Monday, 22 November 2010

Killing ME The More

As you may be aware, the 12th Lagos Book and Arts Festival (organised by the Committee For Relevant Art - CORA) was held in National Theater, Iganmu, Lagos, Nigeria from Friday 12th - Sunday 14 December, 2010.  On Sunday 14, Jelili Atiku protested against the current National Gallery of Art Bill (NGA Bill) through a performance he titled, NGA Bill…Kill Me the More. The Bill has becomes a symbol of social and political realism in Nigeria.

When the bill was brought to the Senate by Hon. Tunde Akogun, it reminds me of Guerrilla Action Group’s manifesto of January 10, 1970. The manifest said that Art is guilty of the worst sort of crime against human beings: silence. Art is satisfied with being an aesthetic/machinery, satisfied with being a continuum of itself and
its so-called history, while in fact, it has become the supreme instrument through which our repressive society idealizes its image. Art is used today to distract people from the urgency of their crises. Art is used today to force people to accept more easily the repression of big business. Museums and cultural institutions are the sacred temples where the artists who collaborate in such manipulations and cultivate such idealization are sanctified.

Jelili's concern in the performance was to express his personal and collective concerns over some bills in Nigerian Senate. Therefore, he wish to educate, appeal, urge and protest for change in the Nigerian socio-political lives.

Here is the letter he addressed to members of the Senate. The letter was published in the performance information brochure.

14th November, 2010

From the Office of the Citizen

Open Letter to Members of National Assembly, Federal Republic of Nigeria

All Members,
Senate and House of Representatives,

Senator David Mark (GCON),
The Senate President; and

Dimeji Bankole (MON),
The Speaker

Dear Fellow Nigerians,

NGA Bill…Kill Me the More

It is saddened that as I write this letter you may not able to see and feel the problems I am going through.  There abound several visible and invisible barriers that have collectively pressurize my life as a Nigerian contemporary artists. Since 1998 when I completed National Youth Service; each day I grow grey hair as a sign of emotional infiltration that I have gone through in an attempt to survive as a Nigerian and as an artist.

I have felt the pains and effects of inequality and poverty since I was born. I see in every day that passed how Jose Ortega y Gasset’s views made in 1958 has been holding sway in our socio-political lives. As you may have read, Jose wrote in an article, titled “The New Mass”(published in Joseph Satin (1958), “Ideas in Context”, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, page 16) that “Today something very different is happening. If we observe the public life of the countries where the triumph of the masses has made most advance… we are surprised to find that politically they are living from day to day. The phenomenon is an extraordinarily strange one. Public authority is in the hand of a representative of the masses. These are so powerful that they have wiped out all opposition. They are in possession of power in such an unassailable manner that it would be difficult to find in history examples of a government so all-powerful as these are. And yet public authority – the Government- exists from hands to mouth, it does not offer itself as a frank solution for the future, it represents no clear announcement of the future, it does not stand out as the beginning of something whose development or evolution is conceivable. In short, it lives without any vital programme, any plan of existence. It does not know where it is going, because, strictly speaking, it has no fixed road, no predetermined trajectory before it. When such a public authority attempts to justify itself it makes no reference at all to the future”.

The manifestation of Jose’s view came once again in form of NGA proposed bill. As you aware, this bill, which is sponsored by Hon.Tunde Akogun is “an act to repeal and re-enact National Gallery of Art Act, Cap. N41 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and other related matters”. On Thursday, November 5, 2010 a hearing was held inside 028Conference Hall, House of Representatives (New Building), Abuja in regards to the bill. The Stakeholders have talked and reached harmonious resolution on the bill. My present financial ailment could not permit me to attend such a gathering. However, it will not be OUT of ORDER to read in part this bill. It reads: “BE IT ENACTED by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as follows… Every contemporary visual work of art originating in Nigeria or not originating in Nigeria but is being sold or auctioned or exhibited for sale in Nigeria, shall be registered, stamped and issued a number by
the Gallery…”

The philosophy, idea, objectives, and contents of this bill reminds me of the Guerrilla Art Action Group’s (of New York City) manifesto of January 10, 1970.  It says, “Art is being slaughtered… Art today glories in its own self-importance and its false set of value. It glorifies property instead of relating to people. It has become
property. Art has become business, a stock market, a repressive and racist megacorporation that enriches its directors and stockholders and exploits its workers to a point of complicity in the crimes committed against human life… What do you think art is all about? Is it some sort of mythical abstract commodity that is traded on the market and guarded by the police? How can it be that art needs police protection? Only “valuable” possessions, property and money are given police protection – is that what art must be? Is property more valuables than life and freedom? Shouldn’t art relate to life and freedom rather than property?...”

This bill and those that conceived it see art as commercial entity. Its values of life and freedom are not appreciated by them. They do not bother about the growth of contemporary art and the wellbeing of the artists instead; they wish to regulate how we create our works.

Forty-three years ago, March 25, 1967 precisely, the then Nigerian Military President in person of (then) Lieutenant Connell Yakubu Gowon threw up an advice for Nigerian leaders. He said in a radio broadcast that “Our duty as leaders is not just to pursue ideologies of forms of government for their own sake…  concern is the happiness of the ordinary citizens. We must therefore look at matters concerning how we should run the government in the light of how they affect people’s lives. We must always assess how the  political decisions that we reach will influence the way our people live… Nigeria has been going through hard times… Governments have fallen and often people have not known where to look for guidance and honest  leadership. In the absence of true leadership mistrust and suspicion have come to the surface and as a result people have been killed; women have been left without husbands and children without fathers”.

I wish to appeal to your honourable selves to look at this bill as a political means of executing artists. I want to beg, the bill should be looked into critically and amend to make us happy. However, I wish to say also instead of bothering yourself over this bill, I am of the opinion that the Freedom of Information Bill (FoI) is more  important to us a State of different nations. This is because going by the level of corruption in the country the FoI bill is necessary and indispensable.

As opinionated by Chidi Anselm Odinaka (in The Guardian, Tuesday, November 4, 2008, page 102) “The existing system of secret government in Nigeria undermines the promise of equality and non-discrimination in our constitution and substitutes in its place a hierarchy of citizenship distinguished by monopolies of  knowledge and access to officially-held information. An infinitesimal minority of well placed people with access to information constitute the superior class of citizens; while the overwhelming majority of us are inferior, second and lower class citizens consigned to an information under-class. Through the existing system, we have an artificial manufactured information aristocracy who use their monopoly of access to official information to control the commanding heights of our economies and politics, protected by their control of the security apparatus in a perpetual game of the revolving intra-family musical chairs while the rest of us in the information wilderness watch in rumour mills of trepidation. The default doctrinal justification for the secret state is state security. This is used in a way that subverts our constitution and our politics and destroys our development. It is both immoral and unlawful. Changed here is in the self interest of both ruler and the ruled”.

Let me also borrow words from Charles Ikedikwe Soeze (who wrote in Nigerian Compass, Friday June 6, 2008; page 4) FoI “is prerequisite for good and just governance and for effective social development”. If it is signed into law Nigeria will become an egalitarian society-where extreme poverty, child mortality, under-development, segregation, political apathy, electoral fraud, and all those ills that dwarf our economy will be eliminated.

If the NGA Bill is signed into law, you shall be killing me the more.

Yours living art,

Jelili Atiku,
29, Ifoshi Road, Ejigbo, Lagos Nigeria
+234 802 315 5408, +234 805 935 8116