Tuesday, July 6, 2010

‘If we must use art to unite Africans...’

Tuesday, 06 July 2010 00:00 By Tajudeen Sowole Art - Arts

When Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF) had a reception for its foreign guest, Ludovick Fadairo, TAJUDEEN SOWOLE found out that the yawning gap between African artists and governments cut across the continent.

VISITING Beninois artist, Ludovick Fadairo has warned his counterparts on the consequence of depending on governments’ initiatives in using art and culture to address Africa’s quest for unity and economic empowerment.
Fadairo who was the guest of Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF) stated this during the weekend while speaking on African unity and the failure of leadership in the continent.
African artists, he argued, “have the challenge of confronting politicians’ lack of respect for art if we must use art to unite Africans.”
Fadairo, 63, is a recipient of UNESCO Prize for Promotion of Arts (2004) and one of Africa’s renowned multimedia artists.
The artist who spoke through an interpreter explained that because art takes its strength from the larger society, artists can still impart on the people with little or no government’s contributions.
Perhaps a model of government’s effort towards integrating art into the economy of the continent is the two editions-old African Regional Summit and Exhibition on Visual Art (ARESUVA). Organized by the National Gallery of Art (NGA) Abuja, it’s designed to promote visual art as a strategy for achieving rapid economic development in the African region within the context of the African Union’s (AU) New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Such initiatives, Fadairo noted, often come with arrogance from governments. Artist, he stressed, should use their art to challenge the “arrogance of politicians given the fact that money used for such initiatives comes from the people.” Neglect of art and culture by African leaders, he warned has reached an alarming state.
In African art and culture lies the solution to the economic empowerment of the continent, Fadairo argued. “Nearly everything the world needs has been invented by the west. The only thing that the west cannot create or re-invent is African art and culture.” The artist however lamented that the leadership of the continent is yet to recognize this fact. He cited example of a recent situation in “Mali when the government had 0.3 per cent of its budget for art and culture.”
Responding, his host and Executive Director of BOF, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya (MFR) stated that artists can collaborate with governments by “starting some initiatives” to prove a point that indeed, “we are relevant in the development of the continent.” Onobrakpeya however urged artists to develop “spiritual commitment” for consistency to enable them gain confidence of the people. He also likened Fadairo’s thoughts on artists’ resurgence to a “confederation” under which practitioners can form a common front.
Still not convinced of the sincerity of governments of the continent, Fadairo advised younger artists to take cue from Onobrakpeya who – without government’s funding – has used his art to empower the people of his immediate environment and beyond. He mentioned the Harmattan Workshop initiative which holds at Agbarha Otor, Delta State as one of the contributions of Onobrakpeya which has proven that indeed, African art has a role to play in economic emancipation. The harmattan workshop, which attracts participants from across the country trains interested natives of Agbahar Otor every year in art and crafts. Fadairo said, “although I have not attended the workshop, but I have heard so much about it and look forward to taking part.”
And just in case anyone wants to keep faith with assistance from overseas, Fadairo, insisted that, “we should not wait for grants to come from abroad.”
Perhaps a good model of overseas-funded art project in Africa is the Dak’Art biennale, which holds in Dakar, Senegal every two years. Fadairo disagreed, arguing that such grants come with conditions, which only serve the interests of the donors. In fact, he disclosed that, currently, France’s funding of Dak’Art is going through a crisis as a result of sudden ideological differences between the two governments as regards contents of the biennale. He traced the issue to the 2006 edition when France “dictated to the organisers to feature only sculptures and installations.” Fadairo argued that such dictate is unacceptable and contrary to the spirit of self-expression. He also noted that, politically, “President Abdullah Wade of Senegal is not in good terms with the French government.” It is therefore expected that eventually, Dak’Art, will suffer further funding from France, he warned.
As the visitor was taken on a tour of his host’s Ovuomaroro Studio and Gallery, he stressed that Onobrakpeya’s work is a typical example of what he described as inherent self-expression of Nigerian and Anglophone artists. Comparatively, artists from French speaking countries of Africa, he argued, are not as independent minded. He likened this to the difference in the colonial ideology of the former French and English colonial masters. He argued that, “the French manipulated the people’s psyche before colonising them. The English, though colonised the people, but not their mental ability.”
The French attitude, he said, has not changed till date which perhaps explains why “my work is not popular in France. Any artist whose work is like Fadairo’s is not accepted in France.” He said, he has been able to confront this imperial mentality because “my Yoruba culture is strong enough to challenge any western ideology.”
And the commonality of ancestral artistic expression in the work of Fadairo and his host came to bare on a brief introductory ritual at the beginning of the reception: there was an exchange of cultural values. Onobrakpeya had presented kola nuts and a little sum of money to his guest and asked for a blessing of the reception. Fadairo, in return accepted the Urhobo tradition of his host just as he requested to add “my culture which says when a young man knows how to wash his hands, he shall dine with the elders.”
Fadairo gave his host a gift of hand-woven cap and slippers. He said the gifts “are symbols of crown and power” to a print master “whose work has been an inspiration to me.”
Onobrakpeya, in return, showed that self- documentation has been part of his strength as he presented his last book Jewels of Nomadic Images and two CDs titled Bruce Onobrakpeya: Brief Introduction and Harmattan Workshop 2009. To update his visitor on the recent development in Nigeria’s visual art scene, Onobrakpeya also gave Fadairo the catalogue of Art Expo 2009. Receiving the gifts, Fadairo said the honour “is not just for me, but the ancestors of African art as well.” He also stressed that in documentation, the contemporary must not take over the past.”
Earlier, Onobrakpeya had presented a copy of the book Jewels of Nomadic Images to U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders.
Fadairo is currently living and working in Bingerville, Ivory Coast.