Monday, December 10, 2007

Words from the Book and Art Feast, November 9-11, 2007

He wanted to be present
(A Tribute to Cyprian Ekwensi)

Sunday November 5, 2007. Members of the CORA Collective stood in front of their secretariat at 95 Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos. The gathering was an extension of a long meeting that had stretched from 2pm call time to that time – about 8pm. Someone raised the question: how far are we with Cyprian Ekwensi? Would the old man make it to the opening of the Book festival? I responded that I had had a chat with the wife; and she was not certain the man would make it. One he was ill; two, he was in Enugu and flying him to Lagos is not visible.
The members were disappointed at the news, but they understood.
Unknown to us, at the time we were deliberating over him, the man famously called the ‘Grandfather of the City Fiction’ had passed on.
Cyprian Ekwensi died on Sunday November 5, 2007. He was 86 (born September 26, 1921).
Of course, the passage of the man has altered drastically the entire plan for the 9th Lagos Book and Art Festival. He will not be joining us at this opening as we had envisaged, but his Spirit and his Letters shall be with us. The man has changed the landscape of our literary world forever. He has also changed the texture and tenor of this particular edition of the annual festival.
Were we being clairvoyant when we decided to honour him at this festival?

This festival has been dedicated to the memory of the man who documented city life in his works. You can say then that this is a CYPRIAN EKWENSI LAGOS BOOK AND ART FESTIVAL.
Last year on occasion of our 15th anniversary, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) was made a recipient the Prince Claus Fund, the foundation for culture and development based in The Netherlands. And that also changed the character of not only CORA but also the nature and size of our dream.
This festival is a manifestation of the change in the colour of our dream.

CORA came into being on June 2, 1991, as a non-profit making, non-governmental, cultural activist organisation. Its main goal is to explore all legitimate means of building the perfect environment for the flourishing of the contemporary arts of Nigeria.
To this end, the Committee produces a range of programmes and products, including, the quarterly Art Stampede; the monthly Arthouse Forum; the annual Lagos Book and Art Festival; the annual Lagos Cinema Carnival as well as publication of the quarterly Lagos: The City Arts Guide.
In its fifteen (15) years of existence, CORA has convened:
• 71 Art Stampedes
• Seven monthly Arthouse Forums
• Six editions of Lagos: The City Arts Guide,
• Eight editions of Lagos Book and Art
Festival and;
• Two (2) Annual Lagos Cinema Carnivals, which have been in collaboration with Mainframe (Opomulero) Film and Associates
• We also collaborate with Moving Movies in the staging of annual BOB TV among other programmes.

• The Quarterly Art Stampede is an open air informal discursive platform at which the most burning issue regarding the contemporary arts of Nigeria are tabled. The
workshop-like sessions feature a gathering of artists, culture administrators and culture enthusiasts who engage issues and ideas surrounding the quality of the arts and the
management of the culture sector. CORA’s arts advocacy through this “parliament of artists” has propelled the arts onto the front burner of Nigeria’s national debate.

• The Annual Cinema Carnival is designed to showcase and celebrate the African Film, set a standard for, and challenge Nigerian film producers in the context of telling the story of an understated continent. On the last week of September every year since 2001, a large, tall screen is hoisted on the front lawns of the National Theatre in Iganmu. At least, 10 high quality African movies are screened on three weekend evenings.

• Lagos: the City Arts Guide is a quarterly calendar of the artistic and cultural events in Africa’s most vibrant city. It compiles forthcoming art exhibitions, drama performances, and musical shows. It previews and reviews homegrown movies and serves as compass to the hottest new spots in town.

* Of all these, the Lagos Book and Art Festival is the most important event in our illustrious annual calendar. An open-air market for books and art, the LABAF features live music and drama, dance sketches, workshops for kids, readings of poetry and excerpts from prose works, book parties and seminars around books. The focus of this event is to highlight the importance of the book in the development of the human capital. This event is located around the National Creativity Day to emphasise the fact that the quality of our collective and individual creative productions are measured by the quality of documents we record them on; and the number of people we can convince to access them.
Major segments of the LABAF are sessions specially designed to initiate the youngest of Nigeria’s teeming citizenry into the rites of reading. One of such is the workshop for kids on a wide range of issues that can capture their attention. Another of such was the Secondary School Essay Competition, which was introduced to the format two years ago.
We are working on improving that format.
The past eight editions of the festival have seen a tremendous growth in the rate of acceptance and patronage by all concerned - save the government itself.
Last year alone, there were not less than (fifty) 50 exhibiting organisations.
This year, we are expecting a twenty five percent (25%) increase in the population of exhibitors.
To be sure, this number appears modest. But in the absence of life-saving sponsorship we have built this ‘clientele’ mostly by word of mouth. This looks likely to change in the coming year as the community of’ funder’ notices our enthusiasm and sincerity.

Toyin Akinosho

You Will Feed, Feed... Feed

On behalf of the Central Working Collective of the Committee For Relevant Art, I welcome exhibitors and audience to the ninth edition of our annual homage to The Book. This is the event through which we contribute to building a virile book industry by encouraging public engagement in literary pursuits.
As it was last year, this year’s feast of the written word has drawn comrades from outside of this shore to join CORA in the celebration of the importance of idea and knowledge in the development of the human capital. Thus we welcome into our midst our dream sharer and soul mate in this stressful but beloved journey, Akin Adesokan from Indiana University, Plumington USA. He is the author of Roots in the Sky, winner of ANA prose prize in 1991. The book was eventually published in 2002 by Festac News Press. We also salute Prof. Niyi Coker from the University of Missouri and Prof. Awam Amkpa, our collaborators in the on-going 10-day Africa World Festival – a documentary Film feast screening over 50 films. If you have missed out on it these past seven days you have from today through Sunday to join in the party.
Following our modest publicity, we have received hundreds of applications from a whole range of individuals and organisations.
CORA’s famous The City Library Shelf — a thematic glimpse to the proposed six-city libraries that we hope to establish in the most populated cities in the country in the next few years – has resurfaced this year. The dream is sure in our grasp.
The past eight editions had been held at the Ikoyi-Lagos premises of the National Commission for Museum and Monument, NCMM, which management had indeed been magnanimous in their support. But as we approach the 10th anniversary of the festival we decided this year to seek fresher ground and as well new relationship; moreso worm deeper into the heart of the people of this town. Hence we berthed at the prime cultural centre of the country, the National Theatre of Nigeria, which we must admit has received better and improved life under the management of Dr. Ahmed Yerima. We need to stress that the management of NTN has graciously put its facilities and personnel at our disposal – free of charge. We are grateful for this kind gesture, which we consider so alluring that we resolved – against our wish and nature, you would say – to abandon our usual ambience of open air for the cosy comfort of a fully air-conditioned exhibition hall.
We also salute the management of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) under the direction of Mr Joe Musa - actually (now do not say I told you) a CORAite by inclination. The Gallery has remained our valuable supporter. We thank the management of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG, which was kind enough to support us in realising our main educational/capacity building project, the Annual Book Editors Workshop – which second edition ended yesterday. We are grateful to our collaborators in the various segments of the festival: Children Care for the Environment, CATE, coordinators of the Children section; Revolution Media, conveners of the Lagos Comics and Cartoons Carnival, LC3; Goethe Insitut, organisers of the presentation on Dokumenta: Towards a Nigeria Biennale; BookCraft, publishers of Ake: the Year of Childhood who are launching an bridged version for children; AJ Bookshop/Daggar Tolar, presenters of the book Darkwater’s Drunkard: a poetic mish-mash oil dirty politics & despoliation of land and life. We are grateful to our performers: Fatai Roling Dollar; the Highlife Messengers; Seyi Solagbade and the Blackface; Crown Troupe of Africa; Pelumi Lawal and troupe and the magnificent National Troupe of Nigeria.
In particular, we are very grateful to the ElderArtsMan, Steve Rhodes who unsolicited presented us with the biggest showpiece for the festival – the SR ORCHESTRA. Uncle Steve, we can’t ever thank you enough, sir.
We are glad that we are able to pay honour to the Noblemen of The Arts, whose various landmark birthdays we have celebrated all through the year – Fatai Rolling Dollar (80); Femi Asekun (75); Bruce Onobrakpeya (75); Niyi Osundare (60); Ihria Enakimio (60); Tunde Oloyede (60); Sonny Okosuns (60); Yemi Ogunbiyi (60).
We cherish you our consistent resource persons, event facilitators, exhibitors and audience(s) in the past and this festival — speakers, discussants, keynoters, and the audience included. We salute you for your belief in the possibilities of this country.
We thank our numerous patrons and supporters, particularly members of the Arts Writers Organisation of Nigeria, AWON, whose work has remained the major vehicle through which the various activities of the CORA have been projected to the larger public. We appreciate the enthusiasm of our numerous fathers, uncles and aunties, as well as colleagues and dream sharers, whose advices, critical commentaries and admonitions have kept us glued to the drawing table.
To members of the Central Working Collective (CWC) of the CORA, plus the endless stream of enthusiasts, volunteers and friends, word is not enough to express our gratitude. Let’s keep steadfast on the self-chosen path.
We have been accused in the past of being over-ambitious — chewing more than our little mouth can chew. Well, we assure you that we are unrepentant. We have gone far past redemption. And you have been infected too. You will feed and feed and feed till you become fed up. Our plan is to drain you out at this culture picnic. So sit up and tight.
We often insist that this is not a Bookfair. It is an Arts festival with large Book content.
In the next three days we would have all witnessed a sprawling display of books of diverse subjects produced in this country; a large exhibition of fine art; spirited debate on the state of the nation through the Book and the Art.

THIS indeed is a feast like no other. The next three days will thrill you to no end.
It’s our wish that by getting the public into a party atmosphere, we can subtly convince an increasingly larger body of Nigerians that The Book is the key ingredient in the growth of the country’s human resource. The truth is that all this talk of “abundant human resource” is glib, when half of the people can neither read nor write.
We trust that you will enjoy yourselves tremendously as we have attempted to ensure that there’s something for everyone.

Jahman Anikulapo
Programme Chair

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