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Of all Nsukka’s exiles and griots

I thrilled at the possibilities and the ideas that will be exchanged in this public discussion between El Anatsui and Obiora Udechukwu( that first came to my notice through Chika Okeke’s blog-Ofodunka-) I am ashamed not to add respectful acronyms to the names of my teachers, as is customary, but I cannot overstate the admiration and respect I have for these men, any day, any time. I will prefer to flow in an informal prose, as the idea is of what this is all about.

EL and Obiora may have been questioned about their lives together as contemporaries in Nsukka, teaching us. They may have spoken about the varied paths that faith caused them to thread compulsorily, the longing of a lost homeland, the banishment from the familiar homestead and warmth of ancestral hearths, etc. They both left their motherlands, albeit for different reasons. They were united in one force, in growing the Nsukka Art School that Uche Okeke and co dreamed of. El’s practice over the past thirty years was well presented at the 70th birthday celebration that CCA Lagos organised for him. It was a delightful portrait of the making of the artist. One also recall’s Obiora’s meticulous and planned working style observed close-up as his student, and his deep interest in investigating the beginnings of creativity, the stirrings of ingenuity in the artist.

These were exceptional teachers who had a fire in their eyes when they spoke of their passion for art-El, in his quiet but persistent way , always insisting for more, for a shifting of presently accepted standards for categorising ‘the art work’; and Obiora succinctly outlining the reasons behind such a stand, consolidating his arguments with time-tested essays borrowed from varied sources. One could only become quizzical, and take a step further to proof whether there are new vistas waiting to be discovered, to be appropriated. The crowd that listened to El and Obiora’s conversation described( must have been pleased to be part of this history-sharing moment in time giving insights into the periods in which two giants strode and excelled, against daunting harsh times.

Nsukka was the place to get an education, to form the mindset of the future artists of Nigeria. We did not have much of much else, but we had the echoing hills and savannah forests, forming a nest for the young eagles that would one day soar. The School had few of the distractions of city life that troubled other universities set in the heart of towns. So we stayed longer at our books, helped on by fantastic teachers like El, Obiora, Aniakor, etc. They were magic moments, and we believed we could change the world we had heard of in the radio, in the news. I want to hear what these two casualties from Nsukka said, I can only think I know why they said it. Nsukka was a different experience for people-some did ward rounds through the girls’ hostels, some cried through the tests,while others just laughed at it all. After all, the campus may not be part of the ‘real’ world, anyway.


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