Nigeria – Excerpts From My Diary (Part 3)

Saturday, May 23

Godwin Uka and Sammie Echem came by to pick me up, and drove me all over Enugu. We had a blast! We started with getting some food and beer at the “café shop” of the Museum; and then went through many different neighborhoods, stopping at corner markets to buy (more!) food from women who had set up tables and BBQ pits. He also bought two very bright traditional shirts for me! I couldn’t talk him out of it. And if I didn’t choose something, he was going to buy two more boubou’s, and what would I do with three boubou’s in Seattle?! We hung out in front of his house into the evening, eating and talking to all his neighbors.

Sunday, May 24

Krydz and family took me to “the village” as they call it here. When you’re outside of Lagos, they call Enugu “the bush”, and when you’re outside Enugu they call it “the village”, no matter which village you are going to! In this case we went to Inyi where Krydz and Petrolina are presently conducting an Uli workshop with support from the US Embassy. They work with elderly ladies to revive Uli, and turn this traditional art into something new and marketable. Once again, it was a significant addition to my visit to Nigeria. I had seen these women in the film that Krydz had shown in Seattle, so it was meaningful to be spending the day watching them make jewelry and ceramics. After the first hour of driving, we traveled one more hour on a dirt road, and crossed several tiny villages. It was Sunday, so life was pretty slow, and mostly I saw people walk around, or sit in front of their houses with friends. Not many cars in those parts, but some bicycles.

Monday, May 25

My last full day in Enugu. This morning, the government banned the use of “okadas” (motorcycle taxis that fill the streets). Large red buses will replace them. The problem is the buses are not yet in existence, so today things in town were a total mess! It so happens that Gozie’s car is at the shop, so we too had to take public transportation to get to the market. It was a pretty wild experience – especially on a day when everybody has to find a spot on the minivan-bus or secure a taxi. At one point, our taxi driver was being yelled at by his five passengers (I thought it best to remain silent!) because he practically ran out of gas, then his car wouldn’t start again, and I’m not sure what else was wrong with him in their eyes, but it was kind of hilarious. I kept thinking of Julie “Refuse to get into a car that doesn’t have seat belts” — she never mentioned what I should do if the driver has a seat that is attached to the car with just one bolt, and the wheel touches his chest (he wasn’t a big man!)? While everyone is busy shouting, Gozie, a lawyer and all-around high-power woman, is on the phone with Kosmo Radio telling them that on Friday she wants to come in and talk about the terrible planning of the banning of the okadas. It was a lively trip to say the least, I really enjoyed it.

Oh, and the market! Phenomenal. Huge. Colorful (but what isn’t, in Nigeria?!) We walked for ten minutes through a labyrinth of stalls until we arrived in the “Textile Area”. It was funny, the particular stall in which I was supposed to do my shopping happened to be the one without electricity at the moment!!! It’s something else for a color-loving artist to choose from dozens of patterns in the semi darkness! Once home, I still liked everything I had chosen. I’m taking back 22 lbs of wild and crazy textile home. I better find a seamstress!

We finished the day with a really wonderful good-bye party at Krydz and Petrolina’s house. Chijioke came to get me after the drastic rain, so I arrived very late for my own party, and found the other guests to be already there. All men. Except for Okay Ikenegbu (the IMT Art Dept’s Head), I didn’t recognize anyone. To honor my hosts, I had decided to wear my boubou and headdress, and as I entered their house, I felt completely silly. I very rarely feel shy, and intuitively I knew this was not the appropriate emotion for the occasion – how can the Cultural Envoy be shy? But two weeks of being constantly put on the spot, and a vague sense of general fatigue were not helping my situation! Fortunately the man to my left started a conversation pretty soon, and things became easy again. As expected, speeches and counter speeches followed each other in sort of a frenzy! On behalf of IMT, Okay gave me a beautiful piece of textile that had been created in their university. They actually wanted to give me a wood sculpture, however they had the good idea to weigh it first, and decided against loading my luggage with a 45lbs gift!

Tuesday, May 26 – Lagos

I was once again met by my “secure escort” at the Lagos airport, and failed to notice high level of crime on the way to the Embassy. What I did notice was heavy traffic, smiling people, and a heat more intense than in Igbo land! Again, the people at the Embassy were helpful, friendly, and eager to hear my adventures in “the bush”.

Wednesday, May 27

Bene, from the Embassy, will be spending her whole day with me. She is very lovely and has the most beautiful eyes! Together we went to Uni Lag where I gave my lecture in a huge and beautiful lecture hall. There must have been at least 100 people there, and though my slides were jumping all over the place in their usual fashion, I had everyone’s absolute attention. I noticed some people taking pictures of the screen, I took it as a good sign. I had crafted a new introduction for them, based on my experience in Enugu. I urged them to suspend judgment for the duration of the show, and that in return, I would be happy to explore with them whatever they wanted in the Q&A period. As I gave my final words, the room exploded into unending applause, with people yelling from the back rows – needless to say that I was floored! I am used to much rougher treatment than that! I now worried that they had taken my introductory words as a means to discourage them from challenging me! But judging from the endless flow of questions they asked – about techniques as well as about content, I think they really did enjoy the presentation.

Afterwards, P.U. Ofuafo, the Art history and Education chair, took us to the campus gallery. I was impressed with the artwork — mostly oil landscapes and portraiture.

From there, we received an impromptu invitation by the painting lecturer to go visit Bruce Onobrakpeya in his private studio. I had been told about Bruce several times, and was very excited at the idea of meeting him personally. He is an elderly printmaker who has invented all kinds of print techniques, and enjoys worldwide notoriety. It’s so fun to meet other printmakers, talk shop, and look at work. We exchanged prints. We spent way too much time with him, and it created a bit of a situation with getting back to my ride for the airport on time, but we made it with eight minutes to spare. The embassy had monitored the traffic hour by hour, and had made the executive decision to have me leave an hour earlier to ensure that I wouldn’t be late. It turned out to be a very good decision!

I don’t know if it was psychosomatic, but I started being really sick on the way to my luggage. I ate Nigerian food for two weeks with not a single problem; I have one hamburger in Lagos and get sick, hmmm!



What happens next?

Obviously I loved my time in Nigeria, and can’t wait until I go back! One of my goals is to help UNN turn their printmaking department into a sustainable program. It is clear that there is strong interest and great talent amongst both faculty and student bodies. I am presently brainstorming on fundraising opportunities to make annual workshops possible both at UNN and IMT. I have printmaker friends who show an interest in traveling to Nigeria to teach. Dr Uka made a public announcement at my lecture that the Department of Graphics was creating a printmakers’ association modeled after our Seattle Print Arts organization, about which I had talked to him at length. It’s a great first step in the right direction.

I brought back one copy of each print made during the workshop – 135 total. My plan is to have at least one exhibit in Seattle next year. It will take place in my gallery in Seattle. I have however already received an invitation for a second show at the Seattle Swedish Hospital Gallery. Dr Uka and I are looking into having him and his wife join us for the opening, work at the Sev Shoon Arts Center (my print center,) and give at least one lecture while he is here. I am also hoping to introduce him to the art department of both the University of Washington and the Seattle University, as well as potentially help him forge additional connections through Seattle Print Arts.