilities seem … not necessarily [a] dominating force in the creation of new forms of artistic expressions and leisure activities.’ (p. 169) Among others, privately-owned satellite channels and new media provide ‘new spaces for the creation of Islamic art and enterainment.’ (p. 173)

How might all this relate to or be applied to my own research? As I have suggested above, I consider the authors’ proposal to approach religious revivalist movements as well as the cultural discourses and practices they inspire in terms of piety movements and pietization of, in particular, public spheres: They provide an alternative to the politicised and hegemonising terminology borrowed from political science and thus, hopefully, a means of accounting for a greater variety of thought, opinion and, to play with the here discussed terminology, regimes of piety than the dichotomy between secularists and fundamentalists/Islamists might suggests. More significantly, I hope they will allow me to draw attention from the political to the cultural arena, in other words, away from politicised ideology (which in Nigeria as elsewhere appears to strongly draw upon dichotomous notions of ‘we’ vs. ‘they’) towards a more differentiated discussion of religious opinions about the status of different art forms in Islam - or rather in different local regimes of (visual) piety - and actual artistic practices. (for example cf. the variety of opinions about the legitimacy of photography expressed here) – As regards my discussion of religious art forms, such as the before mentioned religious posters, I was even thinking of applying the terminology creatively: how do you like ‘pietised visuality’?!

Having said this, some of the assumptions underlying Turner’s discussion of piety movements and the regimes of piety they promote might need reconsideration if the concept is to be applied to the Nigerian context. Here, I’m in particular thinking of the claim that they ‘typically involve the destruction or overcoming of many traditional or taken-for-granted ways of practicing religion.’ – I mean, if I was to extent the notion of pietisation to my discussion of visual culture would that not require me to broaden Turner’s concept of ‘traditional or taken-for-granted ways’ to include artistic and cultural traditions? However, at least where artistic practices are concerned I do not perceive of such a generalised dichotomy between tradition and contemporary (politicised) regimes of piety. On the contrary, notions of tradition do routinely surface in pietistic arguments about popular and visual culture – Consider the following statement by Alhaji Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, the director-general of the Kano State Censorship Board:

Our law shows that anyone in the entertainment profession whether praise singing or film or books or singing has a duty, before he releases it to bring it to be vetted, and to have removed anything that could spoil religion, culture, customs or the reputation of tradition. (Interview with Al-Amin Ciroma, translation and published by Carmen, my emphasis)

Note, that Rabo here mentions religion in one breath with ‘culture, custom [and] the reputation of tradition’ among the things that the censorship board, an institution that, according to its website has been set up to ‘to make sure that all creative arts such as films and literary works conform with our religion and the traditional way of life, as well as the standard rules of the profession both at local and national levels.’ (Mission Statement of The Kano State Censorship Board, my emphasis)

Otherwise, Nieuwkerk’s observation that ‘[p]opular culture, entertainment and performing arts are specific targets for the cultural politics of competing groups because they are very influential in people’s daily lives and lifestyles’ (p. 170) is reflected Rabo’s argument that

The level of development, security and stability of every society is measured by the balance it has achieved between its moral values and modernization. The moral values include the set of beliefs, heritage and social organization that bind people together. … Therefore, it becomes appropriate for the government to intervene in the sphere of popular culture in order to regulate the activities of the aforesaid emerging threat to our culture. It forms part of the ideals of good governance for the government to make such interventions in order to contain this chaotic setting and its effects on the society at large. (cf. here for the complete article)

Now contrast this with the following comment made in response to an article reporting the prohibition of a fashion show in Kano weeks ago published by Sahara Reporters (comments at the bottom of the page):

It is pathetic how ignorant some people can be. … I am a Kano indigene and lived there for over 17 years. The city is full of illiterates and people with radical ideology such as the governor and his allies including the writer of the above comment [defending the show’s prohibition on moral grounds]. Since when did governorship become dictatorship? The writer above claims he and the Kano people are not interested in fashion, but are they the only people in the state? What of the rights of other citizens as provided in the constitution of the federal republic and human [rights?], civil [code?] and other [legal] provisions [by] which the governor swore to abide and [which to] protect during his swearing in? Oh, perhaps the governor and his comrades are not literate enough to understand the importance of such provisions. … I will advise the governor to stop deceiving people with religion and focus on delivering better socio-economic [conditions] … from which the people of Kano can progress both socially and intellectually … Sharia is not oppression … (commentary by Salim, 19 June 2009, some spelling mistakes corrected.)

Here then, fashion and fashion shows have become one of the field on which the battle about public piety is being fought out. This becomes particularly clear if one considers another comment on the page:

Governor Shekarau is doing what Kano people would want him to [do] and that is protect the state from such kind of weird activities [like the shows of] fashion designers or striptease. My brothers neither Christianity nor Islam allow the indecent exposure of female bodies [but] that is [what] our fashion designers [are] portraying. (commentary by Ayuba, 23 June 2009, some spelling mistakes corrected.)

On the one extreme of the debate as it plays out in the article and comments then there are those favouring an increased pietisation of public (and, maybe, implicitly also private) spheres, consider the government responsible for its promotion and to that end also favour the censorship of particular cultural activities. On the other extreme, there are those who identify exactly these (state backed) efforts towards pietisation as expressions of ‘ignorance’ and reject censorship, prioritising socio-economic and intellectual progress over pietisation. – And they have chosen an aspect of popular culture (could one not consider fashion shows a particular form of performance?) as battle field for their different ideas of popular piety. While I have not yet come across equally heated debates considering the art forms I’m concerned with in my research in the light of various contemporary regimes of public piety, I believe that the very same concerns that are expressed in debates about ‘film, theatre, cinema, literary and other related creative works’ (the art forms that according to its mission statement Kano State Censorship Board is primarily concerned with) or, here, fashion shows also effect the visual art forms I am interested in.

On a final note: In assessing these debates, I believe, the concept of pietisation allows for the articulation of what commonly constitutes a dichotomic pair, religious fundamentalism vs. secularism, as opposing ends of one spectrum of, maybe, different regimes of public piety. Such a spectrum, not only allows for the consideration of various individual and collective positions within those debates but also the fact that oppositions to the imposition of particular regimes of public piety might not necessarily be informed by secularism – as far as one can deduce from the short comment Salim, e.g., might not reject Shari’a as a model of public piety as such but rather to object to aspects of its implementation in Kano State. As such, in particular the concept of pietisation of the public (and, of lesser significance to my research, the private sphere) might help to throw a light at the variety of regimes of visual piety or pietised visuality I encountered.

On Google-ing, Procrastination and Hilaron Wirdzeka Faison

Well, let me admit to a tendency for procrastination, a procrastination that usually consists of putting some term I have been thinking about into Google Scholar and see what comes up and if I’m really desperately in need of some more reasons for doodling around instead of writing on my chapter I sometimes also make use of Google’s websearch – which, of course, provides me with the time filling excuse of having to sift through hundreds if not thousands of hits. And, sometimes, in the course of this I come across some gems:

And here you go, a website dedicated to Cameroon-born Hilaron Wirdzeka Faison, who is not only a graduate of the Department of Creative Arts at the University of Maiduguri but also the Department of Fine Arts at ABU, Zaria ... so, yes, check out his website here.

Now somebody come and tell me there is not 'meaningful' contemporary arts coming out of northern Nigeria!

On Imagetext

Another concept Morgan discusses and that might proof useful for the analysis of some forms of contemporary visual arts in northern Nigeria is imagetext. Popularised by J. Thomas Mitchell in order to challenge disciplinary divides between the study of visal and verbal media and most prominently employed in the study of graphic novels/comics andrelated arts, Morgan employs it to designate

… representations that are neither image nor text alone, but a synthesis that needs to be classified separately because it is experienced neither as merely text nor as merely image. (p. 65)

Here, he considers what ‘their owner called her “Judaic Wall,”’ on which framed and elaborately decorated calligraphy of Hebrew texts are artfully arranged at the wall, complemented by the stylised images of the hand, also known as hamsa. Morgan argues that

These items … intermingle symbol, word, and mage to create discrete objects that are more than the sum of their parts. The calligraphy of Hebrew text is also highly decorated “image,” and the stylized image of the hand … serves as surface for the display of text. Image and text combine in the case of the hamsa in a very traditional device of popular Jewish culture. […] Whether composed entirely of text or portrayed in highly simplified form, these hybrids of text and image avoid the injunction against the use of figural images, yet visualize sacred text in a manner that allows its display as an object for the purpose of aesthetic contemplation as well as veneration. (p. 65-66)

As such the notion of imagetext, in the sense that Morgan uses the term, emphasises the aesthetics of, in particular, calligraphic works - individually as well as collectively in combination with other works of calligraphy and/or images. It, however, also creates room for further levels of ‘meaning’ that move beyond the textual but to varying degrees still derive significance from the text. Here, consider Morgan’s further analysis of the above mentioned ‘Judaic Wall’:

The hamsa is an amulet displayed in the home, on one’s person, or in synagogues on such liturgical objects as lamps to guard against spells and the Evil Eye. Inscriptions on the metal surface of the hand amulet form consist of the many names of God and quotations from scripture that are invested with mystical and symbolic significance. … Displayed in the homes of modern Jews, the objects acquire another layer of meaning as “Judaica,” artifacts from the history of the Jewish people that can be separated from the original magical, mystical, or theological meanings and seen as crafts that affirm the ethnic identity of their owners. Even in this case, however, the value of imagetext persists, since avoidance of highly pictoral imagery remains for many Jews, secular or pious, a touchstone of Jewish tradition. (p. 66)

Education and Islamic Trends in Northern Nigeria: 1970s-1990sEducation and Islamic Trends in Northern Nigeria: 1970s-1990s

There are several ideas in Morgan’s analysis of the ‘Judaic Wall’ that could berelevant for my own research as well. What I have been thinking about here are the calligraphic works artfully rendering verses from the Quran I have seen displayed in the houses of Nigerian Muslim friends, the inscriptions modelled in mud documented in Friedrich Schwerdtfeger’s discussion of wall decoration in Zaria as well as the calligraphic stickers I have occasionally seen on cars. (cf. here for a flicker image of a sticker of the kind I’m thinking about here, although this one is not from Nigeria; the calligraphy works illlustrated here have been photographed in Maiduguri)

While I am pretty sure that the vast majority of the populace in Kano, Maiduguri and Zaria has attended the makaranta allo, i.e. the primary level of Islamic education focusing on Arabic literacy and the memorisation of the Qur’an, it has on the other hand been suggested on more than one occasion that the actual ability of many northern Nigerian Muslims to read and understand Arabic is rather limited. While this is certainly a question I will have to consider further (i.e. verify the actual degree of Arabic literacy in the towns in question), I do believe that the notion of imagetext in the sense that is is employed by Morgan provides great potential for the analysis of these calligraphic works. Let’s reconsider his analysis of the ‘Judaic Wall’: On the one hand, there are the varying layers of ‘meaning’ associated with the owners’ particular regime of visual piety: there is, on one level, the association with synagogues and liturgical objects such as the lamps directly pointing towards Jewish religious practice, on another a certain, for lack of a better term, talismanic dimension. On the other hand, there is a rather (and once again I’m at lack of a more appropriate term) secular layer of meaning that derives from the works association with Judaism that renders them into symbols of a (also secular) Jewish identity. While I was reading his analysis I was wondering whether these two could not provide two ends of a spectrum of significances that might as well be attached to the above mentioned calligraphic works executed in Arabica that can be encountered in northern Nigeria: the religious dimension directly derived from a literal reading of the text on the end, the secularised association of the imagetext with the religion as basis or aspect of an ethnic identity – not that I am (yet) actually convinced that in particular the latter can be applied to the Nigerian context straightforwardly, rather I wonder whether this might provide a useful model to be further explored and adapted in the process: such, providing for different degrees of Arabic literacy to which extent then these pieces derive their significance for the customer/spectator from his/her reading of the Arabic text, his/her knowledge of which verse has been ‘depicted’ independently of his/her ability to actually read what has been written, or a general association of Arabic writing with Islam. In addition, I believe the analysis of any particular piece needs to take in account the context in which it is encountered, (e.g. public vs. private, individually vs. collectively), the diverse regimes of visual piety different spectators subscribe to as well as their personal involvement with the works (e.g. as an owner, as something that has been given as a present etc.)

An interestingexample of imagetext conceptually corresponding to some works I have encountered in the academic context is a work by Serigne Gueye Morgan discusses: a reverse-glass painting of the Senegalese sheikh Amadou Bamba ‘transfigured into Arabic script.’ (p. 67, image source: Passport to Paradise hosted by the Fowler Museum at UCLA) The text, Morgan explains

… consists of praises of Allah, thus transforming what one sees into a devotional reading, implying, perhaps, that the body of the saint is the Word of God as well as a kind of visual presence, since the devout viewer of the image is also the reader of the text and worshipper of God. … Although the devout Mouride cannot see and read simultaneously – since the markings are either word or image, but not both at the same time – it is the proximity of form and content, word and image, Word and body, that the imagetext enables, suggesting inimitably the proximity of the saint and his living praise of Allah. The intermingling of the sheikh’s form and the Arabic text suggests that life and his Mouride follower’s veneration of him are conjoint acts of veneration of Allah. (p. 67-68)

Now, I have not come across such a calligram outside the academic context where, I suspect, it reflects a rather recent development and maybe a conscious engagement of artists with their identity as Muslim artists. But I do think that this example clearly illustrates the cultural embeddedness of imagetexts as well as regimes of visual piety: Such, while it is certainly possible to the cultural outsider to discern a face in the above depicted calligram, it requires familiarity with canonical depictions of the sheikh to identify the portrait as that of Amadou Bamba. And while, as Morgan indicates and Mary Nooter Roberts & Allen F. Roberts have documented in greater detail, Senegal’s Mouride culture is characterised by well expressed notions of visual piety in which images of sheikhs, in particular Sheikh Amadou Bamba, play a prominent role, it appears doubtful whether any conclusions drawn from this example can be generalised and/or directly applied to the northern Nigerian context. While I am not yet sure how to conceptualise a or, more likely, an existing variety of regimes of visual piety as they certainly exist in the towns under investigation in my research, I wonder whether the different images indeed imagetexts play as significant a role as Roberts & Roberts’ research of Mouride visual piety suggests.

But, while I once again have to admit to a question I cannot (yet) answer – partly because I didn’t know how to ask the right questions and the general distrust towards me as the outsider (non-Nigerian, non-Muslim) that the local socio- and religio-political climate appears to encourage – just while I was writing this I have had an idea of how to go about this question when (hopefully soon) I am back in Nigeria. > Yippy! <

On Iconoclasm (yes, still thinking about it)

One of Morgan's discussions in The Sacred Gaze of particular importance to my own argument deals with the dichotomic pair of iconoclasm and idolatry. However, before I get into the discussion of these concepts let me introduce you to one of the most irritating statements in the book – really, I would be grateful for any guidance on how to understand it:

Something of what religious believers see when they look at the world around them, at themselves, and at images is not goodness and light, not heady aesthetic contemplation, but the occasion for violence and scorn. (p. 116)

Anyway, let’s get back to iconoclasm and idolatry, or rather idolatry: Here, Morgan convincingly argues that

Iconoclasm presupposes idolatry. By definition, iconoclasm cannot be conceived or practices without the requisite “other” it seeks to rout out of human behaviour. But this does not mean that iconoclasts are reacting to anything real. In fact, they often imagine the offense they seek to reprove. They need the other to destroy in order to construct a new tradition in which to exist. (p. 117)

‘[A]s a polemical tactic in monotheistic discourse’ idolatry has of course a long history Morgan argues, always (also) constitutes an Other vis-à-vis which one religious group distinguishes itself – ‘it dialectically affirms a community of faith that is distinct and superior to those it classifies as idolators.’ (p. 126) Islam, e.g., defines itself (among other things) in clear distinction from earlier, allegedly idolatrous jahiliyya religion and a proclaimed return to the ancient monotheism of Abraham symbolised in Muhammad’s destruction of idols in the Ka’ba. The ideological dimension of accusations of idolatry and their manipulation for the sake of religious (and political) hegemony the author discusses extensively drawing upon Kenneth Mills’ research into the material culture and practices of Andean religion in the face of Spanish rule and inquisition. Of particular interest here is ‘what examiners, bishops, and archbishops meant by “idolatry”.’ (p. 122) He finds that ‘it could mean virtually anything that did not fit the inquisitor’s notion of Christian orthodoxy’ and ‘[t]he more it appeared that the church was failing to inculcate its beliefs in a lasting and significant way, the more inclusive the meaning of idolatry became.’ (p. 122-23) Mills argues that campaigns to locate and root out ‘idolatrous practices’ served several ends: Significantly, it provided an opportunity for ‘a spectacle, a theatrical staging of violence that would enact an ideological transfiguration of the past. As a decisive display of power, public punishment or the forceful upending of a huaca and its removal or defacement publicly established and enforced the church’s authority and that of the Spanish state that stood beside it. Violence was the theatrical performance of change …’ (p. 123-24) This suggests that probably not only in the particular context examined by Mills but more commonly accusations of idolatry served as much as legitimation for highly symbolic acts of violence as they referred to actual religious practices.

One more aspect to be mentioned regarding idolatry as a ‘polemical tactical’ discursive tool concerns the re-classification (or, after James Clifford ‘taxonomic shift’) of former idols into ‘cultural curiosities’ in the course of the development of the anthropology as a discipline and the anthropological museum and, later, into ‘Art.’ (p. 128) Not inappropriately Morgan associates this process with, what he calls, ‘soft iconoclasm’: While images (two- as well as three-dimensional) were not physically destroyed they were nevertheless removed from their original context. Within the context of Christian missionary efforts, they ‘were testaments of success and were therefore of greater value intact, undamaged, as indices of evangelical efficacy.’ (p. 128) In the context of the Western anthropological and art museum, one might add, their redefinition as Art as well as efforts at their preservation served as symbols of the West’s intellectual and civilising superiority: Here, for example take, William Fagg’s simultaneous claim that, on the one hand, ‘every [African] tribe is, from the point of view of art, a universe to itself.’ These tribal universes,’ he asserted, ‘were mutually exclusive with artistic horizons limited to the frontier of each universe,’ their artworks comprehensible and meaningful only to members of the group. (Fagg 1966: 5). On the other hand, the white British ‘ethnologist and historian of tribal art,’ to quote The Independent (14. July 1992), claimed the competence (and entitlement) to translate and negotiate their meaning and significance across the very same cultural divides. Morgan’s own discussion, here drawing upon the work of David Freedberg and Dario Gamboni, suggests that the redefinition of idols into anthropological artifacts and works of art involved a simultaneous reassessment of iconoclasm, now increasingly identified as vandalism:

The Enlightment shares the exclusivist claims of radical monotheism: all other gods are false. The motive for idolatry is simply ignorance. (p. 139)

Here, only consider the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha’s by the Taliban in 2001 or Western press discourse about the violent reaction of sections of the global Muslim community to the Danish cartoons (let’s not go there again, we’ve touched upon it in a former blog post). The former is discussed by Morgan in some detail and as I consider his analysis quite telling, especially bearing in mind the above mentioned contemporary association of iconoclasm with (uncivilised?) vandalism, let me discuss his argument. – But before presenting the arguments, in the course of which I will draw upon internet sources some of which might reflect/express pro-Taliban views, let me clarify: Here, I am interested in problematising the notion of iconoclasm and its use in (Western) press and popular discourse in order to clarify my own assessment of aniconic or indeed iconoclastic views I encountered during fieldwork. I do not wish to advance any apologetic or pro-Taliban argument myself and, on the contrary, explicitly distance myself from any such views expressed on the web resources I draw upon. I will provide the relevant links and trust you to further (critically) evaluate the sources and the (ideological) position from which they are written! - But, moving on the actual argument I’m hoping to make:

In his discussion, Morgan considers the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha’s as a primarily secular ‘calculated political gesture’ (p. 136) to ‘offend the West and to strengthen the otherwise largely impotent Taliban.’ (p. 138): Speaking on invitation of the Muslim Student Association and the Muslim Student Union of the University of South California the Taliban’s envoy Syed Rahmatullah Hashemi is reported to have argued:

Several hundred children died a month ago … Nobody even talked about that. Everybody knows about the statues. … They are destroying the future of our children with economic sanctions, how are they going to justify talking about our past? I know it’s not rational and logical to blow the statues for retaliation of economic sanctions. But this is how it is. … I talked to the head of the council of scholars of people, who had actually decided this, he told me that UNESCO and [a] NGO from … one of these Scandinavian countries … had come with a project of rebuilding the face of these statues … So the council of people had told them to spend that money in saving the lives of these children … And these guys said that, No, the money is only for the statues. … They said that, if you don’t care about our children, we are going to blow those statues. (for the transcript of the speech including some audience reactions cf. here.)

Here then, a representative of the Taliban regime portrayed the destruction of the sculptures as a political act, indeed a spectacle of resistance against and abashment of the West and its morally questionable priorities, its secular ‘sacralisation’ of artworks, rather than an act of religiously motivated iconoclasm. In fact, he continued:

And we are not against Buddhists; absolutely wrong. We are not against any religion. There are Hindus living in Afghanistan; there are different religions. There is one man who is a Jew living in Afghanistan. So we are not against any religion. And there is no Buddhist in Afghanistan, this I can say. In our religion, if anything, you can leave anything until it is not harmful to you. These Buddhas were not harmful to us, so far. But now when the money is going to Buddhas reconstruction, and the children are dying next door, we think it’s harmful now.

(This is not the space nor am I competent to comment on the treatment of religious minority under the Afghan Taliban regime, cf. for a discussion of the situation of Hindus in Afghanistan cf. Tunku Varadarajan of the Wall Street Journal, himself a Hindu. A decidedly pro-Taliban reaction to the article has been published by Khalid Baig.)

In fact, in July 1999 Mullah Mohammed Omar had issued a decree expressing the Taliban’s intention to protect the Buddhas. (Guardian, 3 March 2001) Having said this, the transcript of the speech suggests that nevertheless the destruction of the Buddhas’ was perceived by (a) member(s) of the audience in terms of religious iconoclasm:

A questioner asked, As Salaamu `Alaykum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuh. Brother, Afghanistan is now supposed to be a Muslim country, Insha Allah. And these statues are just like the statues in Makkah, when Rasoolillah (saws) came to Makkah, and it was the very first thing that he did was to destroy the statues. What is taking us so long? Why aren’t they destroyed already?

In his response the Hashemi tactically avoided to address the possible religious dimension of the act instead referring to ‘Muslim minorities in some countries’ for which the Taliban did not want to create problems: ‘… that is why we are still waiting, and we hope that we will resolve this problem.’ In his stead this Mullah Omar clearly established this link in his fatwa:

In view of the fatwa (religious edict) of prominent Afghan scholars and the verdict of the Afghan Supreme Court it has been decided to break down all statues/idols present in different parts of the country. This is because these idols have been gods of the infidels, and these are respected even now and perhaps maybe turned into gods again. The real God is only Allah, and all other false gods should be removed. (quoted by Francesco Francioni and Frederico Lenzerini in: Barbara T. Hoffman, ed. 2006: Art and Cultural Heritage. p. 32)

In any case, this was how the destruction of the sculptures was perceived in (not only) Western press discourse: Start considering even the headline of Tunku Varadarajan’s article discussing the Buddha’s destruction in the context of a wider consideration of the Aghan Taliban regime’s treatment of Hindus: Patches of Evil: The Taliban’s Latest Atrocity (25 May 2001) He describes the iconoclasm as ‘an act of mindless barbarity, of wanton destruction – the actions, arguably, of a primitive, backward and ignorant rabble’ denouncing Hashemi’s argumentation as ‘plainly spurious:’ (my emphasis)

Mr. Hashimi’s version highlights the intellectual and philosophical backwardness of the Taliban. Were we supposed to feel guilty for having made them knock down Afghanistan’s most ancient artifacts? (my emphasis)

Afghanistan ‘is becoming an island of madness’ a ‘western cultural expert’ is reported saying by Luke Harding of the Guardian (3 March 2001), such once again establishing a relationship between iconoclasm and barbarism. In fact, foregrounding the religious argument Hardin himself establishes a link between religious fundamentalism (describing the Taliban as ‘the world’s most extreme brand of Islam’), artistic censorship (the prohibition of the ‘portrayal of the human image’) and destructive iconoclasm against Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.

Cutting a long story short: Writing with a distance of 5 years, Francioni and Lenzerini summarised Western contemporary opinion:

There was great concern for the moral degradation shown by the authors of such acts, and a certain anxiety regarding the role of international law in preventing and suppressing such form of cultural vandalism, which, in the words of the UNESCO Director General, can constitute a "crime against culture" […]... people all over the world have called for international mobilisation against such acts of barbarity and religious intolerance such as the bombing of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. (In: Barbara T. Hoffman, ed. 2006: Art and Cultural Heritage. p. 29&39, my emphasis)

Hence, despite the Talibans’ attempt to frame the events in terms of a political discourse of failed, indeed refused humanitarian assistance they were primarily perceived in terms of ‘barbaric’ iconoclasm and vandalism – a discourse reflecting the ‘taxonomic shift’ that realigned civilisation from its association with the rejection and, indeed, iconoclastic destruction of idols towards their protection as (secularised) cultural artifacts and art works.

Nevertheless, Morgan argues the ‘Western outrage overlooks the degree to which the West was complicit in contributing to Afghanistan’s plight.’ In this context, ‘[t]he power of images in this instance of iconoclasm conist[ed] of the power the destructive act to offend the West and to strengthen the otherwise largely impotent Taliban.’ (p. 138) Acknowledging this political dimension and the complicity of Western politics in Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis is not to deny the reprehensible character of the iconoclastic act but to put it into perspective; it is not to deny the religious dimension Mullah Omar invoked himself but to reduce the events to an at of ‘mindless’ or, indeed, uncivilised ‘religious fear.’ (p. 138)

And, yes, I do believe there is an undeniable element of hypocracy in the Western discourse associating iconoclasm with vandalism and, indeed a lack of civilisation that is reflected in Western press coverage of the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha’s. It is reflected in the rather cheerful reaction of to the toppling and subsequent destruction of ‘a host of bronze statuary depicting Saddam Hussein and members of his party following the American invasion.’ Unlike the case of the Afghan buddhas that provided a welcome occasion to further discredit the Taliban’s regime as ‘barbaric’ and ‘uncivilised’, their demolition was considered ‘emblematic of the removal of a dictatorial regime to make way for a pre-Western, democratic government in the country.’ (p. 136) Or, as a German who spent the first eleven years of her live in East Germany I have to think of the iconoclastic acts of obscuring the former GDR’s communist past by renaming streets called after personalities of the country’s factual and ideological past as well as the de-contextualisation, toppling and, indeed, destruction of statuary primarily depicting pioneers of communist thought. (cf. Gamboni 1997: esp. p. 79ff)

Indeed, Morgan insists – here primarily drawing upon the work of Dario Gamboni – we need to ask ‘under what circumstances an [iconoclastic] act is labelled vandalism.’ (p. 138):

… vandalism is the recurrent explanation given to the destruction of works of art by governments, courts, police departments, and such institutions as the church, since each of these strongly prefers civil order to violent acts … Vandalism as an explanation does not admit political protest [which would risk] extending legitimacy to a marginalised and heterogeneous group that may have targeted the very values of the establishment. Yet what is vandalism to one observer who repudiates the desecration of the national flag, for instance, will be potent political protest to the person or group destroying the flag. (p. 139)

This further emphasises the need to consider in any discussion of iconoclasm and explicit pronouncement of aniconism the socio-political and ideological context in which it is enacted as well as judged. This brings us straight back to the (rhetoric) question I raised in an earlier blog entry: To which extent and how do I need to consider Nigerian socio- and religious politics in my writing about contemporary arts in northern Nigeria? – For example, might the explicitly aniconic views (“This is an Islamic university [BUK], an art course would contravene the university’s founding principles!”) expressed by some Nigerian Muslims I spoke to not also be a means of distancing themselves from the (perceived and/or actual) devotional use of images by Christians and/or the visual piety (to use Morgan’s term) of Sufis in a contemporary climate of politicised religion/religionised politics?