Artmosphere… Two culture events loud in two cities

Film Producer, Mr. Zeb Ejiro; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Chairman, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu; film producer, Mr. Mahmood Ali-Balogun and musician, D’Banj at the MoU signing between the ministry and the foundation at National Theatre… in Lagos

Film Producer, Mr. Zeb Ejiro; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Chairman, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu; film producer, Mr. Mahmood Ali-Balogun and musician, D’Banj at the MoU signing between the ministry and the foundation at National Theatre… in Lagos

Artmosphere Nigeria, a leading culture, literature and arts event, has taken giant strides by extending its programming from Ibadan to Lagos.

Artmosphere has regularly hosted its events in Ibadan in the past five years. But this month, it tested its feet in the Lagos artistic waters for a change. The art body held its maiden Lagos art event at Patabah Bookstore, Surulere, when it hosted three poets renowned for their penchant to create literary pieces outside the box. The poets are Peter Akinlabi, shortlisted for the Brunel Prize for Poetry 2014 and the author of Akashic Chapbook, A Pagan Place; winner of MUSON Festival Poetry Prize and author of a collection of poems, The Hate Artist, Dr. Niran Okewole, and curator for Artmosphere and author of the debut collection, Renegade, Femi Morgan.

With co-curator of Artmosphere, Kelvin Kelman, as host, Okewole noted that his earliest memory of African poetry was when he read An Anthology of African Poetry, where he got acquainted with the works of Wole Soyinka, Atukwei Okai and other African poets. He also said Romantic poets like William Blake, Percy Shelly, and Alfred Tennyson also resonated with him at that time, adding that he had taken time to read many texts in literature, philosophy, arts, politics and science but that a response in the poetic form appealed to him the most. It is what gave birth to his second collection of poems, The Hate Artist, he said.

Kelman said Akinlabi’s A Pagan Place and Okewole’s The Hate Artist do not employ language of everyday people in their poems to which Okewole responded that he was curious about a feedback from the audience because the language of the poetry should not be a departure from everyday conversation. Akinlabi agrees, but adds that there is need to develop infrastructure for critical engagement so that readers could better interpret literary works for the purpose of a robust literary landscape. Akinlabi added that this could be made possible scholars and writers engage in conversation in the country’s literary production. In addition, Okewole noted that so long both readers and critics can employ extra-textual models to understand and analyse literary works, critical interviews with the authors could also help in unpacking the personal philosophy of the poet persona and writer and this would further validate the understanding of literature.

Okewole noted that when he writes, he is conscious of the craft of poetry, so much so that it should not be placed in the same mould with contemporary music because of the urgency of accessibility without intellectual engagement. He expressed a commitment to a modernist crafting and a response to multiple ideas, which, in his mind, is not far from the multiple tasks of engagement undertaken by ordinary Nigerians on social media platforms and other existential platforms.

Akinlabi explains that the poems in A Pagan Place are about migration, displacement and terrorism instead of the popular poetic interests. His poems also speak of the forced migration of Nigerians-in-Ghana back to Nigeria, which brought about a dystopia because Ghana was home and Nigeria was not familiar to them. Femi Morgan read extensively from the works of the two poets. He was somewhat passive because of his role as co-curator of Artmosphere.

ARTMOSPHERE Nigeria also hosted Okpagu, a screenwriter and author of the novella, The Domestication of Munachi, at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, over a week ago. The conversation was on gender equality and social freedoms. The novella narrates the conflicts and contradictions Munachi, the main character, faces as she flees the township of Akwa, Anambra State, to the bustling city of Lagos to challenge an arranged marriage.

Curated by Mr. Femi Morgan, Okpagu noted that her interest in equal opportunities for women, especially in the areas of ownership of properties and wealth without any stigmatization of any kind, inspired her to write the book. She said she was also interested in how African culture imposes patriarchy through the duplicity of the roles of men and women in suburban and urban areas. The Domestication of Munachi, she argued, also explicates the contradictions of religion in Akwa and Lagos as well as the preying on and commodification of women because of customary marriage obligations and the pursuit of economic independence in the cities.

Audience members expressed interest in how women are able to handle gender roles as well as modern roles imposed on them by cosmopolitanism. Okpagu’s said it depended on the kind of support system that one has and the kind of partnerships fostered by working women. Some expressed concerns about the rise of counter-exchanges that may give rise to a shift in power. Okpagu was quick to inform that women were not out to depose men of their roles; instead, women were demanding for a level playing field based on merit and the freedom of choice.

She also denied giving more dominant roles and actions her female characters than the male characters, saying that the male character responded to the internal and external conflicts of the novella by a tyranny of silence and dictatorial authority, which often supersedes the expressiveness of the women.

Okpagu said she deliberately wrote it for the Nigerian audience, and employed Nigerian verbal inflections. She, however, noted that other nationals would still enjoy the book, as she was able to achieve a narrative balance for a global audience with the little help from her publishers, Parressia Publishers.

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