The agony of culture activist, Aderemi
Aderemi Adegbite is a multimedia artist born and raised in Iwaya community, Lagos. As an interdisciplinary artist, Aderemi’s current focus questions individual realities and truths that stretch across the societal fabric as constants for an elastic socio-system. Recently, his project in Iwaya community has faced a series of vandalisation. In this chat, he narrates his travails to GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, Arts and Culture Editor.
Aderemi Adegbite pulls up a chair. A few of his colleagues sit by his side, chattering and expressing anguish. Another colleague walks in. He gently stands, tottering unsteadily as his thin frame rises in the afternoon light.
On four different occasions, his project in Iwaya community has been vandalised, all because some people want money.
Aderemi threads his way toward the Communal Re-Imagination Workstation, where he stops in the doorframe leading to the outer space. He grabs the door handle, hesitates for the briefest of moments and pulls the door open. He steps outside.
But Aderemi is overcome by an urge to fight back.
“What have we done to deserve this fate?” he asks.
He has been Culture Projects Manager over a decade and has served in various capacities, which rub off on his experience.
To his credit, he has produced and coordinated several arts and literary events, which include Poetry Potter, Lagos Poetry Festival, WordSlam, African Art and Craft Expo 2009, National Festival of Arts and Culture 2009, GTBank Poetry Festival, Fashion Revolution and Fashion Revolution Reloaded.
He has also taken part in stage drama like, Beyond the Sunset, Oya, and Saint Dominic alongside actors such as, Kate Henshaw, Kelvin Ushie and Jude Orhorha. He was a member of the delegates invited to Berlin-Germany in 2009 by the Goethe-Institut for the Visiting Programme – an art exchange programme.
Thus, Communal Re-Imagination was conceived and proposed for the Next Generation project of Prince Claus Fund to help further engage the minds and hands of young people in the community.
Iwaya community, a coastline settlement in Lagos, was known to be hoodlum ridden community, as a bunch of young people who came from challenged homes, dropped out of school and dropped out vocational training terrorised everybody.
In 2015, Aderemi started his community art projects as an alternative engagement for the young people to see and choose alternative means of life through art. In 2016, he created a community-based international art festival to help the youth shun violence and embrace art.
The international artists invited for Iwaya Community Art Festival, for one month, lived and carried out research in collaboration with the youth in the community.
Between 2016 and 2018, the festival had hosted 13 international artists from Africa, Europe, South America and Middle East.
“I created this project to show young people that there are other means of making life meaningful,” he says.
“I am frustrated with this continuous attacks on the space of learning and art laboratory. I need all help I can get to win this battle with the migrant section of Iwaya community.”
“I’m in pain. It is really bad,” he says. “It hurts when genuine efforts are destroyed.”
Since August till date, the Workstation of Communal Re-Imagination has been attacked four times. “The first two vandalisation were done on October 24 and 25, 2018, two days consecutively,” he says, angrily.
Aderemi slips behind the door and steps into a pool of light outside.
Pointing at the gaping hole in the ceiling. He imagines what it looks like.
“Some people broke into The Workstation of Communal Re-Imagination project through the windows and ceilings. They stole bead works created by the participants, a lot of materials for the bead workshop and the paints bought for the space,” he says.
“I reported the situation to two of the three baale (chiefs, sectional community leaders) who are fully aware of the project from the inception and they said they were going to do something about it, but they didn’t.”
After two days, he reported the case to the higher community authority, which is the Oba-in-Council (King-in-Council).
The three baale were summoned to the palace and they were spoken to about the project and the problem of theft.
“The two baale that attended the meeting said to the King that before they could reckon with the project: the Workstation, I must pay N500,000 to them as bribe,” he blurts out. “My response was that the project was conceived and created for the community to augment what the community leaders are doing in the community by rechanneling the untamed youth energy in the community through art.”
Face stern and angry, Aderemi wonders if it was something he missed, some sign that things weren’t right. “They all said they understood the motive behind the project, but I still must make the payment for them to fully endorse the project. I made them realise that the funding received from Prince Claus Fund has been used to build the space just, so it could be useful for the project and as well the community. But they were adamant,” he says.
At the beginning of the project, he met with the Oba-in-Council (King-in-Council) to inform them about the grant and what the project was all about. “I was asked series of questions by the King and the chiefs present at the meeting,” he reveals.
“I explained to them in details all about the project phases and payment procedures by the funding organisation – Prince Claus Fund. Their major concern at that time was about raising fund to build a proper space for the school project and the property that could be used. This was because there is no community owned property in Iwaya community.”
Some of them highlighted the fact that there is no community cultural centre and, therefore, it would stress the fund meant for the project, because a lot of unforeseen payments have to be made.
There was silence.
Then, a few minutes into the silence, he had to be blunt. “I assured them that I already have a space I started developing four years ago but couldn’t develop it beyond foundation level and it will be used for the workstation, which will be built as a multipurpose space where the alternative art school project will take place and other community events. And the workstation was built to that purpose.”
In September 2018, there was Iwaya community celebration; “I was made the Chair-of-Art/Cultural events. The workstation was used for all rehearsals and meetings for the regatta event that was part of Iwaya community day celebration. And all the chiefs visited The Workstation during this event in September 2018,” he says.
The Latest Attacks
On November 13, 2018, when he and his team arrived at the workstation, they realised that some of the books in the library were missing. The project manager of Communal Re-Imagination, Taiwo Ayiedogbon, asked every participant if they took some of the books home for research, and they all said no.
“So, we were disturbed by the number of books that were missing on the book shelves. We searched every corner of The Workstation and saw some book covers in the dustbin bag. It was appalling the number of books that had been destroyed overnight. The contents of the books were taken away and the covers were dumped in the dustbin.”
Suddenly, he went to the palace to inform the Oba-in-Council about recent attack. They were equally disturbed and frustrated but advised him against reporting the attack to the police.
“The king said a formal report at the police station will not solve the problem, because the workstation was built in a volatile section of the community, where the police will not even bother themselves to go to,” Aderemi says.
He continues, “the king told me that all I must do to have a lasting solution to the attacks, was to make sure I raise the money those Baale (sectional community leaders) demanded from me at the previous meetings.
Although, I argued and made them realised that I do not have any money left to give to anybody, but the King said that he only gave me a sincere opinion on how best to resolve the attacks, because he likes me and he is interested in my projects as they are community based and support his efforts and other well-meaning community leaders in curbing misdemeanor of young people in Iwaya community.”
On January 29, Aderemi received a call from The Workstation manager, Olufela Omokeko, that the library has been once again attacked and almost all the books destroyed this time and covers thrown outside The Workstation.
He says, “it is now clear that those that are attacking the workstation and vandalising the books and materials and art works are on a mission. Their intent is to stop us from using the space for the purpose for which it was built, which is education. They know that without the books and materials we will not be able to do anything and thereby, frustrated.”
Aderemi created and curated a monthly literary art project, Poetry Potter, between 2006 and 2010.
Also, in collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Art Lagos (CCA Lagos), he initiated and curated P.A.G.E.S – a project that serves as the confluence of literature and visual art. Between 2012 and 2013, Aderemi joined the travelling exhibition – Africa: See You, See Me – where he worked as an assistant to the Curator, Professor Awam Amkpa.
Aderemi has participated in some residencies and workshops: Bayreuth with Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), Indonesia with Biennale Jogja XIII, Berlin with NeueSchulefürFotografie, Photography Masterclass with Akinbode Akinbiyi in Lagos, Goethe-Institut’s Photographers Master Class at the LagosPhoto Festival 2013 and The Nlele Institute African Centre for Photography workshops series, Lagos OPEN RANGE 2015.
Aderemi is a past General Publicity Secretary, Association of Nigeria Authors, Lagos Chapter (ANA Lagos).
A member of Canadian Federation of Poets, Association of Nigerian Authors, Pen-circle of the University of Lagos, Association of Young Journalist and Writers, PEN Nigeria and an Alumnus of School of Media and Communication & Pan-African University.