I returned to Nigeria after three weeks in South Africa. The bitter-sweet contrast between the national mood of mourning and our exploration of the magnificant Western Cape lingered in my mind. I will return to South Africa, Gods willing.
An uneventful Kenya Airways flight from Johannesburg to Lagos via Nairobi landed at Muratala Muhammed Airport at midday. I was met by two young men from the Nike gallery. It was Sunday so the infamous Lagos traffic did not pose a problem and we arrived at Lekki in good time.
Fifty years ago four young men responded to flyers posted around the old town of Osogbo, Nigeria calling for people to participate in an experimental art workshop. They were Adebisi Fabunmi, Muraina Oyelami, Jimoh Buraimoh, and Taiwo Olaniyi (known as "Twins Seven Seven"). The workshop was held in the Mbari Mbayo club, a building owned by Duro Ladipo, the director of a popular theatre company. Ladipo was a friend of the expatriate history professor from the University of Ibadan, Ulli Beier, who organized the workshop.
I arrived in
South Africa the day after Nelson Mandela was buried. I didn't plan it
that way. I was joining my daughter and her family in Cape Town for the
Christmas break and my itinerary landed me in Johannesburg on December 16, 2013.
Like the rest of the world, I had followed Madiba's long decline and passing in
the media. In my lifetime, I know of no public figure so universally
mourned as the first black President of South Africa.
Africa gets hold of one and doesn't let go. Forty-five years after first landing in Lagos, I will be going back to Nigeria to take on a new challenge - a new opportunity. My dear friend and sister, Nike asked me help her develop the Nike Centre for Art and Culture in Abuja. My long career promoting Nigerian contemporary art and textiles has prepared me for this work; I am delighted and excited to undertake it.
Nike's Gallery in Lagos is an important center of the lively art scene there.
Dinner with the Governor
Nike and I and her entourage leave the Culture and Tourism Conference and
head directly for the Governor's house with a quick stop for my quick
change. We arrive and are ushered
through security into a pavilion furnished with closely spaced, large,
tables. The stage is inexplicably
adorned with Union Jacks. The
Ambassadors are seated at the head table; the rest of us are shown to
table in the center of the room.
People gradually enter and find their places.
August 22 FollowingNike
Following Nike is usually and
adventure and today is no exception.
We leave the Guest House at Offa Tedo in the morning with a simple
mission – to buy white cloth for the chieftaincy ceremony being held that
afternoon. The Ambassadors from
France and Holland are in Osogbo to receive the honors and Nike is concerned
that all should go well. The Oba
conferring the titles is her cousin and they are staying at her Guest
House. As it happens we don't
return until 3 a.
The Birthday Party
I celebrated my 60th birthday in Oshogbo. This year is 70, and
I am back to mark another decade. The party will be at the Nike Centre for Art and Culture in Abuja rather
than in Osogbo because Jenny and Jeff have started their new jobs at AISA and can't get
away. Jenny invites teachers and staff
from the school and Amy, the Director, provides a van to carry us all to the Nike
Center off Airport Road.
The party is planned for 5 to 8
p.m. The evening gets off to an
Our apartment is spacious, high-ceilinged and comfortable.
Floors are cool, marble
tiles throughout. It is sparsely
but adequately furnished. Each
of the three bedrooms has an adjoining bath. Like a lot of new buildings, the windows are tinted,
further dimming the light from overcast skies outside.
My window at the back of the flat overlooks what appears
to be a car park for earth-moving vehicles. The city is still under construction.
For all the problems Nigeria faces - corruption, Boka Haram terror, 419 scams, traffic jams, power cuts, unreliable water supply, etc., I learned to love the people and the place. (Incidentally "boka haram" is pidgen for "book is forbidden". The Nigerian Electric Power Authority, NEPA, is commonly referred to as "never enough power always") So, when my daughter announced that she and her husband had signed on to teach at the American International School in Abuja for two years, I was pleased.
I am an art historian by
training. Sometime during my undergraduate work in the 1960's, I "discovered"
African art. That did it for me; my
life's work was decided. I've been
studying, admiring, collecting, documenting, and loving African art ever since.
Most of what we knew in those days were wood sculptures with an expressive power
and directness unequaled in my experience. I was moved to the extent that
I went there and spent ten good years in Nigeria - the decade of the