May 31, 2010

Remembering African Servicemen of WWII

This memorial day, a tribute to the African servicemen of World War II, whose heroics are often forgotten in the whitewashed histories of these global conflicts. Specifically to my uncle Sylvester Okafor Ogbechie (top), whose name I bear and of whom I am considered to be an incarnate spirit. Sylvester Okafor Ogbechie was a non-commissioned officer of the British Army's Nigerian Army Auxiliaries of the Middle East Forces Command. He saw action in Burma and was killed on his way back home after end of WWII in September 1945. The British Government did not pay my grandfather (his father) or any member of the families of other dead African combat veterans neither their pensions nor any compensation for their service in WWII. Returnee veterans in several African countries (Kenya for example) who demanded their legitimate compensation were regarded as anti-colonial agitators and imprisoned or worse, murdered. Above all, Britain, France and other European colonial powers completely effaced the heroic service of these African veterans from their memorial celebrations, thus creating an ersatz history ethnically and racially cleansed of any involvement of blacks in the major events of their era.

I found these pictures of Sylvester Okafor Ogbechie and his fellow African military servicemen in uniform at one of their bases during the Second World War (this one was signed April 8, 1945). It is indeed a great irony to fight for a nation that refuses to recognize your existence or acknowledge your heroism. Africans have given their lives in Western wars for centuries, even though unwillingly as they are often drafted into these wars. Similarly, African Americans have faced this kind of civic rejection for much of their history, even though peoples of African descent have fought in all the wars ever fought by the USA in its history. More importantly, the British government owes my family the pension of NA 46921 Middle East Forces Command Serviceman Sylvester Okafor Ogbechie and other African veterans of the endless wars of the West. May the memory of these brave African soldiers endure forever as an indictment of British duplicity.

May 24, 2010

Hassan Musa FIFA World Cup Poster Controversy

There is an ongoing controversy over the treatment of artwork produced by Hassan Musa for the FIFA 2010 World Cup program in South Africa. According to the artist (see attached "artist statement" on the issue below), the version of the poster that was launched on the internet and being marketed globally by Brands United, viciously revised the image by cutting out Musa's references to African countries, in the form of a band of African flags framing the entire image. Also, Musa contends that when he complained to the Brands United agency director, Renate Bauer, about the deforming of his artwork, she accused him of being insolent and chastised him for not seeing that her revision of the work "improved it considerably". It would be interesting to hear Mrs. Bauer's side of this argument but if Musa's narrative of the event is true, then it brings to a new low the lack of respect for contemporary African artists in the current global dispensation. The edited FIFA poster is shown here (credits). It has been cropped to remove all flags of African countries used as a border for the image. The original artwork is represented in the Philip DePury catalog of an Africa-themed art auction. Click here then scroll to page 135, Lot 88: Hassan Musa).

Hassan Musa’s statement : Modification of my image « The good game » for the poster competition FIFA 2010

At the end of march 2008, the Communication Agency Brands United, a Berlin agency, contacted me to participate to a poster competition for the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa and to an exhibition of all original works prepared for this event, during the international event in South Africa, in summer 2010.

In november 2009, when the sale of the posters of the 17 participant artists was launched on internet, I discovered that a part of my work had been cut off by Brands United. I re-informed (sic) the agency Director, Renate Bauer, of the iconographical references of my work : the European artistic tradition with the evocation of Delacroix’s masterpiece “Jacob’s wrestling with the Angel “and the african artistic tradition that of the “Asafo” flags of Ghana. Brands United designers deleted the African part of my work ! When I expressed to Mrs Bauer my disagreement telling her that she injured my author rights, Mrs Bauer accused me of being” insolent”, she said she had spent a lot of time and money to ameliorate my image and concluded saying : “Everybody likes the image the way it is – we have positive reactions from all the parts of the world.”

Brands United did not only ignore my author rights they also showed no respect of the contract I signed with them. The contract stipulated that there would be a sale of my works after an exhibition of the original works in South Africa during summer 2010, during the World Cup. But at the end of march 2010, I learned by accident that Brands United without informing me and violating the contract, had put my work on auction at Phillips de Pury in New-York the 15th of may 2010.

Knowing that my work remains my property until auctioned, I contacted Phillips de Pury and Mrs Bauer to inform them that Brands United no longer represent me for the sale in NY. Mrs Bauer reacted by sending me a mail of insults and threatened to sue me for defamation. I finally decided to withdraw my work of this sale, by an injunction of Berlin Court.

I think that I got involved in this adventure hoping to compete with other creators that I deeply respect and to present my work to an african public in the actual South Africa which focuses all the hopes of the Africans but I found myself trapped in a sordid situation imposed by persons who despise artists efforts and who use an African dream to set a mere commercial operation.

May 3, 2010


Of all the sights I saw in Lagos on my recent trips, this one caught me by surprise: a young man, named Zaha, stepping aside to perform mid-afternoon prayers at Falomo shopping complex in Lagos, right next to the very busy Quintessence art gallery. In my youth, I was steeped in the Catholic faith and learned to understand the lure of belief. Although I am largely removed from Catholic liturgy of late, I still try to understand how religion shapes individual identity, not as a means of discussion (I prefer to avoid discussions about religion as much as possible, believing that everyone is entitled to their beliefs--unto each their own, as it were) but merely to understand why it seems despite fervent personal belief, religion has actually delivered more conflict than peace.

Every once in a while, I run across something that reminds me of the core faith of my earlier belief, the blinding flash of faith that places one in a state of grace: I remember such incidents--sunrise on the Nsukka hills, the glow of the rose windows of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, the majestic facade of the Duomo in Milan, the view up from down in the Grand Canyon and the arc of the Milky Way overhead on a moonless night, in the rural village of my youth (this one really makes you feel small) where there were different kinds of darkness and one learned to see in all of them.

It is a measure of how organized religion has badly ruined the world that today, affiliation with certain religious organizations is seen as a stamp of negation: in this regard, there is no difference between fundamentalists anywhere, fundamentalist Christians being as bad as fundamentalist Moslems, Hindus, worshipers of African traditional religions, Jews or Jains. Consider that the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are at each other's throats and threaten to destroy the world in the process. Yet, individual devotion to the tenets of these religions continues unabated and continues to amaze. The man kneeling to prayer here--Zaha--prays in the shadow of a tree in a 102 degrees Farenheit Lagos-afternoon sun, right next to an active power generator and a very busy roadway (Awolowo road, Ikoyi, Lagos), yet manages to carve out a small space of silence to intone the required invocation "Bisimillahi--in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful"-- amidst the noise of the city.

It has been a week since I took this picture but I can't get it out of my head. It is the most poignant thing I have seen in ages.

The Rains Have Come...

Long year to date, and strange to be here again, to be once again the returner, to return to the long silence, the paucity of words...their rough shapes swollen as weights on the tongue: so much to say, so much left unsaid. Condolences, said Okigbo the bard, "from our split tongue of the slit drum condolences, one tongue full of fire, one tongue full of stone". Descent from the roof of the world leaves one without words. The body arrives but the soul lingers in the stratosphere, watching the earth's curve and knowing life as small and finite; knowing the finite joys of being and becoming. I have returned with the rains and a fist clenched fast holding thunder. rumbles and rustles within the vibrating arm, within the darkening force of water in the air. I have returned, and the rains have come. I have returned. Not all those who wander are lost...