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LABAF 2017 kicks off tomorrow with BookTrek



Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) 2017 officially kicks off tomorrow, Monday, November 6 with BookTrek at the British Council, Ikoyi, Lagos. In its sixth edition, BookTrek is usually the kick-starter to the week-long festival. It is framed as a literary party in a lush garden amidst wining, dining and general conviviality. It usually features readings and conversations around books of the festival and literary works published by various authors in 2017.

According to LABAF’s programme directorate, “The general belief is that not enough literary works are being written and published in Nigeria. CORA observations, however, show that a good degree of effort is going on in this direction. The BookTrek is a tribute to authors, who are pushing out works in spite of all the odds against writing and publishing. About 20 authors will be present to share their works with the public.” The event is powered by British Council, Lagos.

Day two of the festival on Tuesday, November 7, will feature an Art Seminar. On the theme Art: The Disruptive Expansion, with sub-text as ‘The dearth of criticisms to match these new developments…’ offers discussions around new developments in the arts circle – Art X Lagos, Lagos Art Expo, The Lagos Biennale, Lagos Public Art, Lagos PhotoFestival, etc. Moderated by Bisi Silva, (Founder/Director, Centre for Contemporary Art – CCA), the session will feature as panelists Tokini Peterside, Director, ART X Lagos, Folakunle Oshun, Curator, Lagos Biennial, Ayodele Elegba, Convener, Lagos Comic Convention, Azu Nwagbogu, Founder/Director, Lagos PhotoFestival. Interventions will be by Charles Okereke, photographer, and Jess Castellote, Director Centre for Contemporary and Modern Visual Arts, with special presentation by Oliver Enwonwu, President, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). The event is dedicated to Tunde Olanipekun and Kunle Filani (both painters and art writers, who turned 60 in the course of the year).

The concept behind the seminar is explained by the programme directorate as, “Nigeria (Lagos especially) has witnessed the birth of new art projects in recent time. These projects, mostly initiated by private culture actors, usually without government support, have contributed to upping the vibrancy of the visual art scene, and in that same breath helping to redefine the tenor, texture and scope of contemporary art productions and expressions, thus gradually pushing Lagos towards the centre of global artistic discourses.

“The art consuming public deserves to be adequately briefed about the dreams, prospects and challenges of these projects, just as the ‘dreamers’ (initiators) of the projects deserve to be given a chance to publicly ventilate their ideas and plans for their sustenance. There is thus the need to engender a conversation between the initiators and members of the public, perhaps starting with the immediate art and culture family.

“At CORA, we are always worried that all these projects are coming up, and they are not being robustly interrogated or critiqued, except in occasional articles in the papers or social media, and mostly in silent whispers. As an interventionist agency, CORA’s interest is always to mediate a dialogue/conversation between the forces behind artistic and cultural initiatives and the public – the consumers of the end products of such projects.

“The core objective is to get the public to appreciate these efforts and offer critical notes on them; if possible, to assist the initiators in reevaluation of content, form and strategies to make them more viable.

The day will climax with the formal opening of the exhibition Olanipekun: Moments in Retrospect and it will be chaired by Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya. The exhibition will run throughout the festival till Sunday, November 12.

Following this will be the An Eevening for Okigbo – 50 Years After on the theme Interrogating the Poet of Idoto, with the writer and friend of the late Okigbo, Prof. JP Clark-Bekederemo, as special guest of honour. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the violent death of the eminent poet, Okigbo while on service on the side of secessionist Biafra in the Nigeria-Biafra war 1967 – 1970. Members of Poets in Nigeria (PIN) will ‘respond’ to some of the themes treated by Okigbo in his seminal collections, which have made his works remain evergreen five decades after he wrote them. It will be anchored by Eriata Oribhabor, coordinator of PIN.

The festival is framed around four main conceptual sessions, namely Post-Truth: The Unravelling of the Old World Order, Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back, by Matthew D’Ancona, Post-Truth: Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit and What We Can Do About It by Evan Davis.

Reading and conversations will be held around Genocide Against The Igbo by Jimanze Ego-Alowes and After They Left by Edify Yukussak. The rapid expansion in the space for political activity since 1999 has thrown up issues that were once held down by Military authoritarianism. Differences in ethnicity, religion and political ethos have, too often in the last twenty years, been expressed in the language of violence. The failure to realise an equal society in which the majority finds ready access to health, education and food have provided the opportunity for political entrepreneurs to fan the embers of hatred. Much of the content in the political conversation today speaks to a narrative of distrust. This is the context in which we have grounded the panel conversation entitled Narrations of Distrust at the 19th Lagos Book and Art Festival. Of the three books on this panel, Edify Yukussak’s After They Left is the only novel, but the author’s fictional narrative about the constant, recurring killings of thousands of the ‘native’ Christian populations in Plateau, Benue and Kaduna States by ‘settler’ Muslim hordes, not only speak to historically deep animosities, but it is also about mutual distrust in a fragile, half-formed nation state. The philosophical underpinning of Yukusak’s work mirrors the problems thrown up in Jimanze Ego-Alowes’ Genocide Against The Igbo, and Chidi Ofodile’s Biafra and the Making of Nigeria.

Also, there will be reading and discussions around It Can’t Happen Here By Sinclair Lewis, The Populist Explosion by John Judis and What is Populism by Jan-Werner Muller. As America went to the polls in November 2016, and it ‘seemed’ clear that Donald Trump, who ran his campaign as an impulsive demagogue, with authoritarian streak, was the one most unlikely to win. The intellectual elite around the world was having political conversations, whose key phrase might have been ‘America is not a Banana Republic.’ They, the people, were not expected to elect Donald Trump. The fact that they did, incidentally, has raised foundational questions about the entire American-led global order. This is the kernel of the discussion: Not Yet A Banana Republic. John Judis’ The Populist Explosion and Jan-Werner-Muller’s What is Populism explain the rise of the tendency that lifted Trump into the White House.

But the most important book in this conversation is Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, which shows that the present is a key to the past. This 1935 novel imagines a vain, outlandish, anti-immigrant, fear-mongering demagogue winning the 1936 Presidential elections in the United States. Just like Donald Trump, whose emergence as president the book anticipated 81 years earlier, the main character Buzz Windrip promised poor, angry voters that he would make America proud and prosperous once more. Mr. Trump’s rhetoric has heightened tensions in the Korean Peninsula and made the chances of a nuclear war more certain than any American president ever did. In It Can’t Happen Here, Windrip takes the country down a darker path. As in Mr. Lewis’ fictional 1936, Liberals all over the world, in 2017, are debating whether Mr. Trump’s administration will last its full tenure. It Can’t Happen Here was selected because of how glumly it fits the theme of LABAF 2017: Eruptions: Global Fractures and Our Common Humanity.

There will be reading and discussions around Supo Shasore’s Possessed and A Platter of Gold. Shasore has, at least in the last five years, devoted his time to studying the British intervention in the affairs of the nations that came together to become Nigeria. While Possessed is about the British siege on the economically buoyant city of Lagos, A Platter of Gold provides detailed, richly textured, historical account of some of the major characters, who led in the struggle against imposition of colonial rule. Contrary to what the great Zik is famously known to have said, Mr. Shasore argues, we, the many peoples that make up Nigeria, did not receive independence on a platter of gold. A lot of blood was shed in many battles of resistance. These two books, in a sense, show how shaky the foundations of the amalgam were. Is it fair to say that the current challenges of the nation-state are rooted in how the house was built?

How does history explain it? Sunset At Dawn, the theme of the panel, is borrowed from the title of Chukwuemeka Ike’s novel on the Biafran war, in which the author notes that there were fractures in the governance of the separatist republic in the earliest days of its creation. The corruption, the authoritarianism and the inequality in Biafra, in its very early days, already presupposed that the young nation was going nowhere.

The conversation in which the poet, critic and book enthusiast, Aduke Gomez, engages the lawyer/historian, Shasore, and interrogates the work, is that part of the Book and Art Festival that we call Keys To The Knowledge Economy. This is a session in which we hope the books we discuss, explain to us, how the knowledge society functions.

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