Saturday, February 24, 2018 11:14 pm
By Jahman Anikulapo
In continuation of his weeklong visitation to Haiti, the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka led discussion on the theme “Dynamics of Artistic Creations and the Role of the Private Collection”, in the context of the ongoing 2-month display of his works, titled ‘WOLE SOYINKA: Antiquities Across Times and Spaces” — at the Museum of Ethnology, located adjacent the Haitan State House.
Recalling his experience with the shocking disappearance of an African village, ‘Bekuta’ (an obvious reference to Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State), which he had encountered while on earlier visit to mountainous part of Jamaica, he said this was a strong metaphor for the gradual erosion, (and continuing erasure) cultural and spiritual identities of many of the Blacks in the Diaspora.
He stressed that the preservation of the memories and identities should be very paramount to the people of Haiti, and in fact all of Africa descent anywhere they are located.
To the roomful of young and old, academics and townfolks, Soyinka said he was sad when — while earlier in the day, visiting the Maryissant Park, popular lly called “Garden of Memory” because it hosts memorabilia about the recent earthquake that devastated the Haiti Island — he learnt that some Christian evangelists had been destroying a certain tree associated with voodooism. Noting that back at home, extremists and religious fundamentlists have also been destroying totems and symbols of tradional religions, he urged Haitians, especially the young, to ensure they challenge such selfish moves, which is targeted at erasing vital aspects of their identities, erode their intellectual liberties and as well deprive them of their fundamental rights of worship and freedon of expression.
On his collections, now in the holding of the Wole Soyinka Foundation, WSF — located in his Autonomous Residence of Ijegba in Abeokuta, he said his choices were determined by his “Discoveries” and “Recognition” of the meanings of the antiquities to his essences and identity as an African Being. He said these two ideas — rediscovery and recognition — ought to be at the base of why people collect what they, aside other private or pecuniary reasons.
In fielding questions from the audience, Soyinka said he understand why a lot of collectors of antiquities prefer to be ‘selfish’ with their works, would rather lock up such works or “bury then underground locker rooms with strong lock”, and not daring to show or share them with the public. Such reasons include possibility of damage theft, mishandling etc, but he assured that he has since been ‘reborn’ and has now decided to share his own collections of priceless antiquities with members of the public, who in truth own the patrimony. Hence two current tour of a section of the collections, coming in the wake of n earlier showing in Nigeria.
Curator of the exhibition, Awam Amkpa of the New York University, gave a detailed explanation of the collections, and the choice of pieces that made it into the show. He said though the works reflect the personality, belief, philosophy and taste of the collector, they were essentially selected to emphasise spiritual essences of African art, stress on the meaning and importance of the works to the cultures and communities that produce them, show the dynamics of the Africa aesthetics, and as well to ensure a continuous connection and dialogue of the Black Diaspora to/with the source, Africa.
Also curator of such other significant d critically acclaimed shows as ” Africa See Me See You and Resignifications – representation of the African body in photography”, Amkpa, professor of Post Colonial Studies at the Tisch School, said he included works by some contemporary artists to show that their is a continuous flow of dialogue between the style and techniques of old creators and the artists of today. Hence, alongside the WSF collections, he is showing works by Moyo Okediji, Peju Alatise, and Olu Amoda — all leading Nigerian artists pratising artists.
Other speakers in the conference reflected on the relationship between Africa and its many Diasporas, stressing that there ought to be stronger engagement between artists on the continent and those who had been displaced by the consequences of historical accidents of slavery and colonialism. For the young people, especially, Michele Pierre- Louis, a leading galllerist in Port au Prince, said unlike the past of limited choices, they have greater opportunities to develop stronger ties and networks to artists operating on the continent. Technology is one toll that can be deployed, she said
The conference had been preceded by a tour of the university campus, which had suffered destruction during the earthquake. It ended with visit to the ‘museum of memory’ specially created to honour the memory of the students who died during the disaster, and the survivors still undergoing trauma of the after-effect.