Oct 30, 2010

Anatsui Exhibition in Osaka

Ongoing in Osaka, "A Fateful Journey: Africa in the Works of El Anatsui" an art exhibition premiering at Minpaku, the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka. The exhibition will travel from Osaka to the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Hayama (Jan. 5 −March 27, 2011), Art Forum, Tsuruoka (April 23-May 22, 2011), and Saitama Prefectural Museum of Modern Art (July −August, 2011), all in Japan. The installation of Anatsui's art at this exhibition is the best retrospective of the artist I have ever seen. There are tons of new and gorgeous artworks and many significant examples of earlier works. Anatsui's new sculpture-installations are one of the most impactful styles to hit contemporary art in a very long while. I worked on this exhibition as a member of the curatorial team led by Yukiya Kawaguchi, which included Takezawa Shoichiro and other curators from the Minpaku. I have been uniformly impressed so far with all aspects of my visit to Japan, and the Minpaku is quite an impressive venue for the exhibition. I will be commenting on this exhibition in greater detail. In the meantime, here's some installation shots of the exhibition showing some of its constituent artworks.

Oct 28, 2010

Sunrise in Kyoto

I'm in Kyoto for a conference (centered on a retrospective exhibition of El Anatsui's art), staying at Yoshimizu, a wonderful traditional Japanese inn steps away from the centuries-old Anyoji Temple (Yoshimizu Soan), and the extraordinary Maruyama Park in the vicinity of Shogun-zuka. This is my first trip to Japan and I'm very impressed.

When I was much younger, I read somewhere that a person should have at least one hobby that's totally incongruous and totally different from one's normal scope of things. Japan is mine, a hobby that fast built into an obsession, first with Japanese samurai movies, then with Anime, of which I am now a bonafide Otaku. I am thus happy to be in Japan for the first time, to see in reality tons of things I had read about and seen in pictures. It is not quite the same: being there has more fundamental meaning, especially in the emotional impact of ancient history interacting seamlessly with modern life. Lots to see here, and a deep sense of time passing, counted in centuries. Feeling right at home...strangely.

Pictured above, sunrise in Kyoto from the hilltop Anyoji temple (top), and the facade of Maruyama Park showing its lovely orange gate.

Oct 26, 2010

Obituary: Prof. Agbo Folarin

From a statement by Yemi Ola:

Professor Agboola Folarin, Emeritus professor of Fine Arts, from the Department of Fine Arts Obafemi Awolowo is dead. Baba Agbo as popularly called by all was one of the pioneering members of the department along with JRO Ojo, Babtunde Lawal, Rowland Abiodun, Irien Wangboge, Akinola Lasekan and others. This sad news is coming after the university lost Prof. Lamidi Fakeye almost a year ago.

Prof. Agbo Folarin will best be remembered as an artist whose presence is felt in most part of our university campus right from the crest at the top of the entrance gate from road one, the aluminium screen shield sculpture at the Students union building, the aluminium cast at the Ajose Lecture theatre, the copper Screen walls, Metal gates and doors at the conference centre, series of window blind for several offices especially in the 70's and 80's and the the bronze statue of Oluwasanmi at the University library.

This news of Prof. Floarin's transition to the realms of the ancestors is sad news indeed. I last spoke to Prof. Folarin at the 2008 ARESUVA conference in Abuja, Nigeria. I hadn't seen him since 1994 when we both met in the USA during a period of interesting professional development projects. I was a greenhorn graduate student at Northwestern University and he was there as a visiting scholar to the Program of African Studies (PAS), Northwestern's legendary initiative in the study and scholarship of Africa. PRof. Folarin was sharing his time between NU and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside where he was working on a residency commission to produce a metal mural sculpture. Prof. Folarin and I were also both panelists at the year-long Inscription of the Material World symposium at the Program of African Studies (PAS) of Northwestern University that year. I remembered everyone commenting on his kindness and humility, even as he created and installed extraordinarily scaled metal (copper) sculpture/mural for a residency at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Agbo Folarin was there as part of an exchange program between UW and the University of Ife. During the production of the sculpture, Prof. Folarin worked with and trained several University of Wisconsin art students in his particular technique of metalworking. I traveled with some other colleagues to UW to witness the formal unveiling of this sculpture and remembered being quite impressed by the level of artistry involved in creating it.

Time gets us all in the end. Thus, while mourning his passing, it is proper to celebrate his life and achievements. Prof. Folarin was Alagba (a true Elder), a fount of creativity that he freely shared with all and sundry; an unstinting and very influential teacher, and above all a person who personified the Yoruba ideals of Iwapele and Aratutu (gracious behavior and calm personal comportment). As a young man given to sudden bursts of movement during the time of our encounters at PAS, I derived great comfort in emulating his calm engagement with life in general, seeing this as a worthy example for personal comportment. His passing leaves us considerably poorer, in this contemporary climate of contention where persons of calm demeanor are most acutely needed.

A great tree has fallen; we are deprived of its protective canopy. May his gentle soul rest in peace.

Oct 20, 2010

Dead Platforms

I'm finding my hit rate on predictions rising quite substantially these days. This isn't a claim of prescience by any means. It simply comes from the fact that I process the world as data and have a high propensity towards pattern recognition. Certain patterns are obvious: if you persistently cross roads without paying attention to traffic, sooner or later you’ll be hit by a car. Other patterns are not so obvious or become obvious only in retrospect: for example, anyone paying attention could have foretold the crash of the housing market, and it was indeed foretold on several fronts. I have a copy of Harper’s special issue on the debt burden of the housing boom. Its cover illustration featured a schematic drawing of a man carrying a house on his back. It was printed two years before the housing market crashed. What Harper did not foresee was that banks, investment brokers and Wall Street colluded on creating toxic assets by wrapping the stink of their bad housing investments in securities that were then wrapped in other securities and traded. When the fall came, the US government bailed out the banks (we can’t afford to have the banks fail after all): homeowners were left holding the bag.

The comment about my "hit rate" on prediction results from my prediction about the end of the Humanities. Three days after I spoke about that exact outcome, I saw an article by Stanley Fish in the New York Times, heralding the crisis of the Humanities. In a nutshell, he predicts the death of Humanities as a discipline. There are many other examples of obvious patterns. I see an increasing alarming call by many commentators who chart the rapid descent of the USA into a banana republic: Arianna Huffington in her book Third World America, filmmaker David Guggenheim’s heartrending film Waiting for Superman (which prompts the question: does the willful destruction of opportunity for minority youth not count as a form of genocide?); the indefatigable Robert Reich warning about a perfect storm of clear and present dangers facing America’s democracy. Three voices among a large number of people who warn about the demise of a great country, despite the fact that there doesn’t appear to be anyone listening.

I have read from many such authors over the past few years and found broad patterns emerging that indicate things might have passed the point of no return. I am certainly surprised about the general public’s level of complacency to these problems although tons of online content abound that suggest people know something is wrong but don’t quite know what. I have thus decided to review some of these patterns I see under a general theme of “Dead Platforms”. Over the next few posts, I will discuss the demise of the Humanities within the American system of higher education fostered by the emergent culture of technocracy; attempt a reclassification of art history and its discursive engagement with art practice as a social science rather than humanities, and briefly touch upon the demise of American democracy both as a functional system of governance in the USA and as a model for international governance at large. This latter shift comes amidst the rising power of China despite is patently undemocratic form of government. I had once postulated that all democratic governments are doomed to oligarchy. That pattern is obviously coming to pass right before our eyes. In fact, the elections of 2008 will come to be seen as the moment when this country lost its democracy. It had been a long time coming but everyone pretended it was otherwise. However in a context where you need to spend $150 million dollars or more to win a Senate seat, it is absurd to talk about democracy. Who pays the piper, as they say, calls the tune.

So then… Dead Platforms...and once more into the breach (etc.).

Oct 1, 2010

Car Bomb in Abuja

So much for good wishes for Nigeria at 50. Naijablog reports that MEND (Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta) allegedly set off two car bombs in Abuja on the country's independence day. The MEND campaign has been festering in the Niger Delta for close to two decades but in the past few years they have started exporting violence to other parts of the country. While no one argues about the horrendous conditions of life that Niger Delta peoples are subjected to as s result of oil exploration and general lack of resources, it is really callous to set off bombs in the nation's capital on this day of all days.

I guess the celebrations were premature then....

Nigeria at 50: The Year of Golden Jubilees

Nigeria turns 50 today, in a year that has several African countries similarly celebrating “independence” from colonial rule. The tenor of global commentary on these celebrations indicate a general disappointment with the political and economic fortune of many of these African countries in the postcolonial period as they struggle to manage competing forms of political and social organization. Wars have been frequent in this history, as well as various forms of economic destabilization. Nigeria in particular gets a lot of negative press for squandering a chance to become a developed nation of black people capable of exerting positive pressure on behalf of black people everywhere. I remember hearing a lot about Nigeria being “the giant of Africa” ever since I was a child. As a keen reader of literature in English, the appellation struck me as a devious marker: I know of no giant in literature or history who was ever anything more than a tragic figure and it seemed to me quite problematic that the country is saddled with this appellation.

Fifty years after political independence from British colonial rule, it is clear that Nigeria has so far not fulfilled its potential and that there is a great yearning in the country for its promise to be fulfilled. I will not add to the general dirge about lost opportunities. I acknowledge that Nigerian leaders lost many opportunities to develop the country but also note that it is not an easy thing to hold together a nation made up of more than 250 distinct ethnic groups. Even though the ideal of Nigerian unity bears some debate, it is significant that the country yet survives and somehow manages to keep on keeping on. Sometimes this is all life affords us, that we stay alive and persevere. Things could always be better, but they could also be a lot worse. No one knows whether there will be a Nigeria in another 50 years, and no one knows what the nation will look like in that future. For now, it is what it is and one can always hope that enough criticism will cause its leaders to start making the right choices, for the sake of the future. I am not holding my breath but then, hope springs eternal.

So then, a salute to Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, on its 50th birthday. It was born in inimical circumstances and is currently going through a very problematic period of its life history. Many have given their lives to the cause of Nigerian unity and many more continue to hope for greater things even when circumstances have conspired to destroy instance after instance of hopeful possibilities. Nations are illusions; contemporary African nations even more so. But human beings are no illusion and even if Nigeria was born of colonial machinations, it is a nation today and Nigerians are a well-known people in the world. Love them or hate them, Nigerians are here to stay. They are some of the most educated and highest achieving people on the planet, which means that they excel at both ends of the spectrum, both at the good and the bad (Boo!!!). I once told someone that after the West has managed to destroy the world through nuclear conflagration, in the post-apocalyptic landscape, there will be cockroaches … and Nigerians.

I hope that the Nigeria that our children inherit will be more amenable to actualizing their potential that the one I emigrated from almost two decades ago. I hope that the other African nations celebrating their independence also find a way to improve their lot in the community of nations. Greetings to all of them and congratulations for making it this far.

Illustration: Peju Layiwola, Detail of Installation from Benin1897 Exhibition.