Tuesday, November 18, 2014 11:51 am
Writer and arts administrator, Lola Shoneyin, who has founded several arts groups including the Ake Arts and Book Festival, tells NKRUMAH BANKONG-OBI about preparations for this year’s edition of the festival, the challenges of writing and the need to encourage the creative enterprise in Nigeria
How are preparations for the Ake Arts and Book Festival going?
Fundraising has been a challenge this year but we are very fortunate to have secured partnerships with Access Bank, Etisalat and Annoying Logo. The French, Italian and German Consulates in Lagos have been very helpful. We refuse to drop our standards so we are putting on another world-class event.
Have you got to the level of preparation where you can begin to invite your guests?
We send out informal invites in March/April. Depending on the response we get, we send out formal invites in May. We buy tickets for international and local guests in August/September. The biggest problem that we have is with the visa applications. Last year, three people we had bought international tickets for couldn’t attend because there were complications ranging from their cards being rejected by the online forms to the Nigerian Embassy being totally unhelpful. Nigeria could generate a lot of revenue from tourism but the obstacles and the costs of getting a visa mean people generally don’t want to come here.
How about the facilities you need, especially as there are issues with funding?
We are in work quite closely with Mrs. Yewande Amusan, the commissioner for the Ogun State Ministry of Culture and Tourism. She understands how events like this put places on the map so we are using the June 12 Cultural Centre in Kuto again. We’ve booked our hotels and are delighted to be in a position to support local industry. With events like this, preparation is key. Also, members of the team are quite clear on what their roles are and what needs to be done. We are on auto-mode.
In comparative terms what are you going to do this year differently from what happened last year?
One of the ways that we have coped with less funding is to go for smaller, but very powerful productions. This year, we have Qudus Onikeku, an exquisite contemporary dancer – one of the few that we have in Nigeria. He and his Paris-based team are coming to do dazzle us with My Exile is in My Head, based on Soyinka’s prison notes. And it involves dance, music and poetry. We have also invited Tayo Aluko and he’s going to be doing the much-applauded, incredibly well-received drama with music, Call Mr Robeson. We are showing Yaba Badoe’s documentary on The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo, Barnaby Phillips’ Burma Boy and New Morning, sponsored by the Heinrich Boll Foundation. We are also showing Kunle Afolayan’s October 1 and Tunde Kelani’s lastest offering, Yeepa! With regard to writers, poets, filmmakers and thinkers, we have a large number coming from all over Africa like Brony Rheam, Zukiswa Wanner, Siphiwo Mahala, Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Binyavanga Wainaina, Nomboniso Gasa, Clifton Gachagua, Marcus Boni Teiga, Florent Coaou-Zotti, Hawa Golakai, Edwige Dro, Nana Acheampong and many more. The British Council is flying in Stella Duffy, one of the UK’s most exciting voices in fiction and drama. The German Consulate are bringing Vera Botterbusch, a photographer who has been capturing Abeokuta and Isara for the last 20 years. The French are flying in an award-winning filmmaker, Emmanuelle Mougne, who will be giving a three-day workshop on how to make documentaries. We are extremely lucky to have authors like Ben Aaronovitch, Bernardine Evaroisto and Kei Miller with us this year. I’m really thrilled that they agreed to come.
What’s the theme of this year’s event? Last year, it was ‘The Shadow of Memory’. What are you focusing on this year?
The focus of the festival this year is ‘Bridges and Pathways’. So, we are looking at conflict along gender lines, along ethnic lines, along language lines and along religious lines. The different panel discussions are all focussed on these areas. For instance, we have a panel discussion titled “Education, Religion and the Scourge of Violence” and here we have various speakers who are going to address these issues with the view to charting a way out. That is hugely important given the current political terrain. Of course, we have people like Okey Ndibe whose book, Foreign God’s Inc, we are launching. We are talking to Chude Jideonwu who wrote Are We the Turning Point Generation? We have Professor Soyinka who is going to talk to Jerome Okolo on ‘Memory as Muse’. Patrick Okigbo is going to have a sit-down chat with President Olusegun Obasanjo about ‘Defining a Legacy’. The idea is to get Africans together to talk about African issues on African soil.