Showing posts from July, 2009

Sandar Kiwo or the Blessings of Facebook

Oh, the blessings of the world wide web and applications such as Facebook! – I just found Ado Ahmad of Gidan Dabina online! I met him last year in Kano and we had a rather long and lively discussion about the illustrations on the covers of Hausa novels. We met later again when he was planning to go to Germany. But since an email convesation some time in February we haven’t really been talking, so that was a really pleasant surprise.

Anyway, he told me about his latest project: A collaboration with the British Council that led to the production of a feature film that he is currently internationally promoting and so I thought I just post it here – just in case anybody who might be interested in screening the film might be reading this. In that case you can contact him via his blog Taskar Gidan Dabino or get in touch with me via the email on my profile and I'll forward anything.


Sandar Kiwo film is one of the six carefully selected film scripts which was a product of Women in Shari’ah Video Project which emanated from a research carried out by Centre of Islamic and Legal Studies (CILS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on improving the condition of Muslim women in Northern Nigeria. The research report identified practices relating to abuse of women’s rights under the pretext of Shari’ah through miscarriage of justice or in the name of tradition and culture. The identified areas of these practices covered in the film are:

Girl child education

Marriage and marital relations


Custody of children [hadhana]

Economic rights


Property ownership

Access to health and reproductive services

Access to justice

Criminal justice

Sandar Kiwo film was produced by Gidan Dabino International (GDI), Kano- Nigeria to address the aforementioned women rights abuses; and to successfully achieve the said goal, an action plan was developed to address the major challenges facing the rights of women in Northern Nigeria by applying the principles of Shari’ah to promote and protect those rights.

The film project which Security, Justice & Growth (SJG), Kano initiated and supported financially in collaboration with British Council and DFID aims to support the production and distribution of Home video to address themes which promote the rights of women through Shari’ah. Hausa Home video films are very popular and watched by millions of viewers within and beyond Nigeria, which make them (films) potentially important medium of dissemination of ideas in addition to being an established source of entertainment.

Under the terms of reference of this project, SJG will support the development, production, and distribution of six Home video films by professional Home video producers based on themes from CILS Shari’ah booklet. Through competitive process 8 scripts developed by script writers who have been familiarized with content of the CILS Shari’ah booklet will be selected. SJG will then subsidize the elected Home video producers to develop the scripts into home video films of good quality. In addition to assisting the producers to distribute the films, SJG will organize weekly public shows of the films at two selected locations in Kano and Jigawa states. Each show will be followed by a focus group discussion with the viewers over the women right issues raised. At the conclusion of the organized public shows, an evaluation will be conducted at each of the locations to assess the films impact on awareness and attitudes of the viewers.

And as part of Gidan Dabino International’s effort to give Sandar Kiwo the desired wider international attention, we advertise the firm on the Internet, local media and reach out to International students studying Hausa in Universities in Africa and across the world especially in USA, Germany and United Kingdom.

Worldwide Search For The Fifth Curator

Worldwide Search For The Fifth Curator

British Council International Curatorial Competition in Partnership With The WhiteChapel Gallery

What is the Fifth Curator Competition?

The Fifth Curator competition is a new and unique opportunity for an aspiring curator from outside the UK to select an exhibition from the British Council Collection, which includes over 8500 key works of British art from the 20th and 21st century.

Applicants are invited to research the collection via our website and then to submit an exhibition proposal exclusively featuring collection works. We particularly encourage new views and fresh perspectives on the collection as these are vital to ongoing debates about British art within an international context.

The winning proposal will be realised as the final instalment in a series of five British Council collection exhibitions at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, the century-old institution which is the artists gallery for everyone. The exhibition will run from 27 March to 6 June 2010.

The first exhibition in this series Passports - Great Early Buys from the British Council Collection was selected by Artist Michael Craig-Martin and focussed on some of the most prescient acquisitions in the Collections long history.

Selection of works for this exhibition barely scratches the surface of the Collection. For every work I felt able to include there were half a dozen I had to leave out. This is a collection that contains hidden treasures, many of which I know will be included in subsequent exhibitions of this series.(Michael Craig-Martin).

Other exhibitions in the series will be selected by Tim Marlow (Broadcaster, Cultural Historian and Director of Exhibitions at White Cube), Paula Rego (Artist) and Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane (Artists).

The winning curator will be given unlimited access to the Collection, will work side by side with the British Council Visual Arts Department in London and will be supported in realising a major curatorial opportunity at the newly expanded Whitechapel Gallery.

Who are we looking for?

We are looking for someone who is based permanently outside the UK and who believes they have the passion and knowledge to be a leading curator. Preference will be given to individuals who would benefit most from the professional development and mentoring aspects of this award.

It is anticipated that the winning curator will have some proven experience in the contemporary arts field, but does not regularly have the opportunity to curate exhibitions of their choice within their professional capacity.

Candidates must be competent in both written and spoken English (I.E.L.T.S Level 6 English Language or equivalent). All applications must be submitted in English.

The Selection Process

In November 2009, six short-listed applicants will be invited to London to take part in a week of professional development with the Visual Arts Department of the British Council.

During this week, applicants will be encouraged to refine their proposals with the advice, guidance and resources of Visual Arts staff. They will be given the opportunity to visit the Whitechapel gallery, to view the proposed exhibition space and to meet with the Whitechapel curatorial team.

At the end of the week, the winning proposal will be selected by a panel of senior art world figures and announced at a special presentation dinner.

Further Details and Links

All enquiries regarding The 5th Curator should be directed to

For full details and to download the application pack, please visit

Deadline for proposals 4th September 2009

Further information about the British Council, the Art Collection and the Whitechapel Gallery can be found at the links below:

MEND and Boko Haram - or Identity Politics against the Background of the Current Crisis

I have said it before and I will say it again: I’m pretty suspicious of the analytical value of news reports, even more so as the events they pertain to analyse are still unfolding. This is not to question the informatory value of news reporting, certainly not, but to suggests that with the field come certain limits – where I take three years and probably more to write 100.000 words about contemporary arts in northern Nigeria and spent a page or two on the definition and critical discussion of the term ‘northern Nigeria’ alone (and still don’t do my topic justice) news reporting has to provide condensed up-to-date information current events and developments (just imagine the size of newspapers was every news report conceived like the essays you used to write during your undergraduates, let alone a PhD thesis!). So, beyond the facts (and we all know that depending on the availability of information and journalist’s ideological leaning these might be pretty shaky as well) and the insight they provide into a certain public discourse, I often find the reader commentaries more interesting, challenging and insightful than the article their react to. Yes, bless the internet and online news reporting for this new exciting source of information about another public discourse – yes, of course, once more only certain sections of society participate in these discussions and the gap between those who do and those who, for reasons of choice and access, are excluded is probably more pronounced where Nigeria is concerned. Nevertheless, in terms of identity politics there are probably telling … Alright, it is a bold hypothesis against the background of the specificity of those participating but I’d still propose that these discussions still echo significant aspects of popular discourses and such offer an insight into Nigerian identity politics. And I should probably do some reading into the audiences of online newspapers in general and Nigeria in particular before making such a statement but ... for the moment being consider it a working hypothesis.

What prompted these musings and this particular entry? Well, I’ve been checking the news again, the news about recent events in north-east Nigeria and came across this slightly irritating news item: Mends comments on “Boko Haram” Crisis and Killings written by Jomo Gbomo and published online by Sahara Reporters on 29 July 2009. See, MEND is the acronym of the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta, itself an anti-establishment movement arguing and fighting, of course on another ideological basis, for change in another region of the country and which, in the past, has itself used violent means to advance its aims. Alright, let’s confess that beyond that level I’m not really qualified to further comment on the organisation – I’m not following the news about developments in the Delta particularly closely – andhave to refer you to the host of academic discussions, political analysis and news reporting about the conflict in the Niger Delta that has been published and trust you to critically evaluate them. What I thought particularly interesting about the article was how the recent violence with its focus on Maiduguri has immediately been interpreted (again) in terms of a ‘wanton destruction of life and places of Christian worship that is ongoing in the Northern part of Nigeria by Islamic fundamentalists’ when, from what I grasped from the news items many of those killed actually were Muslim, and how the ‘Islamic terrorists’ (also note the still popular recourse to a Bush-ian rhetoric’s here) are compared in terms ‘mode of operation and language’ with the Joint Task Force (JTF) of the Nigerian army that has been deployed in the Niger Delta. Accordingly, the article also condemns ‘the executions by government forces of those men [followers of Boko Haram] who surrendered.’ On the other hand, it reiterates sentiments about the discriminating treatment of the south arguing ‘had such a senseless attack occurred in the Niger Delta region, the military machinery would have been called upon to sack and occupy whole communities after indiscriminate aerial bombings.’ Now of course this article is sympathetic to MEND and its case and needs to be read with that in mind. But what I found particularly interesting are the comments on the article … See, I think they reflect a far wider range of opinion then news reporting alone would suggest but also indicate some of the frontlines in Nigerian identity politics as I, from my outsider who spent a year talking to some chaps largely almost all of them with some background in Western education perspective (yeah, so go ahead and take me apart), perceive them more clearly. And, yes, ever since I naively chose to call my topic ‘… northern Nigeria’ or, to be honest with you, since I got grilled about what I mean by that following the presentation of a paper in Maiduguri, I’m quite curious about the politics of the term. And I think you find them pretty much reflected in the commentaries to this article. Just consider some of the following. - I’ve primarily chosen comments that somehow touch upon the place of ‘northern Nigeria’ in public discourses and the current crisis in the north-east, as this is the aspect relevant to my own topic – partly because, as I explained or rather lamented in an earlier entry, it is this identity politics within which my thesis will be perceived and which I don’t know how to do justice in my writing. For more and a greater variety check out the article’s own site here here.

[Also I’ve indicated where I have abridged quotes and generally deleted breaks within a comment so that the presentation here become a bit more clearly arranged, otherwise I have left the comments unedited]

written by Olusailor, July 29, 2009

[…] However Mend has no point they are anti-stability and so are the Almajaris, jobless, hopeless and without goals. Agitation would be very useful if less violent is used with, i would recommend they change tactics, adopt ur governors, ur reps and senators, since they fail to represent you well.

written by great, July 29, 2009

[…] Nigeria is troubled by bad corrupt leaders, tribalism and Islamic fundamentalist whose grand design is to kill people, or what have they been doing since ?? or what is the meaning of Jihad ?? it simply means you are either for Islam or we kill you !!! Now they dont want education, while their leaders are busy going abroad for the best education, they dont want western culture, if so, then why are they driving western cars, Jeeps, benz, using GSM and the good things of life the western culture developed ??? I think those fundamentalist are sick !! […] They are sick becos , their reasoning goes absolutely way out of human co-existence. […] These ones are fighting anything that does not do with their culture of Islam. […]

written by Smasher, July 29, 2009

[…] I believe this is a political angle with Niger Delta freedom fighters in mind. Otherwise why call religious fanatics militants? MEND be prepared. The North has something under their sleeves.

written by calorie , July 29, 2009

Olusailor??? can a visitor come to your house and tell you where to put your television? Why should The Hausa/Fulani and few Yoruba/Igbo leaders decide the fate of all these people. […] Now some idiots are fighting in the North because they do not want education. Yet there are not considered as terrorist who can one day start attacking foreigners who have come to help Nigeria. […] I think the south should go and the North should also find there path and let peace reign supreme. Even with segregation, are we still going to have present greedy leaders rule the south? we have a long wa y to go in the south. […] God help us in that country!

written by Tata Bello, July 29, 2009

What a Shame Nigeria ! ,MEND deploring acts of wanton destruction ? , Lord Have Mercy ! . If they are that civil , why cant they have a dialogue with the Government ? , stop the kidnappings , the destruction of infrastructure , which by the way is needed for the very development they are agitating for ? . As for the So-called Taliban , they are borne out of dire Poverty and frustration , Ignorance and Lawlessness , taken advantage of , by a Confused and Sick Clerick , Aided and abeited by a weak Government , afraid to regulate and check the activities of extremists in both Islam and Christianity . Christianity has been turned into a commercial venture , the CEOs doing whatever they like with the employees , while in Islam , the ignorant believers are being enslaved and abused . Religious leaders in both faith are today Preaching and Practicing Contradictory messages from the Bible and Holy Quraan . May Allah Punish them , along with deceitful and corrupt , hopeless Leaders .

[On the use of the label ‘Taliban’ here it is important to note that all sources I have read seem to agree that there is NO actual connection between the thus labelled Nigerian group and the Afghani Islamist movement. I think this BBC article might throw some useful light on this.]

written by calorie, July 29, 2009

TATA BELLO- why are you talking with this level of mediocrity. Are your people in the North that civilized? do they have what it takes to rule Nigeria? I know for sure that Hausa/Fulani will never sit and allow other people run their homes for them. Your people has caused us so much havoc in Nigeria, and you really do not care about the development of the country as a whole. […] We are talking about stupid, uneducated, barbaric fundamentalist killing innocent folks in the North and you are talking about CEOs in christianity. What is the correlation between MEND fighting for a just course and idiots fighting because they do not want education. Do not bring the Bible and christianity into play here, because christians are not mentioned anywhere starting or initiating violence. What am I even talking about? you are just like other Northerners who lack initiative and do reason irrationaly. […]

written by D PETERS, July 30, 2009

[…] These visionless hausa/fulani are not capable of ruling nigeria. Ghana is a success story today becos the born to waste (hausa/Fulani) are not part of their policy makers.who are the hausa/fulanis role models, bunch of stupid emirs, rogue ex generals, daft ass politicians, and some bigots's a fact if nigeria is divided these smelly hausa/fulani are all doom.

written by Chaps, July 30, 2009

[…] Islam is a religion of peace, and there's no single word in our holy book that say we should fight or hate those who are not muslims. So anybody you see fighting or killing people in the name of Islam does that at his own wish. I think in every religion you will find people who are going on the right path and those who are trying to bring something wrong against there religion and are trying to claim it right. Recently i heard of a sect in christianity trying to allow homosexuality in Israel and which is wrong. So whenever something of this kind arises you should first of all investigate before condemning Islam or Hausas. Lastly i want to remind you guys that northerners and particularly Hausas are not the same as you knew us before, we are progressing every minute of the day. The so called western knowledge came to nigeria through the southern part that's why you have people with western education more than us but we are catching up with the south in western knowledge and before it we've already know Arabic. How much did you know?

written by noble, July 30, 2009

Mr Tata Bello, so, you can't differentiate between the goals of MEND which is 'justice and equity' for the people of Niger Delta on their GOD-given natural resources and that of the Talibans which is 'Islamisation of Nigerians' by way of Forceful acceptance of their Islamic faith or you be killed. MEND's target is oil facilities to force Govt to listen to them haven explored all possible dialouge to no avail. though, MEND kidnap but they have never killed any of their hostages unlike the Talibans who kill anyone outside their faith as well as destroying their properties. Mr Tata, can you read through tghe lines. [again, on the use of the label ‘Taliban’ cf. this BBC article]

written by Confidence, July 30, 2009

[…] The Islamic fundamentalist in the North sees himself achieving an unachievable dream, Islamise the country and destroy the western system that he is benefitting from. […]

written by hausa man, July 30, 2009

[…] who has the audacity to blame the north for its woes, was there anytime the north forced its self on nigeria or the riches of the south? the first carnage in the history of nigeria started by the igbo's and the niger delta must be always greatful to the north for saving its ass for the rougue igbos to analiate them and enslave them. pls south south take your oil and keep we do not want it and pls today declear independence what are you waiting for? we have a long history of survival and exsistance of 1000 years, we have a history of civilization long before any community in the south, can you imagine southerners have destroyed our image around the world with drugs,419 etc. you lot sold your brothers in slave trade can you imagine and you have mouth to talk? how are you better than anybody or feel superior to any one? yes you guys have big mouth but no action. please we are ready to let go of the amalgamation. why is it you see mend as a struggle yet you fail to realise that the whole problem in all parts in nigeria is failed leadership,corruption, and poverty? this leads to agitation yet but it is given a different name in order to damage reputations. first ask the question if these people are even not foreign fighters? […] [note here that several news items, correctly or not I cannot evaluate, suggesting the involvement of Chadian refugees with Boko Haram and the recent violence]

written by dikko, July 30, 2009

[…] you call the hausa/fulani cattle rearers or farmers really i dont know whether it's suppose to be an insult or you mean cattle rearing and farming is something good for humanity. […]ON education i agree that the north is behind the west/nigeria but definitely not behind the estern/nigeria talkless of the south-south i have been to school with this people and i know what they are made of, i believe even if the northerners lack behind on education should not be a ground for ridicule in the nigerian context, we can only say it's a society bend on self distruction not a society that think's they are educated anough to distroy other societies with 419/YAHOO YAHOO, PROSTITUTION, HYPOCRACY AND slaving around in a white man country so that they can say they are civilize it' really funny!!!!

written by Dr. Sunny Orumen Akhigbe, July 30, 2009

Government should dialogue with the leaders of Boko Raham and find out what they want. i dont support killing those arrested [captured?] like birds. if they had been organizing for some time now as alleged, why are they choosing this time to strike? who knows they might just be doing this to be included in the amnesty for millitants. These one would not reject amnesty as they don't get millions of dollars by hijacking ocean liners carrying crude oil. […] talking seriously, the federal government and the security agencies had better sit up. with the large army of unemployed youths roaming the streets. it takes the devil next to nothing to find jobs for them and provide the implements to execute them

I don’t know about you but I find these repeated comparisons between MEND and Boko Haram and claims to their equal or completely distinct legitimacy quite interesting, maybe because as a result the arguments have been still more explicit than usual … As I said before I’m a long way away from making sense at all of Nigerian identity and other politics …

Well, identity politics being a pet interest of mine aside, why am I discussing that here? Well, probably as a forewarning … well, I’m feeling a bit guilty about that but … as much as I deplore the violence with which this conflict is currently escalating in the north-east and as concerned as I am about the well-being of friends and acquaintances in, primarily, Maiduguri (I got a call from Kano yesterday and was assured that on the whole the town was quite and safe – let’s hope and pray that my friend’s assessment was correct) as interesting I consider the question allegedly behind the conflict: the status and perception of Western education. So, as I am screening the news for more information about the conflict I have started collection opinions about Western education and when I ever find time for a more analytical entry, I’ll bother you with them. So be warned, it might turn out even more extensive than this …

On the Exhibition at Arewa House Museum

I got to confess that I have only been to the Arewa House museum once, years ago … and honestly, all I remember is that that air condition was working extremely well and, having just come in from a hot August day, I was freezing … and in fact, two days (literally two days, not your Hausa kwana biyu) later I came down with a badass cold. But certainly, this is a worthwhile reminder to go next time I come to Nigeria … which, considering the current unrest in particularly in the places I’d like to go again and where have my friends (anybody getting through to Maiduguri? - feels like the network is completely down!) I don’t really know when that will be. Not that I want to go into any politics here … apart from this article by Salisu Suleiman in Next I haven’t yet come across any piece seriously analysing the reasons behind the recent violence, so would be grateful for any advice on that matter. I’m always a bit reluctant when it comes to these instants and condensed opinions that are expressed in the news articles reporting the events. Curiously enough, there are already Wikipedia articles on Boko Haram, which I think is a little bit dubious considering the freshness of events and what I perceive as a lack of unbiased information in the news. (also, cf. Al-Jazeera’s profile of the group here and Reuter’s attempt here but after all these are not claiming lay encyclopaedic status) Sure, that might be a bit prejudiced but … well, I guess that’s the academic background which encourages you to always consider and reconsider every of a multitude of opinions on a subject and most importantly explain your sources and research methods – all these opinions that the northern Nigerian public consider Boko Haram this or that, how many people have you spoken to?, whom have you spoken to? If you know what I mean: … Personally, I’m still trying to piece together an idea of, beyond the surface of violent battles and labels such as ‘Islamists’ vs. ‘Western education,’ ‘Western educated elites’ etc, from various news sources and … not that am considering myself particularly successful. Well, if I come across any more analytical piece I will let you know. But back to the primary topic of this blog, arts in the northern region, and this entry, Arewa House in Kano … or rather Akintayo Abodunrin’s article about the museum in Next Magazin:

Treasures of the North

The Museum of the Centre for Historical Documentation and Research, better known as Arewa (Northern) House (Gidan Arewa), is perhaps the only museum in Nigeria situated within the residence of a former politician. The Arewa House is located at No. 1, Rabah Road, Kaduna State.

Arewa House was home to the late premier of Northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello.

The museum is part of the facilities including an archive, library, and conference hall at the Arewa House, established in 1970 when a committee was tasked to write a book on the history of Northern Nigeria.

The first director of the Centre, the late Abdullahi Smith, a professor and founding member of the Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is credited for the status of the Arewa House, as a foremost centre for research, and for documenting the history and culture of the people of Northern Nigeria.

I had not planned to visit the museum but because I was turned back at the Kaduna Museum due to an ongoing strike by the Radio, Television, Theatre and Allied Workers Union which the museum staff belong to, I decided on the Arewa House on the advice of a friend who gave me the contact of Emmanuel Abu, the resident artist.

Abu, an academic staff of the university, who has been running Gidan Arewa since 1975, turned out to be a helpful and willing tour guide. "[Ahmadu Bello] actually met his end here in Arewa House, in this compound. The historical aspect of this place is something we have been keeping over the years; we are trying to put back some of his personal effects in his house. The house is right here in the compound.

We have few of his personal belongings in the open gallery of the museum. Our archival collection is very big. We have all the publications in Nigeria since the beginning of time in our archive," Abu says enthusiastically as we commence the tour.

The galleries

The location of the museum is not its only unique feature. It is the only Nigerian museum containing relics from a defined region. It comprises a central hall dedicated solely to the late Sardauna; and 12 adjoining galleries containing objects reflecting the civilisation and culture of each of the 19 northern states.

The central gallery contains the memorabilia of Bello, who was premier of the Northern Region from 1954 until his assassination in the 1966 coup. A platform on which some personal effects of the late politician are arranged, is the first thing one sees on entering the central gallery.

There are two velvet chairs, which the Sardauna had earlier given as presents but which were subsequently donated to the museum. There are also rugs, babarigas (flowing male attire worn in the North), caps and portraits; a battery operated wireless radio, which Bello used in his office and a mat.

Behind the platform is a case containing items including wristwatches, drivers' licence, religious articles Bello wrote and which he used for prayers and a ceremonial key presented to the statesman by the Housing Corporation on the occasion of his opening of the Central Bank of Nigeria branch in Kano, on January 13, 1963.

Abu leads the way into the smaller galleries. "The museum complex is part of Arewa House and the house has been in existence since the 50s. The museum was incorporated around 1994," he says as we enter the gallery shared by Jigawa and Benue States. Artefacts and crafts from the two states share a gallery because of space constraints.

The Katsina State gallery has, among others, photographs of all the governors who have ruled the state; dresses, drums, farming implements, a Quran, attesting to the premium Katsina people place on Islamic religion, beautifully decorated horse saddles and a painting of Bawo Bayajidda, killing the snake that prevented people from drawing water at the well in Daura.

A painting of a peacock depicting the symbol of Kwara people, drums, soup pots and hunting traps are displayed in the gallery of Kwara and Yobe States. Also on display is Usman Dan Fodiyo's family tree, listing the descendants of the jihadist and the periods they ruled the caliphate. An image of the late Sardauna who hailed from Sokoto and other items are in the Sokoto State gallery.

Probably because of its status as host of the Arewa House, Kaduna State has a gallery to itself. The first set of beds used in the North number among the interesting objects here.

Bello's office and residence

"That's the office of Sir Ahmadu Bello. He constructed it though he never used it before he met his death," Abu says as he leads the way to the entrance of the ‘Marble Office', another important historical site within the premises of Arewa House.

"This was the house of the Sardauna himself," Abu says, pointing to a one-storey building with a lush garden where the premier relaxed in the evenings. We can't enter the building because it is locked; Abu says it has just two bedrooms on the top floor while the ground floor is taken up by the sitting rooms where the Sardauna received his guests. Another locked door leads to a passage that connects the building to the quarters of the Sardauna's wives at the back.

"When the coup plotters came on January 15, 1966, they came in from the rear and started shooting. They were unable to find him [Bello] immediately until they shelled the top part of this structure which was renovated by the Sokoto State government. He went to meet his wives at the back.

After leaving his wives, the Sardauna came out from the door at the back; he met with (Major Kaduna) Nzeogwu and his boys before he was shot," Abu says at a spot outside the wives' quarters. "The first wife died with him here." He points to a portion of the grass that has been cemented over.

Although it has been able to record some success in its quest, the Arewa House is not relenting. "The project originally kicked off here as proper historical documentation (centre) in 1970, up till date, we are updating. We are sourcing files from offices that have something to do with the Sardauna himself," says Abu as he bids me bye at the gate of the Gidan Arewa.

African artists poor as rich cousins refuse to hang money on walls

Alright, still not sleeping (though its high time) but got to post a link to an interesting article that I myself only know about thanks to Bisi Silva's posting on facebook:

African artists poor as rich cousins refuse to hang money on walls

(Nation, Kenya, 23 July 2009)

Among the many godchildren of Globalization is the art business. It has grown from several hundred million dollars a year into a multi-billion dollar industry in a little over a decade.

Bad news is that Africa is missing out on this bonanza.

Today art, especially contemporary art, brings together a vast, growing community of savvy artists, dealers, curators, galleries, museums, auction houses, publishers, film makers and internet designers in an exciting new marketplace where everyone seems to gain enormously. Unfortunately Africa and Africans are sadly locked out of this burgeoning business.

And this time it is not due to any machination by “blood sucking western capitalists” of the post-colonial order but by Africans’ own failure to cotton on to a good thing — even when it stares us in the face.

… [continue reading here]

Alrigh, now I’m really off for a hat full of sleep … G'night guys!

On Brancato's Afro-Europe: Texts and Context

This is going to be a very small post as I'm far behind my writing schedule - yes, I'm still stuck on my chapter about religious discourses and religious arts. There has just been too much interesting literature that has been suggested to me following the presentation I did in London about a month ago, no!, its actually already almost two months ago.

Anyway, two weeks ago I have been at the Research Day at the Department of African Studies at Humboldt University here in Berlin, the department at which I did my undergraduates before I went to SOAS for an Erasmus exchange year and somehow got stuck in London ... Among other interesting presentations, Sabrina Brancato presented an exciting paper entitled Burning Heaven: The Image of Europe in African and Maghrebi Migration Narratives. Here, she discussed the image of Europe that is presented in the narratives of predominantly male migrants of African and Maghrebi origin living (and writing) in Italy and Spain in particular and argued for their significance for maintaining and challenging existing discourses about migration as well as Europe:

In the past two decades the European literary scene has witnessed a proliferation of fictional and testimonial works dealing with the experience of migration. The authors of those narratives come from all corners of the world and, in most cases, have a direct experience of displacement. Addressing issues of identity construction, integration in a new environment, intercultural encounters and dynamics of exclusion, these texts have, in the first place, a high political value. In fact, in so far as they can provide an articulate understanding of how displacement affects individual and communal psychology and behaviour, of the societal changes taking place both in sending and receiving countries, and of the ways different cultural contexts relate to one another, migration narratives can be a crucial tool to tackle urgent problems of inequality, racism, subalternity and disaffection among migrant communities. They are, in short, relevant to both governmental policies and social initiatives, although, unfortunately, they are seldom known to political actors and, therefore, hardly ever used for productive political and social scopes. [….] The few books addressing migratory issues which reach a large public (and occasionally become bestsellers) are, most often than not, sensationalist narratives depicting very extreme situations which might not reflect the more ordinary experience of the larger number of migrants. These narratives, moreover, often revolve around situations of victimisation in the mother country with a journey culminating in the achievement of emancipation in the West, as it is the case with life stories about children forced into war or oppressed women. The popularity that narratives such as Ayan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel or Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower achieve among Western readerships is obviously not unrelated to the fact that they offer a rather flattering view of the West and do not ‘threaten’ the founding principles on which the Western sense of self-righteousness relies. We therefore have to interrogate the function of these dominant discourses and their impact on the general view of migrants in the West. We should ask ourselves, for example, if and how such narratives help tackling urgent societal issues such as the growing islamophobia among Western citizens. A negative answer should obviously not diminish the value of such works but would certainly make more urgent the promotion of alternative narratives offering less dichotomic and more multifaceted views, a way out of the unproductive ‘the West and the Rest’ paradigm. (from a paper presented at the Department of African Studies, Humboldt University, on the occasion of the Research Day, 3 July 2009)

Now, just a few minutes ago I found an email circular in my inbox announcing the recent publication of Brancato’s book Afro-Europe: Texts and Context. Obviously I haven’t read it yet and probably will not find the energy to do so any time soon but let me just copy the blurb (what a horrible word for such an important piece means of quick information about a book) for those of you who might be interested:

This book explores new literary and cultural configurations in contemporary Europe providing insight into a thriving but yet little-known cultural phenomenon. Its focus is on the literary production of people of African origin as well as on the various socio-political contexts, theoretical paradigms and institutional discourses in which it is conceived, circulated and received. The essays contained in this volume contribute to spreading knowledge about Afro-European cultures and to establishing Afro-European studies as a crucial field of research. The author outlines a theoretical framework for comparative work across national and linguistic borders. She simultaneously traces the development of Afrosporic literatures in largely unexplored contexts such as southern European countries and points out trends in thematic concerns and narrative strategies across genres and nationalities. Analysing the formation of transcultural identities in a European context and the trans-formative potential of narratives engendering intercultural dialogue, this book addresses key issues concerning the dynamics of conviviality and the predicament of Europeanness.

Well, if you’re interested in the book you can find it for a reasonable EUR 19.80 at

Alright, I’m off to bed for now and back to computer, notes, and books for another round of chapter writing tomorrow …

On the Elgin Marbles, the Benin Bronzes and Restitution: a View from Nigeria

Stuck with the editing of my chapter – my supervisor helpfully told me to relax my English … Relax my English?! Wayyo, ban gane ba! – I was checking out Nigerian newspapers online and came across this opinion piece on the interesting and highly controversial issue of restitution of art works.

To be honest with you, I haven’t yet made up my mind on the topic. Probably, because the issue goes to the very heart of the concept of the (Western?) anthropological/ethnographical museum (which could probably do with some serious rethinking anyway, though, embarrassingly, I don’t have any answers just issues which is of course so much easier) and the (Western) notion of ‘Art’. With regard to this particular one, I’m here thinking about the reclassification of (primarily) other peoples’ utilitarian and sacred objects (formerly considered idols and, hence, destroyed) into cultural curiosities in the course of the development of anthropology as a discipline and eventually into ‘Art.’ With that taxonomic shift, to borrow James Clifford’s term (cf. Clifford 1988: 196), came the need to preserve these objects intact and undamaged, first as ‘indices of evangelical efficacy’ (cf. David Morgan 2005: 128), the scientific artefacts and sources of knowledge about foreign culture and art works. After all, in as much as iconoclasm became a marker of ignorance, vandalism and barbarity, the preservation of artefacts and art works became and continues to be a sign of civilisation (here used as the opposite of primitive, also cf. my entry on Morgan’s discussion of iconoclasm). And, while I don’t think that these dichotomic pairs (iconophily/ preservation/ civilisation vs. iconoclasm/ destruction/ barbarity) are consciously reproduced in the debates about the restitution of art works I wonder … I mean, the issue of conservation that regularly crops up in the debate especially where the return to contexts where the artefact’s/art work’s preservation can (allegedly or actually) not be guaranteed or, in fact might not even be desired are concerned - is it not based in the very same notion of ‘Art’ as valuable of preservation originating in these very same dichotomies? Why am I asking this question? Well, because I honestly do believe that artefacts/art works should be preserved and my heart is breaking at the thought of, say, an elaborately illuminated Ethiopian manuscript being returned to some monastery where the means for its conservation might be missing. But in the course of my studies I also spent too much time reading authors who actively deconstruct concepts such as ‘Art’ and point to their origin in discourses that went hand-in-hand with colonisation. So … I don’t know (yet?). All this is, of course, further complicated by the entanglement not only of these discourses in colonisation but also the contexts in which many of these objects were, well, acquired – here, the Benin Bronzes are probably one of the more clear cut cases in which hardly an argument for any, even by the standards of the time, legitimate acquisition could be made. After all, even the British Museum’s argument in the plaque (or so it read the last time I visited, late last year) accompanying the display in the Sainsbury Africa Galleries draws particular attention to the circumstances in which the bronzes where encountered (allegedly abandoned) rather than the political context in which the kingdom was overthrown. To even further complicate matters one needs to consider the particular (political) interests of all those involved in these debates: the museums’ dependence on these objects for their displays on the one hand, cultural nationalism including its exploitation for political ends on the other hand. And then the question to which extent they inform any of the arguments made. Take for example the concept of ‘universal heritage’ that has been made in order to justify the objects continued storage and display in Western museums.

I don’t know all this is probably not even touching upon the major arguments in these debates but that’s what spontaneously came to my mind. So, after all my rambles let’s better look at the original article by Tajudeen Sowole published 14 July 2009 in the Guardian for a Nigerian view on the whole issue of restitution, more concretely the Benin Bronzes. Enjoy and let me know what you think:

Row over Parthenon Marbles... new restitution challenges for Africa

RECENTLY, Greece opened its much-awaited museum, New Acropolis Museum, housing sculptures from the memorable age of ancient Athens. However, the Greek Government's hope that the new museum would appease the British Museum that was dashed, as the latter remained adamant in granting a request for the return of parts of the Greek sculptures known as Parthenon Marbles - named Elgin Marbles by the British.

Out of an estimated 160 metres original of these marble sculptures, 75 are known to be in the British Museum while the rest are in Greece and Italy.

Build-up to the completion of the museum suggested that the British Museum's argument that "Greece lacks the right condition to receive the marbles" would be dead when the museum opens.

During the opening ceremony of the museum Greek President, Karolos Papoulias said the museum offers the opportunity "to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it." Built at the cost of £110m ($182m; 130m euros), the opening of the museum was attended by heads of state and cultural envoys from about 30 countries including the UN and the EU.

Sources said the deputy head of the board of trustees of the British Museum, Bonnie Greer present at the event stressed that the marbles should remain in London. She was quoted as saying that in London, the marbles were displayed in an international cultural context. A loan to Greece, she suggested, could be possible only "if Greece acknowledges British ownership of the marbles."

In 1817, during the Ottoman Empire rule over Greece, British Ambassador to Greece, Lord Elgin was said to have ordered the removal of the Parthenon sculptures and later sold them to the British Museum. Now known as the Elgin or Parthenon Marbles, they were originally used to decorate the Parthenon temple of Acropolis in Greece, but about half are currently in the U.K.

If a museum built at the cost of $182m, (226, 000-square-foot) in Europe - adjudged by the rest of the world to be standard - was not good enough to convince the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles, apparently, it is unlikely that African countries seeking repatriation would sail through.

"There is hope," artist and scholar on Benin Antiquities, Dr. Peju Layiwola assured, noting that "every case on its own merit." The Benin case, she argued, is one of the most documented "cases of historical injustice. It is a moral debt, which the West has to pay. We will continue to remind them that what was carried out in Nigeria was outright looting."

On-going efforts to have Nigeria's looted artifacts at Museums in Europe and America returned are yet to produce any significant success story. On adequate facilities to justify repossession of these objects, few months ago, a project of the Ford Foundation and the newly formed Arts and Business Foundation projected a new deal worth $2m to rescue the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos. It was believed that a standard museum as contemplated by this project would give the country a better opportunity to have its artifacts returned, among other benefits. But with the new row on Elgin Marbles, it appeared that British Museum would not stop shifting the goal posts; Africa, particularly Nigeria, would be the ultimate victim.

When Greer put the position of the British Museum within international museum context, she was actually promoting an idea that is fast catching up with the popularity of repatriation: In 2002, a group known as Bizot and consisting of 20 directors of museum across Europe and America took a position towards a redefinition of who owns what. Under the forum known as Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums, certain artifacts, they argued, should be seen as universally owned.

The politics of repatriation is taking another dimension. In March this year, an auction of belongings of St Yves Saint Laurent and his former partner, Pierre Berge, which recorded $483.8 million, also produced an embarrassment for the auction house, Christie's, when a bidder of some controversial objects of Chinese goat head lots refused to pay after winning the bid. Weeks before the auction, the Chinese Government had failed, through a legal process, to stop the auction; it claimed that the bronze heads were looted by French and British soldiers during the Second Opium War in 1860 and therefore should be returned.

The winning bidder, a Chinese named Cai Mingchao had disclosed that his refusal to pay for the lots was a protest to stop the sale of the objects.

But India had a different approach when it saved the memorabilia of its foremost statesman, Mahatma Gandhi from being sold into a private collection at a New York, U.S. auction, also in March. The objects were metal-rimmed glasses; a pocket watch, pair of sandals; a plate and bowl, all items used by Gandhi in his days.

After negotiation between the government and the owner of the objects James Otis failed, Indian businessman Vijay Mallya - suspected to be fronting for the government - put in a $1.8 million and got the objects returned to India.

Objects of historical relics are so precious such that revered institution like the Vatican could not insulate itself from controversy. One part of three Parthenon Marbles said to be in possession of the Pope was released to Greece last year, on loan. Earlier, the Vatican had refused Greece's request but settled for loan instead of outright return of the objects. Even at that, observers wondered why the Vatican's action came one month after Italy had returned - not loaned - a part of the sculpture held at a museum in Sicily; value of these treasure objects knows no boundary.

Most recent row was on new exhibition of ancient African ceramics, African Terra Cotta: a Millenary Heritage held at the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva.

Not a few observers of the politics of restitution were surprised that the New Acropolis Museum could not change the policy direction of the British Museum on the issue, at least on the Elgin Marbles. Prof. Perkins Foss, a veteran on African culture and museum who always argue for better museum facilities as possible bait for repatriation, agreed that the game has to change, this time around: "And now is the time for the British and Greeks to look to ways to develop a win-win situation in which cooperation between the museums develops."

Director General of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Dr. Joseph Eborieme was surprised that the New Acropolis Museum could not make the difference on the return of the Parthenon. "Now that the Acropolis Museum is in place, the British Museum is not on legitimate ground to still hold on to the Elgin Marbles," Eborieme argued, noting that this development is out of place with the new spirit in some other places. For example, "the Canadian Government through the Nigerian High Commission just returned some objects to Nigeria."

On efforts of the NCMM to get more artifacts of Nigerian origin returned, Eborieme restated that, "we are using the machineries of UNESCO as well as hoping that the Ford Foundation assistance in rehabilitating the National Museum would make all the difference."