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At Ake Festival, artists interrogate fantastical futures

By Tobi Idowu
04 November 2018   |   3:55 am
The United States Mission in Nigeria has renewed its support for Nigeria’s burgeoning community of creative writers and artists with its participation at the 2018 Ake Arts and Book Festival. The U.S. Mission was one of the major sponsors of the festival, a yearly event, which showcases the best of contemporary African literature, poetry, music,…

Special guests at the opening ceremony of Ake Arts and Book Festival

The United States Mission in Nigeria has renewed its support for Nigeria’s burgeoning community of creative writers and artists with its participation at the 2018 Ake Arts and Book Festival.

The U.S. Mission was one of the major sponsors of the festival, a yearly event, which showcases the best of contemporary African literature, poetry, music, art, film and theatre.

In its sixth year, the festival with the theme, Fantastical Futures, held from October 25 to 28.

The art and book feast, which had held in Abeokuta, Ogun State, for five years, was moved to Lagos for the first time, with the Festival Director, Lola Soneyin, hinting that the event could be a moving one, possibly being held in many other cities in subsequent years.

Commencing with school visits, the first day of the festival culminated with a fiction-writing workshop, themed, Getting Started with that Novel, which was led by the British writer, Ben Aaronvitch.

The presence of Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, on the second day, added much-needed fillip to the festival, as he not only declared it open while also recounting how his mother beat the poetic genius out of him when he wrote a beautifully crafted love letter to a crush in his younger days.

Osinbajo would later reveal at the end of his address that the story of his poetic genius was all fiction, which threw the audience into laughter.

“Did you enjoy this story I told earlier? It was fiction. It didn’t happen. It is possible to create the future we want. We just need to ‘write’ and work for a fantastical future,” he said.

The Vice-President also posed some series of questions to the artists indicating they have a responsibility to society beyond that of the ordinary citizen.

“Is there a civic tax payable on talent? Does the fact of your genius place upon you, a moral burden to attempt to use the powerful voice of your art to fight for the soul of the land, especially to fight for the soul of the land from whence you came? To take moral positions, are you, by virtue of your intellect and creativity, a moral agent? Or are you not? Can you or not be neutral? Can you be politically neutral? Can you, in the face of so much that needs to be done, poverty, deprivation and injustice, stay politically neutral?”

Delivering remarks at the opening ceremony of the festival, the Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos, Mr. Russell Brooks, expressed admiration for the creative abilities of Nigerians across various forms of human endeavor.

“One key ingredient that assures a fantastic future in Nigeria is the depth of creativity found here – in all fields, whether I’m meeting an entrepreneur or an artist, I’m always impressed by how Nigerians work tirelessly to solve problems, to develop solutions, and to generate prosperity,” Brooks said.

He added, “Nigerians definitely make things happen and they do so with ingenuity and resourcefulness. That creative quality is sure to generate a fantastic future!”

With the support of the U.S. Mission, 13 writers participated in the festival. The American authors included, Elizabeth Bird, Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida; Mona Eltahawy, New York-based columnist and international public speaker; Nnedi Okorafor, award-winning novelist and professor at the University of Buffalo; and Tochi Onyebuchi, author of the widely-acclaimed fantasy, Beasts Made of Night.

In addition to the participation of the American writers, visiting U.S. Arts Envoy Wanjiru Kamuyu performed a dance, Portrait in Red, for the festival’s guests.

While delivering her opening remarks, Soneyin harped on the theme chosen for the festival this year, saying it was important that writers reject censorship in order for the imagined futures to come into fruition. She was, however, hopeful on the idea that would shape the future while also promising participants at the event a worthy festival.

“We are often labeled radicals, troublemakers…names that creatives have come to accept that they’re on the right track. If we are to commit to the Africa of our dreams we are to reject censorship.

“The idea of these futures gives me so much hope. This is where we build bridges and interrogate the shadow of memory. This is where we reimagine futures. It will always be a safe space.”

The event would prove to be a “safe space for writers, artists and creatives generally, to express themselves and their work” as they converged on the Radisson Blu plush hotel, the event venue, which provided an avenue for unbridled and unreserved discussions about fantastical futures, the theme of the festival, they imagined for Africa.

With authors, poets, artists, dancers, musicians and thinkers representing different continents and different fields but yoked by love for the arts, the organisers, Book Buzz Foundation, structured the festival in such a way that every participant had different shades of the arts to enjoy including, bookchats, film, theatre, poetry, dance, art exhibitions, panel discussion, music and food.

One of the memorable panel discussions was Recollections of the Biafra-Nigerian War moderated by Louisa Egbunike, with a former member of the House of Representatives, Chude Offodile; retired Major-General Paul Tarfa and Elizabeth Bird as panelists.

The panelists, with inferences from their published works, reflected on the Nigerian Civil War, stressed the need to forge a harmonised worldview for the country in order to foster unity.

Offodile insisted, “if it is so difficult to have a harmonised worldview, unity is not possible,” adding, “every segment has to have a sense of belonging.”

There were also panels in Igbo and Yoruba languages, which discussed Divinity and Spirituality in Igbo tradition and Entertainment, as well as Education and Technology in the Mother Tongue respectively. The panels were in response to the endangering to the local traditions and a call for the preservation of Nigerian languages.

A major highlight of the festival was ‘Eat the Book’ treat, which had participants’ appetite whetted. Ozoz Sokoh, popularly known as Kitchen Butterfly, took the expectant participants on a journey through the African continent — North, South, East and West — with four dishes grabbed from four books written by African authors. 

‘Samosas and mango chutney’ as starters from the novel Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Eastern), Asaro and Efo Riro as main from Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (Western), Braai as main from Men of the South by Zukiswa Wanner (Southern), and finally, ‘Profiterole’ as dessert from Minaret by Leila Aboulela (Northern).

The festival’s headliner, Nuruddin Farah, interviewed by veteran journalist, Kunle Ajibade, in a session titled, Life and Times, would later speak about feminism, his published works, his writing process and what writing meant to him 48 years after his first published book.

Farrah also spoke about being thrown out of countries, including his home country, Somalia, because of his writings; and also about the fate of one of novels, A Naked Truth, which he said became a misogynist Bible.

“Fiction is never far from the truth. It tells a version of the truth,” the author said. “… A Naked Needle, my second novel, became a misogynist bible, contrary to my intention and so I wrote a letter to my publisher for it to be taken out of circulation. We agreed to let it sell out and not do a second reprint. Now if you want to buy it you have to pay $750. You have to be a rich misogynist.”

The festival ended on a poetic note, as poets Nick Makoha, Ishion Hutchinson, Saddiq Dzukogi, Theresa Lola, Wana Udobang and Dami Ajayi thrilled the audience with spellbinding performances.