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The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology


People Have Three Eyes: Ephemeral Art and the Archive in Southeastern Nigeria
Author(s): Sarah Adams
Reviewed work(s):
Source: RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 48, Permanent/Impermanent (Autumn, 2005),
pp. 11-32
Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College acting through the Peabody Museum of
Archaeology and Ethnology
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People
have three
eyes
Ephemeral
art and the archive in Southeastern
Nigeria
SARAH ADAMS
Mmad? nw?l?
?ny?
n?ato. Of? bu
?ny?
?
jl
af?
Mm?o,
Ib?? folu ?fo bu
?ny?
e
j)
af? mmad?.
People
have three
eyes.
One is the
eye
with which the
spirit
is
seen,
the two
remaining
ones are used to see
people
and
the material world.1
Igbo
Proverb
Eucheria Amoke
glances
over her shoulder and
informs me that I should cease
peppering
her with
questions
until she has finished
painting
her mural. It's a
logical request.
The
day
unfolds,
shadows
reposition
themselves,
I
dutifully
remain
silent,
take too
many
pictures,
and watch as her mural
slowly
takes
shape.
I
am invited to return the next
day
with
my questions,
and
do
so,
that
day
and several other
days,
notebook and
tape
recorder
always
in hand. Four
years
later when I
visit
Amoke,
the
mural,
and the entire
building
to which
it was
attached,
are
gone.
In their
place
is a field of
cassava. I stand at the
edge
of the field in stunned
silence,
but
Amoke,
her
daughter-in-law
and
grandchildren,
all
of whom witnessed her
performance,
are
entirely
unconcerned with the absence of mural and
building.
My
shock
slowly
dissolves into
comforting thoughts
of
my photos
and notes.
This
story,
of art
apparently replaced by
cassava,
my
faith in a
physical
archive as a talisman
against
that
replacement,
and the artist and her
family's
trust in an
intangible
archive of
history, neatly
delineates the
essence of an
underlying
theoretical tension that exists
in studies of
ephemeral
?/? art in southeastern
Nigeria
and
many
studies of
ephemeral
African art. That essence
resides in an untheorized confidence in
physical
archives,
coupled
with an
equally
untheorized mistrust
for
intangible
archives of oral
history
and
divinatory
knowledge.
The conflict between these two notions of
how art
memory
is constructed is
vividly
demonstrated
by
the existence of extensive
physical
archives of
historically ephemeral
?/? art in alternative media in
various locations around the world. These
archives,
which date from the
early
twentieth
century
to the
present,
include
photographs,
video, works
on
paper,
and written
descriptions.
Such
physical
archives,
left
unproblematized, perpetually
threaten to frustrate
sustained,
meaningful engagement
with the
ephemeral
nature of the work and its
supporting, intangible
archive
of
history.
The
expanded perceptual power
that is accessed
through
the resolution of the tension between these two
modes of art
memory
is
clearly
described in an
Igbo
proverb
that reminds
us,
"People
have three
eyes.
One is
the
eye
with which the
spirit
is
seen,
the
remaining
ones
are used to see
people,
and the material world."
By
learning
to "see with three
eyes"
and also to
place
trust
in all three
eyes,
we can construct a
history
of
ephemeral
arts like ?/? that
implicity
reveals the
limitations of
dependence
on either form of art
memory
in isolation. Yosef
Hayim Yerushalmi,
a scholar of
Jewish
history,
has
pointed
out that
by
definition no archive is
ever
complete,
"that
is,
no archive can
yield
sufficient
material to understand the
subjects
or answer the
questions
that its own documents
present.
...
in order
to be understood
any
archival document must be
contextual ?zed
by
information outside and
beyond
the
archive.
. .
."2 In studies of
ephemeral
African
art,
however,
the insistent
presence
of
physical
archives of
objects
at once obscures the
loss, silence,
and absence
they
contain,
and threatens to obscure the role of the
exterior,
intangible
archive of
knowledge
as a corrective
to this loss. The
overwhelming
focus on
object-driven
I would like to thank the
University
of
Iowa,
the
Getty Foundation,
and the
Getty
Research Institute for
supporting my
research
during
the
2004-2005 academic
year.
I benefited
immensely
from discussion
with other scholars in the
preparation
of this article. I would like to
thank members of the 2004-2005
Getty
Scholar
Seminar,
especially
Carrie
Lambert-Beatty,
Joan Landes,
Tom
Levin,
Peggy Phelan,
Marcia
Pointon,
and Alex Potts. Others who asked
important questions
and
offered critical
insight
include Zoe
Strother,
David
Doris,
Hollis
Clayson,
and David Van Zanten. All errors
are, of course,
my
own. I
would like to thank
Sylvester Ogbechie
and Chukwuma
Azuonye
for
their assistance with
Igbo orthography.
1.
John Umeh,
A?er God Is Dibia:
Igbo Cosmology, Healing,
Divination & Sacred Science in
Nigeria,
vol. 2
(London: Karnak
House, 1999), p.
72. Tone marks were not in the
original
text. 2.
http://www.psychomedia.it/jep/number3-4/yerushalmi.htm
12 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
modes of art
memory
in the
scholarship
on
ephemeral
African art also throws into relief a
troubling,
asymmetrical
theoretical
relationship
between the wider
field of art
history
and the
comparatively young
field of
African art studies.
Side-stepping
the
ephemeral
I have been
seeking
to define the
precise
nature of
this
increasingly
vital and troubled
methodological
relationship by focusing
on a contradiction that has
Figure
1.
Image
of a
young
woman
painted
with ?/?. From
Sylvia
Leith-Ross,
African Conversation
Piece,
London/New
York:
Hutchinson,
1944:
facing p.
84.
existed for
years
in the
background
of
my
own research
methodologies.
Since
1992,
I have been
conducting
research on
ephemeral
women's
body
and mural
painting,
called ?/?. ?li art was once
very
visible in
southeastern
Nigeria,
and
though
it is still
widely
remembered,
today
it is
generally practiced only by
elderly
artists who do not have
apprentices working
under them. The medium of black-line
body painting
is
a
greenish juice
extracted from a
variety
of
plants,
depending
on the
season,
and
applied
to the skin in
deft,
elegant gestures (fig.
1).
The
juice
turns black
overnight
in reaction to
body
heat,
and then fades over
the course of a week. Murals are
painted
on
clay
walls
during
the
dry
season with a
variety
of earth
pigments
that are
ground
into
powder,
mixed into
water,
and
applied
to the wall
using
hands,
twigs,
feathers, and,
in
the Anambra
region,
a metal
implement
with a
dull,
curved blade called a
mm?nwuli,
or ?/? knife
(figs.
2, 3,
4, 5).
In recent
years
some mural artists have also
begun
to use
sponges
and
paintbrushes purchased
in the
market,
while others have
expanded
their
palette
to
include
bluing,
a blue
powder
that can be mixed with a
little water to make
paint,
or added to white
laundry
to
make it look whiter. Because artists do not add binder to
the
pigments,
murals on
clay
walls
generally
fade after
the first
rainy
season, and are then meant to be
painted
over with a new mural
during
the
following dry
season.3
Though
a
carefully protected
wall can remain faded but
visible for
many years,
such a state is
unusual,
and most
people
associate these faded murals with a kind of
spiritual
staleness.4 The
ephemeral quality
of ?/?
art, then,
3.
Experienced
mural
painters
take the
coming
rains into account
when
they compose
their work?the most detailed
passages go
at the
top
of the
wall,
less detailed work at the base of the
wall,
the area that
will be
splashed by falling
rain and thus fade the
quickest.
4. In his 1984 B.A. thesis from the
University
of
Nigeria
Nsukka
campus,
Okuosa
Nwokoye suggested
a link between the form of akika
patterns,
the first
stage
of wall
painting
in the Anambra
region,
and the
patterns
women in most rural areas make when
they sweep
the
sandy
ground
of their
compound
at the
beginning
of the
day (Nwokoye
1984:32). In addition to the connection
Nwokoye suggests
between
the
clearing gesture
of
sweeping
the
compound
and the
very
similar
physical gesture
of
creating
akika
patterns
(or
prepping
the wall in
other
regions),
the act of
painting
the surface of the wall with akika
patterns,
like
sweeping
a
compound, wipes away
all that is stale and
old.
John
Umeh tells us, "When
you sleep
in the
night
and wake
up
for a new dawn of the
day everything
has
gone
stale (Alahua
tete ife
ni i ne aboona ola).
Every
true
Igbo person
removes the staleness before
living
his/her new
day.
The ash in the
cooking place
becomes stale ash
{ntu ola) and must be collected and thrown
away
before meals are
prepared again.
The house is a stale house (uno ola) and must be
freshened
up
with
thorough sweeping
with the broom (?z?za).
. . .
The
outside
compound approach
roads have become Ezi ama ola (stale
Ezi
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
13
Figure
2. Mural
by
Helen
Obiora, Orno,
1995. Photo: Sarah
Adams,
1995.
.Mu
Figure
3. Mural
by Onuigbo Aghadinuno,
Orno,
1995. Photo: Sarah
Adams,
1995.
14 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
Figure
4. Mural
by Mgbadunnwa
Okanumee, Nnobi,
late 1980s. Photo: Sarah
Adams,
1994.
Figure
5. Mural
painted
in the
early
1990s
by multiple
members of the
Upa
Women Artists Collective
in
Nsugbe.
Artists
painted
on the cement walls with earth
pigments
mixed with
acrylic
binder. The
building
is a
storage
room and
gallery
located in the Ama
Dialog,
the
cooperative compound
in
Nsugbe.
Photo: Sarah
Adams,
1995.
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
15
exists in
degrees?body painting
is
ephemeral
in the
extreme while mural
painting
can be
slightly
more stable.
In the
past,
?/?
body
and mural
painting
would have
been seen in a number of
contexts?simpler
versions for
everyday
and more
complex
versions for
weddings,
funerals,
title
takings,
and festivals
honoring
various
deities. For a number of
reasons, however,
in
many
areas of southeastern
Nigeria
this art is no
longer
commonly practiced.
Both
body
and mural
painting
are
closely
associated with traditional
Igbo religion,
and
therefore when
people
convert to
Christianity, they
tend
to distance themselves from ?/?. There are also
practical
reasons for the decline in
popularity?people
have
moved into cement
homes, and,
as
such,
there are few
clay
walls to
paint.
In
many
cases,
existing clay
structures are not maintained and cared for as
they
would have been in the
past,
because
occupants
see
these structures as
temporary housing
until
they
have
saved
enough money
for a cement
building.5
And,
of
course,
today clothing
covers what would have been the
canvas for
body painting.
While
physical examples
of ?/?
are no
longer commonly
seen in most
regions
of
southeastern
Nigeria,
the
memory
of talented artists and
their work is still fresh and vital.
During my research,
I
was
regularly
directed to
elderly
artists who had no
existing examples
of their work and had not
produced
any
work for a decade or more.
During
the first thirteen
years
of
my research,
I have
developed
and maintained
relationships
with ?/? artists
in six different
villages.
I interview them about their
work and
lives,
commission and document new work
using
video and
photography,
and in most
cases,
have
worked as an
apprentice alongside
each artist. As
scholar and
apprentice,
the archive I have
compiled
is
physical
in two senses: the works I
photograph,
videotape,
and collect constitute one
aspect
of this
archive,
while the
physical
memories of ?/? I
acquired
as
an
apprentice
make me an embodied archive.
Until I
began
research on this
project,
?/? artists and
their works were
regularly
discussed in
very general
terms?as the work of "an ?/? artist." This was
fundamentally
at odds with what these artists told me
about their
relationship
to their work. "?/? di n'?k?
n'?k?" was their
refrain?literally,
"?/? is from hand to
hand,"
and
figuratively, every
artist has her own
style.
Though many
Africanist art historians'
early
discussions
of individual artists are mediated
by ethnicity
or
by
the
notion of
"regional stylistic
differences,"
the artists I
worked with
always
asserted a
strong
sense of artistic
identity
that was
personal,
never defined
against
ethnicity, rarely against region.
For
example,
Mgbadunnwa
Okanumee from
Nnobi,
an
accomplished,
elderly
artist when she
passed away
in
1994,
refused to
work with other artists because she felt no other artist's
work was
strong enough
to stand next to her own.6
Agbaejije
Anunobi,
also from
Nnobi,
noted that she
taught
her
daughter
to do
simple patterns
like dots but
that "she can't draw the
way
I draw."7 These artists and
others discussed their work in terms that were
remarkably
similar to those
employed by academically
trained studio artists in
Nigeria,
further
destabilizing
facile and reductive distinctions between the
"traditional" and the
"modern/contemporary."
In contrast
to romantic notions about communalism and socialism
in rural
Africa,
the artists I have worked with from 1992
to the
present
are
fiercely competitive.
Rank and relative
talent are
acknowledged.8
As I continued
my research,
I found that the
physical
archive of
objects
I created could be
placed
within the
context of a much
larger collecting project.
This broader
physical
archive of ?/? art dates back to the
early
twentieth
century,
when British missionaries and other
colonial
agents
in the
Igbo-speaking region
of
southeastern
Nigeria
had
remarkably
similar reactions to
encounters with
ephemeral
?/?
body
and mural
painting.
Archives of
drawings
on
paper, journals, objects,
photographs,
and letters in various locations tell a
complex, layered story
of
repeated attempts by
colonial
agents
to
preserve
in alternative media what was
invariably
described as a
"dying
art." These
early
twentieth-century
collectors' archives of ?/? art in
alternative media were
expanded
further
by Nigerian
ama) and must be
swept"
(Umeh 1999:153).
It also seems
likely
then
that as the
sweeping
of the
compound
removes staleness (ola)
from the
compound,
so
creating
akika
patterns
and
smoothing
the surface of the
wall before
painting
removes staleness from the wall and therefore the
house itself. Umeh also stresses that the
body
is stale until it has been
properly
cleansed in the
morning.
As the
body
needs
purification
from
staleness,
so the
buildings
(which
suggest
the human
body
and are
often discussed in such terms)
must be
purified
from the condition of
ola or
being
stale
through polishing, mending,
and the
application
of
akika and
finally
??i.
5. I have commissioned work from artists on cement
walls,
and
have seen
examples
of ull on cement in
Nsugbe
and Nnobi. These are,
however, exceptions?most people
see cement walls as "modern" and
therefore antithetical to "traditional" CiTi art.
6.
Mgbadunnwa Okanumee,
interview with the
author,
1992.
7.
Agbaejije Maryanne Anunobi,
interview with the
author,
1995.
8. For a more detailed discussion of each artist and her
work,
see
Sarah
Adams,
"Hand to Hand: ?I1
Body
and Wall
Painting
and Artistic
Identity
in Southeastern
Nigeria,"
Ph.D.
dissertation,
Yale
University,
2002.
16 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
and Euro-American artists and scholars
(myself
included)
during
the latter half of the twentieth
century up
to the
present.
In
short,
though
?/? artists' works are
historically
ephemeral
to
varying degrees,
collectors, travelers,
and
scholars
(Nigerian
and
Euro-American)
have
simply
avoided
engaging
the
ephemeral
nature of ?/? art
by
creating
a
physical
archive of
images
and
writing
about
the work
against
this archive. While the
tangible
archive
of ?/? art has been useful in
constructing
a
history
of ?/?
over
time,
and it allows the
ephemeral
work to function
within the broader conventions and
expectations
of art
history,
the use of such an
approach
in isolation
places
a
disfiguring pressure
on
physical
archives as the site for
reconstruction of art
memory. Specifically,
this
physical
archive of
?/?,
if left
unsupported by intangible
archives
of
information,
obscures to
varying degrees
the
individual identities and
agency
of the ?/? artists
themselves.
The Pitt Rivers
collection,
1932-1950s: A silence
that silences
The earliest and most extensive archive of ?/? work in
alternative media is held at the Pitt Rivers Museum in
Oxford.
Throughout
the
early
twentieth
century,
British
missionaries,
colonial
officers,
and
ship captains
collected
examples
of ?/? on
paper, many
of which were
subsequently deposited
at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The
size of this
collection,
which
ranges
from 1932 to the
1950s and includes work from the Anambra
region
and
Arochukwu
(areas
quite
distant from one
another),
is
formidable. There are one hundred eleven
drawings
of
?/? on
paper
from six
collectors,
and one
example
of ?/?
designs
embroidered on cloth.9 In the works from
Arochukwu,
names of the artists were
generally
not
recorded,
but some of the works from the Anambra area
include full names or
fragments
of names. The
information recorded
by
the colonial collector is
often,
however,
not
complete enough
on its own to link the
work to
specific place, family,
and local
history.
As
such,
this
physical
archive can be
broadly
framed as
an
expression
of colonial control over
individual
biography?the
works function in a
way
that
simultaneously
summons and silences one of their
referents,
the artist.10
In Alan Sekula's discussion of the
disciplinary
use of
photography
to document criminals or record
possessions,
he asserts that such
photographs operate
as
"a silence that silences." He
suggests
that the "mute
testimony"
of these
photographs
makes all other forms
of witness
unnecessary?they
are documents that
by
nature undermine the need for and
credibility
of
countering, protean
oral texts that
might
be offered
by
the criminal
represented.11
Sekula describes a conflict
between "the
presumed
denotative
univocality
of the
legal image"
and the
multiplicity
of the criminal voice.12
Similarly,
the
drawings
in the Pitt Rivers
collection,
confronted without
supporting
histories of the
artist,
can
be seen as silences that silence not the criminal
voice,
but the colonial
subject.
Each
drawing
is a mute record
of ?/? art
practice
that at once
points
to and silences a
parallel
archive of oral texts and
divinatory knowledge,
the
intangible
archives from which the
identity
of the
artist unfolds.
Differences in the
compositions
of the works in the
Pitt Rivers collection also
suggest
this
struggle
between
knowledge
contained in the
physical
archive and caches
of information that fall outside of such structures. The
Pitt Rivers
drawings
from the Anambra
region,
and
works
by many contemporary
?/? artists in this same
area,
tend to be
open,
and
suggest compositional
extensions well
beyond
what is
physically represented?
they suggest
an
intangible
realm
(figs.
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
The
fragmentary
nature of the information collected with
the Anambra
drawings
also
points
to the
intangible
archive: works include artists' first or last names
("Ekedinma"),
references to names and
specific
locations
such as
Egbuso
of
Ukpo (fig.
6),
or evocations of a
place
on the
body
on which such a
pattern
would be
placed
("Woman's Back")
(fig.
7).13
Because information
collected with the Anambra works is
incomplete
or
entirely
absent,
it would be hard to link these works to
the artist and her
family today.
In
spite
of
this,
both the
9. The collection also includes ?///-related
objects
such as dried
till
pods
and various
types
of mmanwuli
(with
single
and
multiple
blades).
10. Alan
Sekula,
"The
Body
and the
Archive,"
October 39
(Winter
1986):7.
11.
Ibid., p.
6.
12. Ibid.
13. M. D. W.
Jeffreys,
an
anthropologist,
was in the Awka area,
where he collected ?ll on
paper.
Winifred B.
Yeatman,
a CMS
missionary,
also collected
drawings
of Cill on
paper
in Awka in 1933.
Because there are
drawings
that
appear
to be
by
the same artist in
both the Yeatman and
Jeffreys
archives,
it
likely
that
they
collaborated
during
the collection
process.
For
example,
the Yeatman collection
includes a work
by "Nwayieke
Awachie" while the
Jeffreys
collection
contains a similar work
by
"Nwaieke Awachie." Such a collaboration
is also
suggested by drawings
with identical
compositions
that
appear
to have been done
by
two different
artists,
with one in the
Jeffreys
collection,
the other in the Yeatman collection.
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
17
Figure
6. Uli
drawing
on
paper
from the Anambra
region,
collected
by
M. D. W.
Jeffreys. "Egbuso
of
Ukpo,"
which
may
be the artist's name and
village,
is written on the
back of the
drawing.
Some
pattern
names were written
directly
on the
drawing
while
others are
numbered,
which
suggests
that there was a
"key"
that is now
missing.
This is
an excellent
example
of an
open
and non-centered
composition.
Pitt Rivers
Museum,
University
of Oxford.
compositions
and the
fragments
of information allude to
an
intangible
archive of
supporting knowledge
outside
the visible realm. In
contrast,
in the works on
paper
from
Arochukwu,
where artists' names were not recorded
and where overt
attempts
to control the colonial
body
at
the time of collection have been
documented,
the
compositions
shift from
open
to closed and
bordered,
a
shift that mimics control over individual
expression
beyond
the
picture plane (figs.
8, 9).
As this
study
makes
clear, however,
what is
suggested
or
repressed beyond
the
visual
realm?specifically, intangible
archives of
supporting knowledge?can
still be retrieved. This act of
recovery
restores the sense of colonial
subject
as
active,
as narrator rather than one for whom others
speak.
Works from Arochukwu
The earliest
examples
of ?/? on
paper
were collected
in Arochukwu and donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in
1932
by Captain
G. S.
Hughman (figs.
8, 9).
In
Hughman's
collection,
the names of the artists were not
recorded?like
many
of the
drawings
from
Arochukwu,
the name of the collector
eclipses
the name of the
artiste4 On a
piece
of
paper
attached to the back of one
of these
images, Hughman briefly explained
his
motivation for
soliciting examples
of ?/? from artists in
the area:15
14.
Mary
Nooter Roberts has discussed the
interplay
between the
names of artist and collector in relation to collections of Luba art:
". . .
colonial
collecting
and
subsequent
exhibition,
market
valuation,
and
scholarship
on Luba
objects
in the West have continued to
transforrri their
authorship.
As
objects
have circulated from one context
to
another,
and from one owner to the next,
they
have accumulated
names and attributions in a kind of 'imbrication of
identity/
all the
while
moving
further from their
original producers." Mary
Nooter
Roberts,
"The
Naming
Game:
Ideologies
of Luba Artistic
Identity,"
African Arts
(Autumn 1998):60.
15.
Though
?ll is
pronounced
"un" in
Arochukwu,
I will use "uTi"
throughout
this article for internal
consistency, except
in direct
quotations
and
personal
communications where I have maintained the
original pronunciation.
18 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
JWAAJUUUUU
Figure
7. L//?
drawing
on
paper
from the Anambra
region,
collected
by
W. B. Yeatman.
Though
the artist's name was not
recorded,
the
back
reads,
"G. Woman's Back. 1. Lines in Paint 2.
Trap."
Pitt Rivers
Museum,
University
of Oxford.
The enclosed uri
designs
are the work of Arochukwu
natives.
. . .
The
designs
are
painted
free-hand with short
tufted sticks on the bodies of women and
girls
and children
and remain indelible for some months. It is
usually
done
by
women who make a
living by
this work. 5/- or even 8/- is
sometimes
paid
for an elaborate all-over
design.
...
All the
designs
have certain
significance
and some are
altogether
bad. These are harmless but
interesting
but it is not often
the
designs
are
explained,
and it is
only quite recently
that
these women have been
willing
to
put
their
designs
on
paper.
The custom of
painting
the
body
is
dying
out but it
seems a
pity
such beautiful
designs
should be lost.16
16.
Hughman's
comments are attached to the
drawing
1932.46.3
in the Pitt Rivers collection. In terms of the duration of the work's
visibility, Hughman may
have been
confusing
t///with
nkasiani,
another form of
body
adornment that is common in this area and
remains visible
longer
than ?lh
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
19
Figure
8. Work collected in Arochukwu in 1932
by Captain
G. S.
Hughman.
Pitt Rivers
Museum,
University
of Oxford.
Figure
9. Work collected in Arochukwu in 1932
by Captain
G. S.
Hughman.
This is one of the
works in which the artist
pays greater
attention to both the
edges
and the center of the
paper.
Pitt Rivers
Museum,
University
of Oxford.
20 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
Hughman's
comment that ?/? was a
"dying
art,"
and
that artists were somewhat reluctant to create works in
archival
media,
would be echoed
by
other collectors as
the
century
unfolded.
In two of the
Hughman drawings,
the
imagery
is
quite
dense and there is an unusual attention to the
edges
and
center of the
paper (fig.
9).
Though
the other two
drawings
in this collection show similar interest in the
center,
they
have more
empty space
and also
give
the
sense that the
drawing
is
merely
a
fragment
of a
larger
composition
that extends well
beyond
what is
represented.
One
drawing
is structured
by
intricate
pockets
of
patterning
that seem to
bulge
onto the visible
picture plane
from the
beyond
the
edges
of the
paper
(fig.
8).
Most artists I have worked with in a
contemporary
context create
compositions that,
like the
second
work,
are not
inwardly
focused?in
fact,
body
painting
often creates a sense of
energy through
the use
of off-set
patterns
that
play
with the natural
symmetry
of
the
body (fig.
1).
Contemporary compositions by
accomplished
artists such as Helen Obiora from Omo
are not structured around a
center,
are
powerfully
attentive to
negative space (?h?r?), and,
like the second
drawing
in the
Hughman
collection, suggest
extensions
of
energy
well
beyond
the visible
picture plane (fig.
2).
When
contemporary
?/? artists Victoria Nwosu and
Grace
Nwosu,
who are from
Arochukwu,
looked at
photocopies
of Pitt Rivers
drawings
from their
village,
they
often commented on the sense of
space.17
Victoria
Nwosu
noted,
"Anyi_ ?naghi
?d? ?ri
ny?g?d?
n'?hu k?
nk?siani
w?r?p?t?
n'?hu
^mgb?d?,"
which
means,
"We
don't write too much ?r? so the nk?siani can come out
on the
body
of the
girl
from the
fattening
room."
Nk?siani is a
mild,
colorless skin irritant that
body
painting
artists in Arochukwu often used to raise subtle
welts in
complex,
concentric
patterns
on a woman's
body.
Grace Nwosu selected another
drawing
and
commented,
"nk? ? di
nji
?kw?" or "this is too black"?
the artist had not left
enough negative space
for nk?siani
and as a result the work seemed too
cluttered,
too
black,
nji
?kw?. While two of the works in the Duckworth
collection have
open compositions
and are attentive to
space
in the
ways
these artists
outline,
the other two
seem to
respond
to an
entirely
different aesthetic
structure.
There are
many possible explanations
for the tensions
between the two modes of
composition
in the
Hughman
collection?individual artistic
preference,
time,
or
region.
The attention to the
edges
and
center,
and the
shift from
open
to closed
compositions, may
also be
related to aesthetic
changes
that took
place
in reaction
to another
object
archive then
evolving
in Arochukwu.
During
the 1930s and
1940s,
Scottish
Presbyterian
missionary Agnes
Siddons Arnot was in the
process
of
establishing
a
cooperative
in which students at the
Mary
Slessor Memorial Home for Girls translated ?/?
drawings
on
paper
into
embroidery templates
that were then
applied
to
tablecloths,
napkins,
coasters,
pillows,
and
other linens
(figs.
10, 11).18The
compositional
structures
of
many
of the
templates
and embroideries from this
cooperative
resonate with two of the
drawings
in the
Hughman
collection. Works associated with the
Arochukwu collective are often structured around a
center,
and artists seem
very
aware of
edges.
The
Mary
Slessor Memorial Home for
Girls,
where
the
embroidery cooperative
was
based,
was a mission
marriage training
center for
young girls
from all over
West Africa. Girls who came to the school learned
"domestic sciences" and received a basic
Western-style
education. The mission focused on skills
they
felt were
essential for
young
Christian wives to survive in the
colonial
economy
and
marry Nigerian
Christian
evangelists?they
learned to
"keep
house,"
garden,
do
laundry,
embroider, tailor,
and so forth.
Interestingly,
though girls
came to Slessor from all over
Nigeria
and
West
Africa,
Arnot limited
participation
in the ?/?
embroidery project
to women from Arochukwu. ?li
artists who
generally
still
practiced
traditional
religion
and thus did not attend the Slessor school made the
drawing
on
paper,
while widows and
young girls
enrolled at the Slessor school who had converted to
Christianity
created the
embroidery.
These embroidered
works are now scattered around the world.19
Because it is unclear how the works moved from
drawing
to
embroidery template,
we cannot be certain
exactly
how and where the aesthetic shift from
open
to
closed
compositions
took
place.
In
2000,
Mleanya
Iheonyebuokwu,
a
graduate
of Slessor and a former
17. Interview with Grace Nwosu and Victoria
Nwosu,
March
2000.
18. For a more detailed discussion of this
cooperative
see Sarah
Adams,
"Praise Her
Beauty Well,"
in Call and
Response: Journeys
of
African Art
(New
Haven: Yale
University
Art
Gallery, 2000), pp.
9-45.
19. A few
examples
of this
embroidery
are in
Arochukwu;
others
are at the Horn i mam Museum in London and the Pitt Rivers Museum
in Oxford. One
recently
turned
up
in
Florida,
and
yet
another
example
turned
up
in the back of the linen closet of one of Arnot's relatives in
the United
Kingdom.
I would like to thank Susan
Cooksey,
Associate
Curator of African Art at the Harn
Museum,
for
drawing my
attention
to the
embroidery
held in a
private
collection in Florida.
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
21
Figure
10. Embroidered tablecloth from the Arochukwu
embroidery cooperative.
In
the
original publication,
neither
person
was identified. From Donald M.
McFarlan,
Calabar: The Church of Scotland Mission
1846-1946,
London: Thomas Nelson and
Sons
Ltd., 1946,
plate
8. Photo: Madame
Lubinski,
n.d.
member of the
embroidery cooperative,
remembered
that the
drawings
on
paper
were made into
embroidery
templates
in Arochukwu.20
However,
Marie
Achinivu,
daughter
of Rebecca Okwarra who worked
closely
with
Arnot on the
embroidery cooperative,
said the
drawings
were sent to Scotland and made into
templates
there
by
a third
party.21
Because the
cooperative developed
slowly
over several
decades,
it is
likely
that both stories
are true?some
drawings
were made into
templates
in
Arochukwu;
others were sent to Scotland.22 If some of
the
drawings
were made into
templates
in
Scotland,
then
early-twentieth-century
British
embroidery
templates may
have had an influence on how the
patterns
were laid out.23 Both ?/? artists and members of
the
embroidery cooperative
would have seen these
returned
templates,
and
they may
have had an influence
on
subsequent
work. It is
possible
that in addition to
using
and
creating embroidery templates
based on ?/?
patterns, girls
at the mission used
commercially produced
British
embroidery templates,
and these too
might
have
had an
impact
on
compositional techniques.24
Arnot,
the
cooperative organizer
who lived in
Arochukwu on and off for
thirty-seven years
until she
retired in
1948,
is still
vividly
remembered there
today.
She was fascinated with ?/? and collected
examples
of it
in various media. In a 1950 article in
Nigerian
Field
about the
cooperative,
she comments on the future of
?/? and on artists' initial reluctance to create works in
alternative media:
It seemed a
pity
that these old
designs
should be
lost,
as
they
seemed
likely
to be:
girls
now
go
to school and the
body-painting
is
rarely
seen. The old artists are
dying
out,
the
younger generation
do not
appear
to have the
skill,
and
the art seems to be
disappearing.
As we of the Mission in
Arochuku [sic] became better
acquainted
with the women,
we
began
to collect
designs.
There were difficulties:
they
wanted to know what the white women wanted with these
drawings:
also
they
were
afraid,
for
many
of the
designs
20. Mrs.
Mleanya Iheonyebuokwu,
interview with
author,
March
30,
2000.
21. Marie
Achinivu,
letter to the
author,
April
19,
2000.
22. When the
project
was revived
during
the Biafran War
(1967-1970)
to raise
money
for the war
effort,
refugees
did all of the
work in Arochukwu.
23. I would like to thank Marcia Pointon for
drawing my
attention
to this issue.
24. When I met with Arnot's relatives and sorted
through
their
linen closet to see if
they
had
any examples
of work from the
cooperative,
we found two works. One was
clearly
from the
cooperative
and had ?li
patterns.
Another was on similar
cloth,
with
an identical wide-stitched embroidered
edge,
but the
pattern
was
likely
from a British
embroidery template.
22 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
.. ^
y-"'"
Figure
11.
Fragment
of an
embroidery template
from a former
Slessor student. Photo: Susan
Cole,
Alex
Contreras,
Yale
University
Art
Gallery.
had some old tribal
significance.
It was not till some
years
had
passed
and we all knew each other much better that
we
got
them to
put
the
designs
on
paper.25
Arnot's assertion that ?/? was
dying
out and therefore
rarely
seen, and her recollection of ?/? artists' reluctance
to create work on
paper,
resonates with
Hughman's
comments
eighteen years
earlier.
Ironically, though
the missionaries asked their
students to embroider ?/?
designs
on cloth for sale
locally
and overseas
(the
money
went to the
mission),
and Arnot
speaks
of ?/? in
glowing
terms in
published
articles about the
project,
women in Arochukwu who
attended the Slessor school when
they
were
girls
and
participated
in this
project clearly
remembered that
they
were
strictly
forbidden from
painting
?/? on their bodies.
?li
on cloth or on
paper
was
acceptable?ephemeral
?/?
on the
body
was
strictly
forbidden. In
2000,
Mleanya
Iheonyebuokwu
remembered that if
any
student
appeared
in church
wearing
?/?
they
would be beaten
by
Mrs.
Mackennell,
the
evangelist
at the
school,
also
known as
"Daddy" by
the
girls
at the mission
because,
in contrast to
Arnot,
she left the
compound daily
to
travel and do
evangelical
work. The
embroidery project
in
Arochukwu, then,
had at its base a
troubling
tension
between the instinct to
preserve
?/? in alternative
media,
and eliminate its
cyclical appearances
in
ephemeral
media. In contrast to the missionaries' aversion to ?/? in
ephemeral
media,
Arnot's and
Hughman's
comments
about ?/? artists' initial reluctance to create work on
paper suggests
a
potentially meaningful
mistrust of the
new
medium?perhaps
artists were reluctant to create
works whose life
cycle
would be frozen in time. In this
project,
the role of the
physical
archive as a silence that
silences is clear. The
drawings
in
isolation,
and Arnot's
written records of the
project,
obscure the
dissenting
voices of former
participants,
and those memories are
clearly
vital to the construction of a
history
of ?/? in
Arochukwu.
Arnot and
Hughman
were far from alone in their
fascination with ?/? art. Others who
passed through
Arochukwu
during
this
period,
like Edward Harland
Duckworth,
a British colonial officer
posted
to
Nigeria
from 1930 to
1953,
and
Gladys
Plummer,
Deputy
Director of Women's Education in
Nigeria
who visited
Arochukwu in
1936,
also took an interest in ?/? and
collected
examples
on
paper.26
The end result of all of
this
early-twentieth-century
interest in ?/? from
Arochukwu is a rather extensive but
geographically
scattered collection of
preserved examples
of work from
this area.27
25. A. S.
Arnot,
"Uri
Body Painting
and Aro
Embroidery," Nigerian
Field
\5,
no. 3 (1950):134.
26. The back of the Plummer
drawing
reads,
"Nov.
27,
1936.
Mbogwo
Erima
Amanogwu
Aro." This is
likely
the name of the artist
and her district in
Arochukwu,
which makes this the
only
work from
Arochukwu that can be linked to a
specific
artist.
27. Other collections of ?li on
paper
include the K. C
Murray
archive,
which was
deposited
at the National Museum in
Lagos.
In
1997,
curators at the museum could not locate this collection?it is
either lost or was
neglected
and therefore
destroyed.
G. I.
Jones
also
collected ?l) works on
paper
in
Bende,
and the
Library
at the
University
of
Nigeria
Nsukka
campus
holds ?l)
drawings
on
paper
from Arochukwu that were collected
by
Reverend Beattie.
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
23
The
geographic range
and
bewildering
number of
drawings
in the Pitt Rivers collection as a whole obscure
the sense of
fragmentation
and loss it contains. The
works are
powerful,
seductive,
and full of
promise?they
beckon
coyly,
then refuse
any easy engagement.
In
Kafka's meditations on excessive letter
writing
he
laments,
"Writing
letters is
actually
an intercourse with
ghosts
and
by
no means
just
with the
ghost
of the
addressee but also with one's own
ghost."28 Similarly,
the Pitt Rivers
drawings
are letters that document
interaction and
negotiation
between artist and collector's
ghosts, yet
the
ghost
of the
collector?supported by
name and further documentation in
physical
archives?
looms
larger
and
endlessly
threatens to
eclipse, imperil,
and conceal the artist's
ghost.
The most
thoroughly
suppressed ghost
in this
equation,
however,
is neither
that of artist or
collector,
but that of the artist whose
works were never collected and
placed
in a
physical
archive.
By focusing
on these
admittedly extraordinary
drawings
we
give
them?and
by
extension the artists
represented
in these collections?a certain status and
credibility,
an
entirely
unexamined
legitimacy
that is
unfounded in the absence of a broad art historical
survey.
The
drawings
overshadow the histories of artists
whose works
were,
for whatever
reason,
not collected.
These
drawings,
then, operate
as silences that silence
the colonial
subject,
or more
precisely
the colonial
artist,
at
multiple
levels.29
The Nsukka
artists, 1960-present
The
parenthetical
close of colonial archives of ?/?
marks the moment of
independence
in
Nigeria,
and the
emergence
of a new archival moment for ?/? artists'
works. In contrast to the Pitt Rivers
collectors,
the new
collectors are
Nigerian,
and
they
have a
greater
interest
in the
identity
of the
artist,
but because the works are
often recorded
indirectly
in this
archive,
and interest in
the artist is for the most
part
not
supported
over time
with oral
history,
within this
physical
archive the
individual ?/? artist becomes at once
oddly singular
and
emblematic of all ?/? artists.
This archive
opens
in the
early
1960s,
when artists in
Zaria,
inspired by emerging
Ran-Africanist and
N?gritude philosophies,
looked for
ways
to blend their
Western-style
academic
training
with
Nigerian
art
history.
In
1960,
artist and art historian Uche
Okeke,
a
leader of this
movement,
wrote a manifesto titled
"Natural
Synthesis":
. . .
Nigeria
needs a virile school of art with new
philosophy
of the new
age?our
renaissance
period.
Whether our African writers call the new realization
N?gritude,
or our
politicians
talk about the African
Personality, they
both stand for the awareness and
yearning
for freedom of black
people
all over the world.
Contemporary Nigerian
artists could and should
champion
the cause of this movement.
...
I do not
agree
with those
who advocate international art
philosophy;
I
disagree
with
those who live in Africa and
ape European
artists. Future
generations
of Africans will scorn their efforts. Our new
society
calls for a
synthesis
of old and new, of functional art
and art for its own sake.30
In his own
drawings
and
paintings
Okeke looked to
?/?
art,
including
work
by
his
mother,
Monica
Mgboye
Okeke,
as a source of
design inspiration (fig.
12).
Through
his
teaching
from 1970 to 1986 in the
Department
of Fine and
Applied
Art at the
University
of
Nigeria
Nsukka
(UNN)
and
during
his tenure as
acting
head of that
department,
Okeke
inspired legions
of
artists to
experiment
with ?/?
patterns
and aesthetics in
their work. Okeke's
students,
such as Obiora
Udechukwu,
extended this interest in the
exploration
of
?/? in
alternative,
archival media. Okeke and
Udechukwu,
like
many
Nsukka
artists,
were and are
inspired by
?/? artists'
unique way
of
seeing?they
have
a
stunning ability
to
represent
the world around them
by
depicting only
the essential lines that make
up any
given object.31
The Nsukka artists' archive of ?/? is
heavily
mediated?it is constructed
primarily through
observation of ?/? artists' works and
subsequent
28. Frans
Kafka,
Letters to
Milena,
trans.
Philip
Boehm (New York:
Schocken, 1990), p.
223.
John
Zilcosky
discusses this
exchange
in
"Kafka's Remains" in Lost in the
Archives,
ed. R.
Comay (n.p.:
Alphabet City Media, 2002), p.
633.
29. There is also the
temptation
to assert that artists whose works
have been collected are "Masters." In her research on studio
photographer Seydou Keita,
Elizabeth
Bigham correctly points
out that
such assertions of
mastery
are
precipitous
when
they
occur in the
absence of a broad art historical
survey.
Elizabeth
Bigham,
"Issues of
Authorship
in the Portrait
Photographs
of
Seydou
Keita,"
African Arts
(Spring
1999):65.
30. Uche
Okeke,
"Natural
Synthesis," reprinted
in Seven Stories
about Modern Art in
Africa,
ed. C. Deliss (Paris: Flammarion, 1995), p.
208.
31. For further information on the Nsukka artists see: Simon
Ottenberg,
New Traditions from
Nigeria:
Seven Artists of the Nsukka
Group (Washington,
D.C.: Smithsonian Institution
Press, 1997);
Chika
Okeke,
"The
Quest
for a
Nigerian
Art: Or a
Story
of Art from Zaria to
Nsukka" in
Reading
the
Contemporary:
African Art from
Theory
to
Marketplace,
ed. O. Enwezor and O.
Oguibe (Cambridge:
The MIT
Press, 1999), pp.
144-165.
24 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
Figure
12. Uche
Okeke,
Mma Nwa
Uli,
1972. Collection of
Joanne
B. Eicher.
Photograph:
Franko B.
Khoury.
translation into alternative media without the ?/? artist's
assistance or involvement. One of the
requirements
for a
bachelor's
degree
from UNN's
Department
of Fine and
Applied
Art is a final research
paper,
and
many
artists
and art historians who
graduated
from the
department
during
Okeke's
(and later,
Obiora
Udechukwu's)
tenure
fulfilled this
requirement through
research on ?/?.
Copies
of some of these
theses, many
of which include "lexicons"
of ?/? motifs and discussions of individual
artists,
are still
held
by
the
Department
of Fine and
Applied
Art.32 These
constitute a local archival reference for
university
artists,
and in fact
many
of the
patterns
found in Nsukka artists'
works can also be found in these theses.
Because the archive of references to
specific
artists is
studied and then
appropriated by
the Nsukka
artists,
the
?/? archive created
through
references in the Nsukka
artists' works can be seen as
analogous
to the Galtonian
composite photograph,
which Sekula identifies as a
"collapsed
version of the archive."33 Sekula's
description
of Galton's
photographic process provides
an
apt
metaphor:
Galton fabricated his
composites by
a
process
of successive
registration
and
exposure
of
portraits
in front of a camera
holding
a
single plate.
Each successive
image
was
given
a
fractional
exposure
based on the inverse of the total
number of
images
in the
sample.
That
is,
if a
composite
were to be made from a dozen
originals,
each would
receive one-twelfth of the
required
total
exposure. Thus,
individual distinctive
features,
features that were unshared
and
idiosyncratic,
faded
away
into the
night
of
underexposure.
What remained was the
blurred,
nervous
configuration
of
those features that were held in common
throughout
the
sample.34
[author's
emphasis]
In the Nsukka
project,
the ?/? archive is embodied not
through apprenticeship
with
specific
?/? artists but
through
indirect
study.
In the Nsukka artists'
work,
the
singular
identities of each ?/? artist
studied,
the
physical
archive of each artist's
work,
collapses
into the hand of
the
university-trained
artist. The names and identities of
individual artists are recorded in relation to the Nsukka
project, yet
each artist's distinctive
style
is more visible
in the Pitt Rivers collection.
The nature of the fame a few ?/? artists have achieved
as a result of Nsukka artists' interest in their work is also
very specific?it
is
always
in
danger
of
becoming
a
part
of the
collapsed
archive,
one in which
individuality
simply
fades
away.
For
example,
one of the best-known
?/?
artists,
Mgbadunnwa
Okanumee,
from
Nnobi,
received international attention and has
essentially
been
canonized
through
association with the Nsukka artists
(fig.
4).
In her work on
clay
walls towards the end of her
career, Okanumee had a
style
that was unmistakable. In
these
works, thin,
elegant
black lines
grow
out from the
edges
of
wide,
vertical
pillars
of
black,
and then cover
the red
background
with a network of
organic shapes.
Okanumee's linear black
shapes
have no hard
angles
or
edges?the
branches curve and melt into one
another,
giving
the hard surface of the wall a
surprisingly supple,
fluid
feeling.
The black
webbing
frames a
parade
of
yellow patterns
that
pull
the viewer
through
the
composition, drawing
them in for closer
inspection.
It is
as if Okanumee
poured
the
yellow
motifs into the
containing
black
shapes.
Okanumee's color
placement?
black next to
red,
yellow
over black?creates maximum
color contrast and
powerful
visual
presence.
When she
passed away
in
1994,
Okanumee's
reputation
as an artist extended well
beyond
the borders
32. The Warren M. Robbins
Library
at the National Museum of
African Art has
photocopies
of
many
of these theses. For a
compilation
of these lexicons see Elizabeth
Willis,
"A Lexicon of
Igbo
?li Motifs,"
Nsukka
Journal
of the Humanities, vol. 1, 1987, pp.
91-102.
33.
Sekula,
see note
10, p.
54. 34.
Ibid., p.
47.
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
25
of
Nigeria. University-trained
artists and art historians
from
Nigeria
and abroad
(myself
included)
studied and
documented her
work,
and in 1990 the Goethe Institute
in
Bayreuth
included
large photos
of her murals in an
exhibition focused
primarily
on the Nsukka artists.35
These same
photos
were included in a 1992 show at
UNN that was curated
by
artist Ada
Udechukwu,
whose
work is also
inspired by
?/?.36 Udechukwu's exhibition
focused on work
by
female,
?/?-influenced Nsukka
artists.
Finally, images
of Okanumee's murals and
discussions of her work have also been included in
publications
on ?/? art and the Nsukka artists.37
For those who have seen and studied Okanumee's
murals,
her influence on the work of
many
Nsukka
artists is clear. There is a
complex, symbiotic relationship
between Okanumee's international
reputation,
the
physical
archive of her
work,
and the Nsukka artists'
interest in ?/?. Publications and exhibitions of
Okanumee's work constitute a
physical
archive,
one that
in
spite
of its
specificity
has been
oddly deployed
in
relation to the Nsukka artists'
project
as a
shorthand,
iconic
symbol
for all ?/? art and artists
through
the
ages.
Her canonization and documentation within an art
historical discourse that is rooted in the
assumption
of a
physical
archive of
objects,
and her association with the
Nsukka
artists,
have allowed for sedimentation of new
layers
of
meanings
onto her work. Over the
years,
both
processes
have made her work
simultaneously
more
singular
and more
generalized.
Okanumee,
like
many
artists whose work was documented in
response
to the
Nsukka
movement,
has been celebrated as an
individual, yet
her work is also used as a mere footnote
to the Nsukka artists'
project.38
The
Upa
Women Artists
Collective, 1992-present
The Nsukka movement
inspired
another
contemporary
effort to create archival
examples
of ?/?
art. In
1991,
German artist Doris Weiler and
Nigerian
ethnomusicologist
Dr. Meki Nzewi established ?m?
Dialog,
a
compound just
outside Onitsha in the
village
of
Nsugbe.
?m? means
compound
in
Igbo,
and
Dialog
refers to the conversation
they hope
to create between
"modern art and the traditional arts and between
Europe
and Africa."39
Though
the
project eventually grew
into
multiple
areas,
Weiler and Nzewi's initial
goal
was to
establish a collective of ?/? artists who would transfer
body
and mural
painting
onto
paper
and canvas.40 These
works would then be exhibited and sold in
galleries
and
museums in
Nigeria
and
Germany.
Like Arnot
sixty years
earlier,
and the Nsukka artists
twenty years earlier,
Weiler and Nzewi were concerned that ?/? was
"dying
out" and felt it could be reinvented
through
a
change
in
media and thus remain relevant and
economically
viable in a
contemporary setting.
Weiler and Nzewi also
hoped
to correct an imbalance in the literature on ?/??
specifically,
female ?/? artists are
merely
mentioned in
passing
in studies focused on the
mostly
male Nsukka
artists'
project.
In this
physical
archive of
?li,
the names and
identities of each artist are
thoroughly
documented over
an extended
period
of time. Weiler and Nzewi acted as
cultural brokers between artist and
patron
and built a
complex
narrative of artistic
identity
around the work
that
anticipates
the
perceived expectations
of their new
audience.41 Their acts of insider and outsider cultural
brokerage
are similar to those described
by Christopher
Steiner in which urban traders of African
sculpture
manipulate objects through
alteration,
presentation,
and
description
in order to meet audience demands.42 In
addition to
modifying
?/? artists' media and mode of
35. Uli: Traditional Wall
Painting
and Modem Art from
Nigeria,
exh.
catalogue (Lagos
and
Bayreuth:
Goethe Institute and Cultural
Centre, 1990). This exhibition
catalogue
focuses on ?li art and the
Nsukka artists who use ?li
patterns
and "?li aesthetics" in their work.
The
catalogue
includes an
essay
about Okanumee's murals on her
compound
walls in Nnobi.
36. Ada
Udechukwu,
"?li: Different
Hands,
Different
Times,"
Nsukka,
1992. This exhibition was held at the
Continuing
Education
Center on UNN's
campus.
37. Publications on
Okanumee,
and references to the artist
include: Elizabeth A.
Willis, "?li
Painting
and the
Igbo
World
View,"
African Arts
23,
no. 1
(1989):62-67, 104;
Olu
Oguibe
"Notes on
Murals from Three Private
Compounds
in Nnobi" in Uli: Traditional
Wall
Painting
and Modern Art from
Nigeria,
exh. cat.
(Lagos
and
Bayreuth:
Goethe Institute and Cultural
Centre, 1990); Okeke,
see note
30, p. 47;
Ottenberg,
see note
31, p.
208.
38. For a
lengthier
discussion of
Mgbadunnwa
Okanumee's work
and its
relationship
to the Nsukka
school,
see Sarah
Adams,
"Can't
Cover the Moon with Your Hand: Artistic
Identity
and Stuff" in
Inscribing Meaning: Writing
and
Graphic Systems
in African
Art,
ed. C.
M.
Kreamer,
M. N.
Roberts,
E.
Harney
(with
other contributors)
(National
Museum of African Art in association with a still to be
determined commercial
publisher,
2006).
39. Doris
Weiler,
interview with author in
Nsugbe,
1995.
40. Weiler and Nzewi also
organized programs
for
scholars,
tourists,
and students from abroad. These
programs
consisted of
drumming workshops,
mural
painting
with artists in the
collective,
and
various
trips
to shrines and markets in
Nsugbe,
Omo,
and
nearby
Onitsha.
41. For further discussion of the term "cultural broker" see
Sidney
Kasfir, Contemporary
African Art
(New
York and London: Thames and
Hudson, 1999), p.
64.
42.
Christopher
Steiner,
African Art in Transit
(New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1994).
26 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
display,
Weller and Nzewi chose to
verbally
frame the
artists and their work as
Igbo,
a decision that
anticipates
Western
patron's
notions of
authenticity
in relation to
African art as outlined
by
Kasfir.43
However,
in
spite
of
Western
patrons' preference
for
"anonymous"
African
art,
Weiler and Nzewi also chose to
visually
and
verbally present
each artist in the
cooperative
not
just
as
named individuals but as "masters" of ?/?
painting.
Their
assertion
may very
well be
true,
but is nonetheless
problematic
as it occurs in the absence of a broad
survey
of ?/? from this
region.
In this
case, then,
the
archive
places pressure
on the individual
artist,
and like
the Pitt Rivers
collection,
forces us to consider
meanings
established
through seemingly simple
acts of inclusion
and omission.
The
Upa
Women Artists Collective was founded after
Weiler and Nzewi's 1992
pilot study
on ?/? in
Nsugbe
and Omo
(a
village
about 45 km from
Nsugbe).
After
this initial
study
Weiler wrote a
report
for the German
Foreign
Office and received a Culture
Sustaining grant
for a
larger, long-term project.
Such
grants
were not
necessarily
for
research,
but were earmarked for
projects
that would sustain local culture in "third world
countries." The
projects
did not have to be
economically
motivated
but,
Weiler
noted,
their
project
was:
S.A.: The
Upa
Women Artists Collective?tell me what
your
goals
were when
you
founded that collective.
D.W.: O.K.
...
of course it has an economical
background.
We started the collective at the end of the
pilot project.
. . .
We didn't want to
go away
and leave the women alone
with what we had done. We
thought
about how we could
fit them into a form where
they
could start to earn their life
[living].
. . .
[author's
emphasis]44
Though
the
project
has an economic
motivation,
Weiler and Nzewi have done research on ?/? in this area
and have conducted extensive interviews with each of
the artists in the
collective,
which
they
use in
publications
about the
project.
As
such,
the
Upa
collective is
positioned
in an
ambiguous,
at times
problematic, space
between an economic
development
project
and academic research.
In
1992,
after the
pilot study,
Weiler and Nzewi
invited artists in
Nsugbe,
Omo,
and Anam to take
part
in
"try
outs" for the collective.
Though
no artists showed
up
from
Anam,
from the twelve artists who came for the
try
outs Weiler and Nzewi selected
eight
for the collective.
The artists from Omo are
Igbonaka
Anichebe,
Onuigbo
Nwadinobu,
Abuluchukwu
Aghadinuno,
and Helen
Obiora,
while those from
Nsugbe
are Oliaku
Nzewkwu,
Mbaise
Ateli,
Okwuchukwu
Obiudu,
and Nwodu
Okoye.45
In
January
1993,
after
signing
a contract in
which
they agreed
to sell their works
exclusively
through
the
collective,
the artists took
part
in what
Weiler and Nzewi called a
period
of "reorientation."
During
this
period,
Weiler
taught
members to add
acrylic
binder to their earth
pigments
and
paint
on
canvas,
and to
approximate body painting
on white
paper using
bamboo blades
dipped
in ink
(figs.
13,
14).46
Finally,
Weiler and Nzewi asked each artist to
come
up
with a
symbol
which
they
would use to
sign
their work?a nod to the artists' new
global
audience,
which would not be able to
recognize
distinctive
styles
and
expects
works
by
"masters" to be
signed (figs.
13,
14).
This final
step separates
the
Upa
collective from the
1930s and 1940s
embroidery cooperative
in
Arochukwu.
Though
Weiler and Nzewi's framework for
the collective
positions
the
project's
innovations
against
the notion of an
Igbo
worldview,
they
have nonetheless
insisted on
marketing
the canvases as the work of
named individuals.47 The second
aspect
of their
framework is
very
much in line with
contemporary
43.
Sidney
Littlefield
Kasfir,
"African Art and
Authenticity:
A Text
With a
Shadow,"
in Enwezor and
Oguibe,
see note
31, pp.
88-113. As
Steiner and Kasfir have
noted,
these constructions circulate around
privileging antiquity, placing greater
value on
objects
made for use
rather than
trade,
and
insisting
on ethnic
continuity (i.e.,
the
object
must be made
by
and for someone of the same cultural
group).
Given
these
perceived
biases on the
part
of the Western
patron,
it would be
easy
for the new audience to dismiss the
Upa
artists' work as
"inauthentic" on a number of counts. The artists add
acrylic
binder to
their
pigments
and
paint
on
canvas,
which takes the work out of an
imagined
historical ethnic continuum. The
changes
in media also
push
individual artistic
agency
to the
foreground. Finally,
with the absence
of
strong
local
clientele,
most of the work is created for
non-lgbo
patrons.
For a
potential
Western
patron,
these factors could all render
the work "inauthentic." Nzewi's
description
of the artists and their
work
anticipates
these
prejudices
and
attempts
to counteract them.
44. Doris
Weller,
interview with author in
Nsugbe,
1995.
45.
During
the selection
process,
Nzewi and Weller evaluated
each artist's work. Nzewi felt it was also
important
to consider each
artist's
family background.
For
example,
one woman who submitted
work for evaluation had a son who was a
drug
dealer.
Though
her
work was
strong,
she was not asked to
join
the
project
for fear that her
son would
try
to
destroy
the
project,
take the
money
she
earned,
or
extort
money
from the
cooperative.
Weller commented that at the time
she
questioned
Nzewi's insistence
upon selecting
artists from
"good"
families,
but over the
years
it has become clear to her that this was a
good
decision (Doris Weller,
email to
author, June 15, 2001).
46. Meki Nzewi and Doris
Weller,
unpublished
exhibition
catalogue,
1995.
47. Ibid.
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
27
concepts
of artistic
identity
established
through
studies
of ?/? artists in other areas.48
Analysis
of works on
clay
walls
by
a few artists in the
collective,
and
comparison
with works on
canvas,
gives
us a sense of aesthetic shifts that take
place
due to the
change
in medium. Helen Obiora's work on
clay
walls
is more
spare
than that of other artists from Omo. Her
patterns
tend to be
thin,
slightly
attenuated,
and her
lines
vary slightly
in thickness as
they span
out over the
wall,
an effect that
heightens
both visual interest and
overall sense of motion
(fig.
2). Obiora's work
demonstrates an
impeccable
sense of
space through
its
overwhelmingly soothing,
ethereal,
floating quality.
In a
mural from
1995,
her
elegant
command of this medium
becomes clear as she
wraps
her
composition
around the
corners of the
building
while
maintaining
an internal
sense of
rhythm
and
fluidity.
An
Igbo proverb
asserts that
the
beauty
of
body painting
is revealed
through
the
motion of the wearer?the
beauty
of Obiora's murals is
revealed
through
the motion of the viewer.
In
contrast,
in a work
by Igbonaka
Anichebe from this
same
year, patterns
are bolder and there is less of a
sense of
dialogue
between the various sides of the
building (fig.
3).
In this mural Anichebe used a
technique
that I have
only
seen in Omo?the wall is
covered with a
grey
soil that has been mixed in
water,
and while the wall is still wet the artist
goes
back and
quickly
works
patterns
into it with her hands. Doris
Weller described the
process perfectly
when she said it
is like
brushing
velvet the
wrong way?the
"brushed"
area has a
slightly
darker hue that
deepens
as it dries.
The
sweeping background patterns develop
from
flowing
movements of the whole
body?Anichebe
often adds
flashes of
yellow
as a
finishing
touch. Works on canvas
capture
the sense of movement in Obiora's and
Anichebe's murals with
varying degrees
of success
(figs.
13, 14).
Some of the works on canvas from this
cooperative
have a sense of internal
symmetry
that
recalls work from the Arochukwu
cooperative (fig.
14),
yet
when the works are
hung
in
groups
in a
gallery
space
(or
placed
next to work
by
another artist in a
mural),
the sense of
symmetry
is
broken,
and motion
and interaction between each artist's
piece
are
somewhat restored
(fig.
5).
Weller sold collective artists' works
primarily
in
Nigeria
and
Germany, using
art world connections she
established
through marketing
her own work.
Initially,
Weller and Nzewi had
hoped
to find an active market
for the work in
Nigeria?perhaps
even secure contracts
Figure
13.
Painting
on
paper by Onuigbo Aghadinuno,
ca.
2003. The artist's
signature
is in the lower left corner?the
circle within a
larger
circle. Photo: Sarah
Adams,
2003.
for the women to
paint
on cement
buildings?but
the
Nigerian
market
proved
to be slow. Weller noted that a
few
wealthy Nigerians
have
purchased
canvases,
but
most works have been sold in
Germany.49 Pricing
the
canvases was also difficult. Weller
thought
the
large
canvases would sell for around
$800
to
$900
per
canvas,
the same
price
as similar work in
Europe.
In
response
to
sluggish
sales, however,
gallery
owners
eventually
convinced Weller to cut those
prices
in
half,
and as a
result,
more canvases were sold.50 Artist and art
historian Olu
Oguibe
has commented on the ironic and
revealing discrepancy
between Western collectors'
voracious
appetites
for
"popular"
African art
(such
as
work
by Nigerian sign painter
Middle
Art),
and how
little those collectors are
willing
to
pay
for it. Low
prices,
he
says,
reflect a Western
relegation
of such work
to "the
category
of mere
objects
of
pleasure
and
48. Sarah
Adams,
see note 8.
49. Doris
Weller,
email to
author, June 15,
2001.
50. Ibid.
28 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
Figure
14.
Painting
on
paper by
Oliaku
Nzekwu,
ca. 2003. Nzekwu's
signature,
the
"OK,"
is on the
upper
left side of the canvas. Photo: Sarah
Adams,
2003.
fascination,
like
pornography. They
are
positioned
on
those
peripheries
of creative
genius
where the aesthetic
experience
fails to cohere with
great
material value."51
Oguibe's
comments resonate with Weller's
experiences
in
trying
to market
Upa
artists' work overseas.
Though
sales were slow and
prices
had to be
reduced,
the added income still had
quite
an
impact
of
the artists' lives.
Initially,
the artist received 30
percent
of
the
profit
from a sale and the
cooperative
70
percent,
but
later,
in
response
to the artists'
demands,
these
percentages
were reversed to create a more
competitive
structure,
one that offered relative financial rewards for
individual artistic success. The second structure
reinforces Weller and Nzewi's
emphasis
on
presenting
the artists as
individuals,
and resonates with
concepts
of
artistic
identity
established
through
studies of
contemporary
?/? artists in other areas.
After
getting
married in
1999,
Weller and Nzewi left
Nigeria
and
put O'dyke
Nzewi,
one of Meki Nzewi's
51. Olu
Oguibe,
"Art
Identity,
Boundaries" in Enwezorand
Oguibe,
see note
31, p.
24.
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
29
sons,
in
charge
of the
project.52 Though O'dyke
Nzewi
continues to
promote
the artists and their work in
spite
of the
challenges posed by Nigeria's economy
and
infrastructure,
he
recently
moved to South Africa.53 This
could
signal
the end of the active
phase
of the
cooperative,
or
perhaps
a shift to
promoting
the work in
South Africa. In
2003, many
of the artists who were
involved were
disgusted
and frustrated with the
project.
In
Omo,
Helen
Obiora,
Igbonaka
Anichebe,
and
Onuigbo Aghadinuno
described the effect of the
project
in
very concrete,
troubling
terms.54 When the collective
was
doing
well,
they
said,
they
had more
money,
ate
better,
and hired laborers to do their farm work.
They
noted that in the
heyday
of the
project
their husbands
often
complimented
them on how beautiful their bodies
were,
how soft their skin was. Since Weller and Nzewi
left
Nigeria, they
said,
this is no
longer
the case. In
short,
the brief influx of
money provided
a contrast that
today
makes them feel their
suffering
more
acutely.
Accessing
the invisible and
intangible
Mm?o n? mmad? na-az?
?fia,
m?n? ?f?k? ?maroo
Spirits
and humans are in constant
communication/exchange,
but the
uninitiated does not know.55
Through
at times
disturbing
intervention
by Nigerians
and Euro-Americans over the
past century,
an extensive
and varied archive of
objects
related to ?/? now exists.
Many scholars,
myself
included,
have written about and
attempted
to understand ?/? art and artists over time
against
this
physical
archive,
relying primarily
on art
historical
methodologies predicated
on the
assumption
of this
type
of archive. While it has been useful for
scholars to write about ?/?
against
this
impressive
and
growing object
archive?we have learned a
great
deal
about ?/?
using object-driven
methods?I am
increasingly
intrigued by
and drawn to the holes in this
cloth,
the
silences and absences that remain
unacknowledged
when we use such methods. ?li
compositions
themselves are
overwhelmingly
concerned with
space
and
absence,
with
suggested
extensions of the
composition
outside the visible
picture plane.
The
historical medium of ?/? is also
designed
to remove itself
from the
physical
realm over
varying periods
of time.
Both medium and
composition
of ?/? art
urge
us to
accept
that vital information can be or can become
intangible. Engagement
with such
absences,
in what is
suggested
outside the visible
realm,
mirrors the
suggestive compositions,
and interest in
physical
absence, among contemporary
?/? artists.
The vital
interdependence
of
tangible
and
intangible
archives of
knowledge,
of
space
and
presence,
can be
productively explored by rooting
it in
Igbo religious
cosmology,
in which the world is divided into ?l?/?n?
Mmad?
(the
human
world)
and ?l?/?n?
Mm?Q (the
spirit
world).
Through
divination and reincarnation there
is a
great
deal of conversation and traffic between these
two worlds. Human vision is also divided into two
categories?between ?ny?/nd?/?f?
na-afu uzo
(the
one/people/things
that
see),
and
?ny?/nd?/?f?
a
naghi
?fu uz?
(the
one/people/things
that do not
see).56
Professor
John Umeh,
a dibi?
(diviner,
or
literally
master
of or
expert
in
knowledge
or
wisdom)
and
professor
of
estate
management
at the
University
of
Nigeria Enugu
campus, explains:
In other
words,
for the
purposes
of
seeing beyond
the
ordinary,
it is immaterial whether or not one has
good
visual
acuity
as measured
by
scientific methods
by expert
eye
doctors.
. . .
?jiro ?ny? ?ji
af? Mmad? af?
Mm?o, i.e.,
the
eye
used in
seeing
human
beings
is not the
eye
used in
seeing
the
Spirit.
Variants of this
mystical
witticism include
one recorded
by
Enekwe: "Two
eyes
do not see a
Spirit"
(?ny?
n?abo ?ha-af?
Mm?o).
Vision
may
be
physical
vision
or
spiritual
vision.
...
In Afa
language
Ose n?abo is the
two
eyes
with which one sees the mortal
world,
while Ose
?r? is the
eye
with which one sees the
Spirit
and the world
in addition.57
If we
apply
this model of vision to the
history
of ?/?
art,
it becomes clear that to
varying degrees
studies of
ephemeral
?/?
emphasize physical
vision,
the
eyes
used
to see the material
world,
over the
eye
used to see the
spirit.
This model of
seeing
also
clearly
illuminates the
parallel, intangible
archive. In
short,
in studies of
ephemeral
art we often look with two
eyes, though
people
have
three,
and all three are needed to
perceive
the whole
picture.
52. Weller left
Nigeria
for health reasons and Nzewi left to take
up
a
teaching position
at the
University
of Pretoria.
53.
O'dyke
Nzewi,
email to
author, January
2005.
54. Helen
Obiora,
Igbonaka
Anichebe,
and
Onuigbo Aghadinuno,
interview with author in
Omo,
July
2003.
55.
John Umeh,
After God Is Dibia:
Igbo Cosmology,
Divination &
Sacred Science in
Nigeria,
vol. 1
(London: Karnak
House, 1997), p.
2.
56.
John Umeh,
After God Is Dibia:
Igbo Cosmology, Healing,
Divination & Sacred Science in
Nigeria,
vol. 2
(London:
Karnak
House, 1999), p.
71.
57.
Ibid., pp.
71-72.
30 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
Additionally,
in
Igbo religious thought
death is not the
complete
annihilation of self.
Rather,
if one lives an
honest and moral life and dies a
good
death
(a
natural
death,
not a
suicide),
and one receives
appropriate
funeral
rites,
one is ensured
passage
to ?l?
or
?n?
M^m??,
the
Spirit
World.58 Those in the
spirit
world can
be reached from the human world
through
divination,
until
they
are
eventually
reborn into the human world.
Even after an ancestor is
reincarnated,
though,
sacrifices
can still be offered to their
spirit
at local
shrines,
and
their
opinions
can be
sought
out
through
divination. In
fact,
divination would still be
necessary
after
reincarnation,
as reincarnation does not include
passing
along previous knowledge
at a conscious level. Umeh
notes,
"Agw?
wol? iwol? o wol?
mkp?l?? ?ny? ya
tinye?when
the snake
flays
its
skin,
it sheds off in the
process
the
seeds/existing cognitive aspects
of its
eyes
as
well
....
when someone
reincarnates,
he or she loses
cognition
of
previously
known
places, persons, things
and
issues,
even
though
these are
clearly
stored in the
subconscious mind."59
Overall, then,
there is a
profound, layered
sense of a deceased ancestor's?more
specifically, artist's?presence
in
multiple
sites
long
after
the
physical body
is
gone.60
We must return to each archival moment with these
ideas in mind. In the Pitt Rivers
collection,
in most cases
?/? was collected without the name of the
artist,
or with
fragments
of information?a first or last name,
a
village,
the name of a
collector,
the name of a
pattern,
or the
eerie invocation of a
body part
on which the
pattern
would have been
placed.
In this case,
there is such an
emphasis
on the
physical object
that the artist
drops
almost
entirely away
and there is little sense of her
relationship
to a broader art historical moment. In this
archive,
there is a
palpable
tension between the
impulse
to record and the
impulse
to
disguise?the
shreds of
information
and,
more
powerfully,
the references to
fragments
of a
body,
force us to confront the work as cut
off from a
body,
from the human. Artists whose work
was studied and collected in
response
to and
support
of
the Nsukka
project
were often
named,
but
through
association with the Nsukka artists
many
become at
once
strangely singular
and emblematic of all ?/? artists
through
time. This archive
collapses
into the hand of the
university-trained
artist. In
my
own research and in the
Nsugbe project,
there is also
greater emphasis
on the
individual
artist,
and this interest is sustained over a
larger group
of artists for
longer periods
of time. In the
Nsugbe project,
the name of the artist is invoked in
relation to the name of collective and broader notions of
Igbo ethnicity, though
over time the
relationship
between
artist, collective,
and
ethnicity
has
adjusted
to
place greater emphasis
on the individual. In
my
own
research,
the
relationship
between artistic
identity
and
ethnicity
is
problematized
in favor of individual artistic
identity.
In both the
Nsugbe project
and
my
own
research,
documentation is sustained over time
through
oral
history, photography,
and in the
Nsugbe
case,
a shift
in the artists' medium. As such it becomes
possible
to
trace
change
and artistic
development.
In all
cases, however,
there are
varying degrees
of
vivocentric
emphasis
on the
physical
archive,
on what
can be collected from
living
artists,
and
by
extension,
emphasis
on the
eyes
that see the material world rather
than those that
might peer
into the
spiritual
realm.
Especially
in the case of the Pitt Rivers
collection,
accessing
this
parallel intangible
archive would restore
essential information about the work. That realm can be
accessed
through
two
directions?by collecting
oral
histories of artists who have
passed away
and have no
existing examples
of
work,
and
through
contact with
such artists
by working
with a dibi?. The latter
method,
however,
would
surely
be held in a
great
deal of distrust
and even disdain
among many
scholars?in African art
studies we tend to frame this archive of
divinatory
knowledge
as
"belief,"
and instead
place
unexamined
faith in what is visible and
physical.
In Archive
Fever,
Derrida's insistence
upon
the archive as an interior
defined
by
its exterior is emblematic of this mistrust.
"The
archive,"
he
proposes,
"if this word or this
figure
can be stabilized so as to take on a
signification,
will
never be either
memory
or anamnesis as
spontaneous,
alive and internal
experience.
On the
contrary:
the
archive takes
place
at the
place
of
originary
and
structural breakdown of the said
memory."61
Derrida
58. Reincarnation is
not, however,
guaranteed.
In contrast to this
cycle
of
life,
if in the
past
one lived a life that was somehow
morally
incorrect,
one risked
being
denied
proper
burial rites and
being
thrown into
Ajo
Ohia,
the "bad bush." This was a
spiritual
banishment
from the
cycle
of
life,
a
way
to
prevent
a
person
from ever
being
reincarnated. While this third
space
is
important
in
theorizing
the life
cycle
of
?li,
I
unfortunately
cannot
fully develop
this
aspect
of the
argument
within the
space
limits of this article.
59.
John Umeh,
see note
56, p.
72.
60. The
promise
of reincarnation is
endlessly
recalled in
daily
life
because
Igbo
names often refer to the idea?the names Nna-nna
{father's father)
or Nne-Nna
{father's mother)
mean that the child so
named is the reincarnation of his or her father's father or mother.
61.
Jacques
Derrida,
Archive Fever: A Freudian
Impression,
trans.
Eric Prenowitz
(Chicago
and London:
University
of
Chicago Press,
1995), p.
11.
Adams:
People
have three
eyes
31
contends that the
very
order and visible
discipline
of the
internal store of
knowledge implies
a
parallel
realm of
potential knowledge
that is
disorganized,
uncontrolled,
beyond
its bounds and therefore needs to
justify
itself,
not the reverse. Access to and trust in the
knowledge
contained in this
undisciplined,
external,
disembodied
archive
would, however,
fundamentally reconfigure
the
relationship
between artist and
work,
placing greater
emphasis
on artist
(and
her
community)
rather than work
as the site of art
memory.
Such shifts offer the
tantalizing
promise
of
reconstructing
a
history
of ?/?
art,
and other
ephemeral
art,
that is
thoroughly unhinged
from
physical
objects.
These histories would also
finally
shut down
decades of insistent shouts that ?/? is "dead" or
"dying"
because it is not
physically
visible.
In Archive Fever Derrida's meditation on Yerushalmi's
"Monologue
with Freud" makes it clear that re
theorizing divinatory
archives as
knowledge,
not
belief,
requires profound epistemological adjustment.
Derrida
is
staggered by
a moment in Yerushalmi's text in which
he,
struggling
to
arrange
Freud's archive in a
way
that
firmly
establishes his intellectual
intentions,
finally
turns
to and addresses Freud's
ghost.62
That
is, Yerushalmi,
a
scholar,
addresses
Freud,
a
ghost, directly.
Yerushalmi's
scriptive
act sends Derrida into an intellectual
tailspin.
At the moment of direct
address,
he
realizes,
the Freud
whose life and words exist in the
physical
archive is "no
longer
treated as a witness in the third
person (terstis);
he finds himself ca//eof to witness as a second
person.
A
gesture incompatible
in
principle
with the norms of
classical scientific
discourse,
in
particular
with those of
history
or of
philology,
which had
presided
over the
same book
up
to this
point."63
Yerushalmi lifts his
eyes
from the
physical
archive in front of him and looks
instead at the
ghost
who has been
standing
next to him
the entire time. In that moment Derrida
sees,
"the
coming
of a scholar of the
future,
a scholar
who,
in the
future and so as to conceive of the
future,
would dare to
speak
to the
phantom.
A scholar who would dare to
admit that he knows how to
speak
to the
phantom,
even
claiming
that this not
only
contradicts or limits his
scholarship
but will in truth have conditioned it.
. . .
"64
Yet Derrida
recognizes
that Yerushalmi's brave act is
borne of and
endlessly
located in frustration?the
very
title,
"Monologue
with
Freud,"
anticipates
an
unresponsive
addressee. In
contrast,
the dibi?'s identical
direct address to the ?/? artist is not borne of frustration
but of
certainty,
and it
fully expects
a
reply.
Such an
address
promises
to bear
fruit,
to elicit a
response
from
she who is addressed. That
powerful divinatory
act in
its
entirety,
not
scriptive
but
performed
in
time,
fundamentally repositions
the archive from mere
repository
of traces of the
past
into an
unfolding
archive
of the future.65
To create a balance between
knowledge
contained in
physical
and
intangible
archives,
we must
adopt
a more
equitable
blend of
methods,
one that more
accurately
reflects the
diversity
of this
region.
To
adopt
wholesale a
model rooted in an
Igbo religious philosophy
and
cosmology?that
is,
to
rely entirely
on oral
history
and
divinatory knowledge?would
also be a
mistake,
as this
ignores
the fact that
religious practice,
and culture in
general
in southeastern
Nigeria,
and in fact across the
continent,
exists in
profoundly
intercultural
diversity.
Religious practice
in southeastern
Nigeria
moves
between
Islam,
traditional
Igbo religion,
traditional
religious practices
of other ethnic
groups
in this
region,
and numerous denominations of
Christianity.
Additionally,
as the
university-trained
Nsukka artists and
their
project
of natural
synthesis
make
clear,
academic
art
training
(studio
and art
history) may
have
originated
in the
West,
but it is now
very
much a
part
of
Nigerian
intellectual culture. To
completely
discard art historical
methodologies predicated
on the
assumption
of a
physical
archive
would, then,
constitute a facile denial
of this
diversity.
However,
there is need for
greater
diversity
and balance in our
approach
to the
study
of
ephemeral
art?more attention to
placing equitable
trust
65. In contrast to this insertion of
time,
dependence upon physical
archives of Uli in isolation
encourages
us to talk about the work in a
way
that freezes it in time. I have found that as artists
paint,
and
immediately
after the work is
completed,
the artists
themselves,
their
patrons,
and the audience
apply
a
complex repertoire
of aesthetic
evaluations and formal
appraisals
to the work. I have also seen this
vocabulary applied
to
drawings
on
paper.
After the work
disappears,
however,
such detailed terms are no
longer
used. When artists' work
is recalled after its
demise,
more attention is
given
to the
artists,
themselves?how
financially
successful
they
were, how
prominent
their
family
was, the ease with which
they
created their
work,
their
many
children and
grandchildren,
and other roles
they played
in the
village?while
the formal
aspects
of the work are described in
only
vague
terms. This is a
reality
that
many
Africanist art historians have
confronted when
collecting
oral histories about artists.
Descriptions
of
the work are so
vague
that it would be
impossible
to do an
analysis
of
stylistic changes
over time. When the works are
preserved,
however,
we become mired in such
issues,
and never
get past
the
object
and to
the
intangible
archive. These facts are almost
completely
obscured in
studies of African art
by
the
pressures
of the
object
and archive that
emanate from the wider field of art
history.
62.
Ibid., pp.
33-81.
63.
Ibid., p.
41.
64.
Ibid., p.
39.
32 RES 48 AUTUMN 2005
in and
creating
a balance between Ose
n?abo,
the two
eyes
with which one sees the material
world,
and Ose
ora,
the
eye
with which one sees the
Spirit
and the
world in addition.66
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