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Despite lockdown, WSICE celebrates Soyinka at 86

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
12 July 2020   |   4:25 am
The picturesque redbrick house in Autonomous Residence of Ijegba (A.R.I) offers views that stand it out as a tourism enclave. Perched at the wooded end of Ibara Housing Estate, Kenta, Idiaba, Abeokuta, the building provides a panoramic view for a visitor.

The picturesque redbrick house in Autonomous Residence of Ijegba (A.R.I) offers views that stand it out as a tourism enclave. Perched at the wooded end of Ibara Housing Estate, Kenta, Idiaba, Abeokuta, the building provides a panoramic view for a visitor. The amphitheatre at the basement is equally an architectural beauty worthy of note.

On July 13, for 10 years, the building had hosted more than 2000 children and 200 adults from across the federation on Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE). But this year, there would be no children to marvel at the place — and perhaps, meet or shake hands with the Nobel laureate, Professor Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka (Kongi).

For the children, it was always a rare opportunity to be hosted by the writer, who often used the session to instill in them, good virtues. Also, it was always an opportunity for them to ask him as many questions as they could, which Kongi answered.

Since inception, the WSICE has emphasised the global dimension of its objectives. And this is simply premised on the fact that the force vitale behind the project, Soyinka, is a quintessential artist and cultural icon whose accomplishments transcend his place and continent of birth.

A global citizen whose work and impact as an advocate for the greatness of humanity, Soyinka operates across spaces and boundaries, hence the character of the project designed to honour him.

This year, the celebration will be done virtual.
On Tuesday, July 14, winners in the international essay competition of the 11th Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) will be announced via Zoom. The winners will be formally unveiled at the Meet & Greet session, which will equally hold virtually in the evening of same day.

The competition, which ran June 5 to 26, was organised in two categories: Junior (12 to16 years) and Senior (17 to 22), and attracted participation from five language zones of the world: Anglophone (English), Francophone (French), Cinophone (Chinese), Hispaphone (Hispanic) and Lusophone (Portuguese). Entries were submitted by participants from Nigeria, South Africa, Nepal, Pakistan, Ghana, Uganda, Angola, Barbados, Brazil, The Gambia, United States of America, Cuba; Cameroun, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, China, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Zimbabwe.

The theme of the competition was: I Am Because You Are, inspired by Ubuntu, the Southern African cultural philosophy on the principle of interdependence of the human family.

The theme is especially relevant now in the era of COVID-19, which has ruptured the fabric of collective humanity, in particular due to its protocol of social and physical distancing. As at the time of going to press, Nigeria had Coronavirus 31,323 cases, 709 deaths and 12,795 recovered.

The essay competition represents the Students/Youths section of the yearly project. The over 2000 entries went through four levels of adjudication involving 12 judges appointed from the various language zones, most of them in the academic and cultural advocacy sectors. The longlist was then sent to external judges to serve as auditors of the decisions arrived at by the adjudicators.

“We went through that long, elaborate process to ensure transparency of the competition, and integrity of the entire project. Though the two virtues of transparency and integrity have always been our core principles since inception of the project 11 years ago, they have become even more imperative now that we have taken the project to the global stage,” stated Teju Kareem, Executive Producer of the WSICE.

The second main programme of the WSICE, The Wole Soyinka Advocacy Session, will hold today and tomorrow via Zoom. The session will feature 13 paper presentations in total on the main theme, with two keynotes: Pursuit of Happiness and Our Common Humanity to be addressed by Prof. Li-Rong Lilly Cheng of the Chinese Cultural Centre, San Diego University, USA.

Dr. Michael Li, an educator, will support her presentation, which emphasises on the interdependence of the human family, and others. Other speakers are experts in various disciplines of the humanities and they are drawn from five countries — Dr. Bunmi Oyinsan, women empowerment advocate (Nigeria/Canada); Dr. Cristian R. Aquino-Sterling, education researcher (Spain); Shabaka Thompson, culture researcher (Trinidad & Tobago) and Leolyn Jackson, education administrator (South Africa).

The second session of the advocacy is on the theme: Reimagining Our World post-Pandemic, and will be moderated by Professor Segun Ojewuyi, a theatre and culture scholar, who, aside from being the head of Directing at the Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA, is also co-Executive Producer of the WSICE. He is well reputed as an expert in Soyinka’s drama and theatrical philosophy.

The keynoter is Professor (Fr) Joseph Brown, a Roman Catholic priest, who teaches in the Africana Studies Department of the same school, SIU, as Ojewuyi.

Other speakers are: Nathan Kiwere, a publisher/filmmaker (Uganda), Dr. Ngozi Nwaneri, a global development policy expert (Nigeria), Lucille Huguet, a journalist (France), Veronique Maisier, language teacher/researcher (France) and Daves Guzha, a theatre artist and social activist from Zimbabwe.

Aside from the essay and the advocacy conference, the project’s third programme item is the exhibition, which was introduced three years ago. Now in its third instalment, Timeless Memories is an art initiative series created and curated by Oludamola Adebowale to celebrate the legacy of the venerable writer and others adjudged the icons of the cultural sector.

“The idea of the Timeless Memories project series is to project the legacy of Prof. Wole Soyinka and the amazing body of works he has created in new innovative mediums for this generation and the generation to come,” stated Adebowale.

“Drawing its title from the WSICE theme for 2020, the exhibition aims to reinforce the commitments of Soyinka to the cause of humanity; as well as the objective of the programme,” he said. “It also aimed essentially at mentoring young minds for a better tomorrow.”

The show will feature new illustrative works, including excerpts from the November 2019 exhibition and also an e-Artbook that will be available for download for free on the WSICE website, and will run from July 13, 2020 to July 1, 2021,” the curator said.

The WSICE began in 2010 in Lagos with a three-day programme, when Soyinka was 76, and has run every year since then at its permanent home in Abeokuta, Ogun State, with satellite events in Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo, Rivers and other states. It has also been staged on London, Ghana and Barbados.

The first edition, in 2010, featured two theatrical productions that were presented. One was Preemptive, written by the US-based Professor Niyi Coker (Jnr) of the University of Missouri St. Louis; and Seven, by Racheal Hastings, then an undergraduate student of SIU, Carbondale, USA.

Featuring in the cast are: Christopher Collins, Rachel Hastings, Tania Dawn Coambs, Basha Sharone Evans, Cortez Johnson and Racquel McKenzie.In 2011, the WSICE77 edition presented Samm Art Williams’ Home as directed by Ojewuyi, and featured a mixed cast from the US, UK and Nigeria, with the renowned Nigerian dance artiste, Peter Badejo (OBE), then based in the United Kingdom, conducting a dance workshop.

Other past editions and their features were: WS80: The legendary Jamaican poet, Mutabaruka and the fiery American performance poet, Javon Johnson, performed in Lagos and Abeokuta, and as well held workshops with young Nigerian poets and students. WS81 in 2014 presented the famous storyteller and African culture activist, Aunty Thea, mentoring students in Abeokuta on the art of story telling.