Monday, 9 February 2009

15.12.08 FLYING HOME

Outside Lagos airport is this huge mosaic done by a well-known Nigerian artist which brightens the otherwise ordinary exterior of the building.

Well ....what an amazing experience, as John Picton said full of everything in equal measure!

Mrs Thomas gave me a wonderful cloth to take home which was like the wrap that she worn to church in a beautiful royal blue with pink embroidery with a head scarf to match. In the morning l took some video of Chigozi on the squeaky swing which she did quite frequently.

I shall certainly miss the heat and all the excitement!

14.12.08 Jeroma's Garden of Paradise

Met Jerome tonight another friend of Mrs Thomas's, who had a fabulous garden full of tropical plants and trees, including a coco tree which he was very proud of. The house was also big and another building housed an indoor swimming pool.

Jerome went to Hornsey School of Art in the 1960’s and studied Graphics. Then after the three year undergraduate course came back to Nigeria to set up a printing works, which is how he made his fortune.

He comes from Benin and is revered amongst people around him as there seems to be a real fear of the juju / voodou ‘connected with people from Benin (even Amara thought this). This is why he feels able to leave his house unlocked, in spite of all his now quite valuable paintings and prints. Mrs Thomas said that he must have things buried around the garden or house, which it was believed would confuse the robbers, make them quarrel amongst themselves or they would be compulsed to sweep the compound until day break. Yet another tale about magic and mystery!!!

The G & T was good – Gordons! We were spoilt!

13.12.08 Visiting

Went to see one of Mrs Thomas's friends who had been married to an important politican at one time. This is a photograph of her sitting-room.

We discussed the research which lead on to her talking about her belief in the evil shrines. She knew of an Anambra shrine where she saw human skeletons. She confirmed the ideas of killing hunch-backs and how there was quite a bit of money to be made in human sacrifice. She said she spent eleven years in the US and her father did not believe in any religion, and so was brought up without any particular religious views, but she still believed in the fear of these shrines and the evil they could transmit. She talked about the ‘Ofor stick’ (used to pass judgement on someone by pointing at the person) that I was given by Sylvester, and she warned that if you use it it will surely work, but you have to make sure that you are without blemish too for it to work, or it will back-fire on you.

The fear of the unknown is still very powerful in Nigeria. Some of these mysteries however could be dispelled or accounted for by more scientific /psychological knowledge though.


12.12.08 British Council and Goethe-Institute (Lagos)

Went to see the British Council and the Goethe-Institute as possible venues today.


Had a good look at the exhibition space here – there was a local exhibition of mainly paintings. I paced out the floor and drew diagrams. Looked at the publications that the museum produced for potential articles.

The Editor, Nigerian Heritage, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Plot 2018 Cotonon Crescent, Wuse Zone 6, PM B 171, Abuja, Nigeria.
Editor (2005) is Vicky Obehi James BA, Postgrad Dip Lib.
Art and production editor: A.O.Opaleye BA FPP (The Hague)
Editorial Advisory Board Dr F.N.Anozire (UNN)

Nigerian Heritage Journal of the NCMM. Vol14, 2005 which is produced annually.

No electricity at the museum today so only managed to see the exhibits around the courtyard. Some interesting standing stones made of basalt, the meaning of which was not recorded. Some twin dolls were interesting with bright blue pigment on their heads and what looks like mud or compacted matter lodged around the legs and cracks on the lower body - similar to the ones that Bruce Onobrakpeya had collected. The gallery space looks OK to show provided we have some light. A lot of the photographs of old Lagos, masquerades, dancing etc. were very badly damaged by the sun and general wear and tear as they were not in an enclosed space or protected by glass either.

Other places we went to today were the Jazzhhole for music CDs, Quintessence Gallery which was rather arty crafty and more of a gift shop, Bogibiri Guest House which was full of character but a bit run down and opposite was the former Nimbus Gallery which had been abandoned.

The taxi home as usual was an exciting time - first time Amara and l broke down laughing! The driver had to replace the clutch cable, then the battery was flat, so he had to eventually get out and push the car, then he stalled it in traffic, so again had to push it…this time engaging a street seller to do the pushing – by this time it was getting dark quickly 6 pm. and so the fiasco continued. Eventually we arrived home, AGAIN MIRACULOUSLY!

9.12.08 Contemporary Centre of Art, Lagos

Yesterday we went to the Contemporary Centre of Art to meet up with Bisi Silva who is a contemporary African art curator and gallerist. This gallery is on the second floor of this building in Lagos which reminded me of some of the gallery spaces in New York, although in Lagos rather more difficult to find. She had organised a celebration to commemorate the first year of opening and had various speakers, one of whom was an art critic who had also spent some time in Nairobi - so we exchanged notes on this. Chocolate cake was order of the day!

Went to see Bisi Silva at her home today and we had a chat about the project and contemporary art in Lagos and Nigeria in general. Basically they lacked an informed audience Bisi told us, as the audience wants to see art for sale. The shows will only be on for about one week and then she said that most galleries will only promote the work on the first night, which again is problematic.

We discussed venues with her for our joint show. The venues we are thinking about for our shows in Lagos are Terra Kulture, British Council, National Gallery of Art, and the Lagos Museum, as a lot of other galleries we have seen tend to be more up-market craft outlets like the Quintessence Gallery. Basically we need to find a space that we can work with, rather than targeting ‘suitable venues’, as it seems few people go to see the exhibitions anyway! She said that she was going to give up the CCA in about 2011 as a) it was expensive and b) she did not want to keep doing the exhibitions especially every 6 weeks - she aims for 4 shows a year at the moment, and c) the religious thing is a serious issue that gets in the way of proper academic research and critical appraisal – this seemed to confirmed my views so far, although I had not been around long enough to gauge it. This latter issue was the third and perhaps the main reason for giving up her space, as it was something she found very difficult to get beyond in terms of her audience.

Bisi has an excellent blog which can be recommended.


These are some of the cultural artefacts that Bruce Onobrakpeya is influenced by and incorporates into his work, which he often obtains from Lekki market. Most are Yoruba pieces, but he also collects and appropriates from other cultures as well, which he says is common practice among most artists.


He works directly by carving into slabs of plaster creating negative shapes and then makes the positive form from this out of fibreglass resin. Some works look as if they are beaten into the mould using a tin and aluminium alloy which is relatively soft, and then mounted on wood and painted – these look like printing blocks. He replicates his work on a) different surfaces b) different scales and c) colour ways, capitalising on his output.

He is very influenced by indigenous cultural artefacts and often obtains these from Lekki market. He is making a shrine at the moment and likes using ethnographic pieces he finds in Lekki market as inspiration, which local people are afraid of and associate with ‘fetish’ or non-Christian values eg. false gods and idols which the church still promotes as bad. Bruce denies being part of any actual cult (as rumour has it!) but uses the knowledge from the past to inform his present and future works.

I told him about the burning of a piece of his work by Bumi’s uncle, Ike. Ike had this print up in his office and he was told by numerous people that the print was evil and that he should get rid of it - one of these people was a priest. He said he had bad things happen to him to do with his business, so he burnt it. When l asked him how he knew that the print had been the direct cause of these unusual events, he just said that the things that had happened could not be linked with anything else and that is how he knew to destroy it! Bruce did not seem to be bothered, saying that it is life, the work is made and exists and then he forgets it and then moves on to a new piece – likewise with a deteriorating relief in resin I saw in a dark corner downstairs, where the material was becoming very unstable.

His work is also very influenced by Modernism, especial Henry Moore (totem figures) and he had painted an equivalent of Cezannes’s The Bathers’ and is likewise influenced by Matisse's 'Dancers'. He likened art to life and told the story of his mentor, a Mexican artist, who told him that even if he did not make it as an artist (himself) he would have to keep going – he had no other option. He had also been influenced by an Ethiopean Calligrapher/artist.

Bruce mentioned how Gauguin would not have painted what he did and became known for it unless he was actually in Tahiti and the South Seas, so like him Bruce is very influenced very the culture he lives in and his own background which is Yoruba . His son, Mudiare, said he knew a lot about Art History and indeed he said himself that he owed a lot to other cultures.

He uses aluminium sheet for his etchings using beeswax to mask out the plates and instead of Hydrochloric acid uses ‘Dutch modern’ to bite into the surface.

His house was on various floors, the basement being offices, textile and storage area, the second floor living quarters and more work rooms, and the top floor was a printing workshop where his assistants were busy working. Bruce employs about 8 assistants with one studio manager who seemed to be working on Bruce’s latest textile pieces incorporating spark plugs, bones (fish) beads, computer circuit boards, hessian type cloth background made into sections of different colours (see image). Bruce showed him what he wanted doing and then left the assistant sewing these down for him. In the corner of the room were plastic pipes that he was putting stringed beads (and other items ) on dangling down and various leopard prints, etc on to them. In the sitting-room area Mudiare showed us a piece called 'Royal Vignette (1987), which he considered to be a seminal piece.

Bruce told us that he made books as a form of documentation of his work and practice. One of his early books was divided into half of it being about the process of his work and the other images of this work. He also had a book of all/any press cuttings. Bruce teaches to complement his art practice.

He has a huge warehouse/building in the Delta region where his other works are stored and where he runs the annual Harmattan workshops inviting artists to attend at approx £125 for the duration of the course. These workshops are a cross between a conference and a residency for artists, and as well as teaching himself, he invites guest speakers and other artists to come together to create this forum.

8.12.08 Human Sacrifice

Ike and l were chatting about the rituals involved with the Mbari tradition this morning. He was saying that for the sacrifices all the animals and even eggs had to be local.

If a person owed a lot of dog sacrifices and did not pay his dues, these gods would demand human blood, but again it would have to be a local person.

The gods that demand only dogs to be slaughtered are usually very powerful gods and frequently require sacrifices – their need for blood is constant! There appears to be no visible difference between a dog that is sacrificed and one that is used as a messenger from the gods.

The humans that are prime targets are usually hunch-backs. Ike says that is why you do not see so many around now but there were more about in the 1970’s! It is still a strong practice and people go missing quite often. Apart from this, there is also a trade in human organs! The person to be sacrificed would not know about it because they would be kidnapped.

I am not so sure about child sacrifice, although a lot of people in UK have asked me about it (as they have seen a television programme about children that have been accused of being witches) but as far l know I was not told that this happened in connection with the Mbari tradition. However you wonder who will be next after people with spinal disabilities disappear entirely!

There is however a fear of witches in the villages, not too far from Lagos, as Chignozi (Mrs Thomas's adopted 'daughter') was afraid that witches would get her after dark and was too afraid of going across the landing to the loo and so urinated in the corner of the room. This was cured by giving her a torch and reassuring her that the people around her would protect and care for her.

Referring back to magic Ike said that there are witches and one woman he knew became initiated into this by taking various herbs and drinks and then she felt she was able to fly – he really believed this! He did not feel it was just drug induced. Apparently once you are initiated, and you become a witch, there is no chance of reversing this ritual process.

Amara was also saying how scarred she was of Benin people who did bad magic and could levitate people and things. Ike also talking about and believed in bad magic and evil people. Quite extraordinary that people believe this so strongly still.

Friday, 6 February 2009


Yesterday getting back from Victoria Island was HORRENDOUS and decided to go to this supermarket on the way – we were stuck in grid-lock traffic for 3 hours. Before we set off in the morning we had to give the taxi driver 2000 (£10) for fuel, which seems to be fairly usual these days for ropey taxis - 69 naire a litre (40p per litre approximately). To make matters worse we were paying the taxi by the hour! (12 hours in all at 1000 naira per hour! – needless to say we negotiated a set price with taxis after this episode, for the distance not the time!

A mini bus had conked out by the side of the road and a hugely fat man who did not look as if he was going anywhere for two obvious reasons, sat by the vehicle on the curb. However later l spotted him over-taking our stationary taxi with what seemed like a comparative pace!!! Twice! Our taxi driver this day was hopeless, and did not know ‘down town’ Lagos, hence the delays and just sitting in traffic! Oh Joy! Eventually we got to ‘Shoprite’! A big supermarket – not my favourite thing in my own life back in the UK, even at the best of times - at this point l was loosing the will to live!

Piled back in the car – meanwhile the driver was sitting cross-legged on the bonnet of his old banger - and off we went again to join the long road back with cars now dangerously hurling themselves all over the road at top speed. We were however now going at some odd sedate pace down the middle of the road! I guessed this was to avoid the breakdowns in the slow lane and the maniacs on the other side, at this point l felt it pertinent not to ask!

Then l could see that there was a broken down TIR in front of us, which actually had a red triangle at the back of it – approaching at our SAME steady speed l realised, as we got rather near it, that he had not noticed this..... do l grit my teeth and wait for the bang, shout and wake him up, or will he notice it in the next 10 seconds I thought to myself! The exclamation told me that he had at last noticed it and we managed to avoid it, whilst not causing an accident on the other side!

We must have passed the Goethe-Institute at least twice on that eventful journey back, which l am sure we were not supposed to, that is if my map reading was right.

Ended by paying him 12,000 naire (£60!) from 10am to 10.30 pm – a lot of that was sitting in traffic, getting lost, and asking people the way!

Went to the Harmattan Gallery run by Mudiare Onobrakpeya, Bruce Onobrakpeya’s son. His gallery consisted of a foyer with two offices going off at each side where some artwork was also stored. The foyer had cream tiled floor, white walls and spot lights.

Mudiare who had done an MBA in the US and studied accounting before this in the UK – certainly walked the talk!!! He represents about 5 artists, one being his father, Jimoh Buraimah (70’s Oshogbo artist making figurative paintings with beadwork), Dr Peju Laiwola, and Sam Ovraiti (painter using impasto).

We saw a triptach of his father’s work depicting the last supper with the stations of the cross around it, which was made to look like bone or ivory but was in fact resin (or plastic as they often call it here). He said it was made to look like bone or ivory, as it was a material that people identified with and was connected with religious iconography. It was interesting to me though that it was a 'fake' material, like the plastic (made to look like wood) mounding around the door frame in the Vines Hotel.

Another horrendous journey back from Terra Kulture in a clapped out taxi – had to hide again while Amara negotiated a fee – 1600 to get back usually 2000 and 3500 from another ‘taxi rank’. We broke down twice (dark when we left too!) – steam coming out of the bonnet this time – first fixed the fan – then it was obviously that it needed water, which we managed to get for him, but luckily we did not use Plan B, which was to abandon the taxi and try another.

Thankfully we got home in one piece!


On the way into the centre of Lagos l saw a man selling hot water bottles....they must be crazy l thought in this heat! Amara informs me that they are put on aches and pains.....maybe ice would be a good alternative here?

I saw what looked like rams driving combis along the express highway.....they were going to a ram market. Others were heaped up in the back of anything that would fit them in. This ram market it was in a rather poor area with shanty town shacks near a series of fly-overs. It turned out to be a Muslim festival and they were all going to be slaughtered. Some poor things did not want to be lead away and so ended up with their feet being tied up and carried, others seemed to stand in defiance, whilst others looked bewildered.

We also went to the gallery called 'Terra Kulture' which was a contemporary space and we thought this could be a possibility for showing some of the work produced from this project. Another day we went to an Art Auction here mainly of African carving, which was quasi traditional and quasi contemporary with some very interesting pieces, but a lot did not appeal to me, however the ones that did sell fetched quite high prices.


Some of these improvised locking devices work very well, as with this nail in the bathroom in Lagos, but l must say the locking system for the IT cupboard at the National Gallery of Art in Abuja looks a bit wanting!!!!

5.12.08 CHIGOZIE

Chigozie was a little girl who had been brought back from one of the villages to start schooling in Lagos as at the age of ten she could neither read or write, even write her name, so Mrs Thomas took her under her motherly wing. After doing some writing exercises with the little girl and got her to do a drawing of me, she fell asleep on the carpet near me with her papers under her hands.

I plotted out on the map where all the smaller galleries were in and around Lagos and familiarised myself with some of the main areas. Still no electricity at 5.25 pm from the morning and no water either as it has to be pumped up from the bore hole. Have to flush the loo with the water from the barrel in the bathroom and getting the art of having a shower using the bucket!!!

Chigozie stayed asleep for some while, she must have been very tired. She is very sweet and calls me and Amara her aunties.


We flew to Lagos airport where we were kindly met by Mrs Lizzie Thomas, the mother of Bumi an ex-student of mine. She had the most wonderful garden, which was so relaxing after a lot of busy places. The plants were exuberant with colour, texture and strong growth.

In amongst all this was 'Speedy' the pet tortoise who came calling evey two or three days for bread, or salad. He apparently cost 50p!

4.12.08 Back to ENUGU to fly to LAGOS