EP11: “We were brought up to strive for Eloquence”. Nkata with Olu Oguibe

Olu Oguibe (b.1964, Aba) is an artist and academic based in Connecticut, USA. He is one of the foremost scholars of his generation whose work constitutes a pillar of what we now know as Contemporary African art and post-colonial studies. Since 1988, he has saddled a rigorous and prolific artistic practice as a visual artist, writer, curator, professor and art historian. Put succinctly, a credible account of the history and trajectory of Post-colonial/Contemporary art from Africa and the Diaspora is unimaginable without referencing the work of Olu Oguibe.

In conversation with Emeka Okereke for the 11th Episode of Nkata: Art & Processes, Oguibe relives his childhood days growing up in the East of Nigeria. He credits his artistic inclinations to the peculiarity of his childhood upbringing and the circumstances into which he was born. Like James Baldwin or Fela Kuti, Oguibe was born a preacher’s son. In the same vein, his birth preceded, by just three years, one of the most defining wars of independence struggles in the 20th century: The Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967 – 1970.

The two hours long conversation takes, as a marker, three poems from the book, “I am Bound To This Land By Blood” – an anthology of poems by Oguibe, written over 25 years. This anthology could easily be considered a sojourner’s handbook. To say the least, it lays bare some of the thoughts and emotions underpinning the condition of Exile. It allows us a glimpse into visceral yet convoluted experiences of Patriotism, Love, Conscience, Self and Home(lessness).

The poems set the premise for delving into anecdotes and recollections upon which Oguibe’s lifelong preoccupation threads.

He comes full circle when he insists that, all along, his has been “a search for eloquence”. However, he anticipates a misreading here by grounding this notion of eloquence in the Igbo cosmology and artistic aesthetics as embodied in the works of Obiora Udechukwu and Chinua Achebe.

The conversation is riddled with references to pioneers who, working in the 20th century, paved the way for the 21st. Each name points to a door of history opening out to divergent trajectories. We encourage the listeners of this podcast to further research the practices of all those referenced. The tapestry of history is rich and multilayered!

The podcast is marked with timestamps to help the listener navigate the conversation.

0:00 – Early days, Family home, being Biafran and Nigerian.

10:15 – I am bound to this land by blood. The prophetic vision.

36: 40 – Conscience as a sojourner’s totem

49:50 – Do Not Forget where you come from/ new Diaspora.

59:00 – The disposition of those who came before us.

90:30 – In Search of eloquence from earlier to recent body of work.

97:20 – Love, Self-love, The Road, Home(lessness).

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