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Trust Jossey Ogbuanoh to come up with a catchall phrase.

“I Stamp It!”, he reminded me of those words I used to utter in the newsroom at ThisWeek, where we shared dreams as young journalists joining the labour market during one of the several major episodes of crude oil price crash.

We were reviewing the idea I had shared with the painter Tunde Olanipeku


n and the TV producer Yomi Layinka, about birthing a periodic congregation of creative types in Lagos city.

In the dead of the night, with the production of the magazine far advanced, I would jump on the long boardroom table and scream those three words, hoping, with my action, to lessen the severity of the atmosphere. The ThisWeek segment of my life started in April 1986, after a two year stint at The Guardian. It ended in June 1988. But I had always favoured freelance journalism; I had been writing reviews and observations on the culture scene in Nigerian newspapers before joining any of these newspapers and when I left I simply continued providing content without the strictures of being an employee.

“So why don’t we call this meeting Art Stampede?” Jossey, who was a widely respected copy editor at ThisWeek, asked me. He envisioned a gathering of the tribes where there would be very few of the standard rules: no chairperson, the compere would weave in and out of the audience allowing comments from the floor and interrupting key speakers mid -sentence. The idea was to have a more exciting party than the known gathering of artistes at the time: the ANA Lagos monthly discourses.

ANA (the Association of Nigerian Authors) was about Literature. We wanted a “parliament” of sorts for every producer of culture: poet, sculptor, TV scriptwriter, playwright, fashion designer, painter, etc.

1991 was smack in the period (1990-1992) you could say that exhibitions, art collecting and visual arts programmes ramped up to a certain peak. Arts journalists around the country rushed to write about The Art Boom. It’s clear, with the benefit of hindsight, that this was part of the beginning.  The year hosted some of the foundations of the current shake up. It is a work in progress

For all its “contribution” to a form of renaissance, 1991 was also the year when the usual places where we-young Nigerians aged between 25 and 36-hung out in the daytime were closing up. So, we were really looking for events that would provide the experiences we used to share when we hung out at the United States Information Service USIS, which had stopped its programmes, or Museum Kitchen whose key promoter, the legendary Tunde Kuboye, had moved out the set up Jazz 38.

                                     Professor Ebun Clark left, with Oba Sonuga

Tunde Olanipekun and I had a joint full page arts column in the Evening Times and I had a strip column (Artsville) running in The Sunday Times, when we decided we could host this gathering, from the money we were just paid by Evening Times. The wiser, older Yomi Layinka would be President of The Committee For Relevant Art (CORA), the platform with which we would host these events. The painter Chika Okeke Agulu, came in about a year later. Everyone who has followed CORA for most of the last quarter of the century will see the stamp of Jahman Anikulapo, the committee’s programme chair. Jahman was an outside critic of the programme at inception. But the present day shape of the committee is largely his handiwork.

THERE WERE THREE MUSTS for the quarterly CORA Art stampede: a musical band, kegs of palmwine and groundnuts. We would often have an interlude after several hours of talking shop, dance for a full hour, and then return to the conversation, which could be anything from the Quality of Art Criticism, the effectiveness of the Nigerian Gallery space, When is the Nigerian Movie going to emerge?, to ideas around the Culture Producer in the Marketplace.

Venues were chosen sometimes to show their possibilities as performance spaces. In 1996, we had a stampede in honour of Ben Enwonwu, at the rooftop gardens of the National Theatre. We used that venue several times. We had a lot of argument about where to host the second quarterly art stampede in September 1991; the photographer Hakeem Shitta was furious when we decided we couldn’t stage it right at the Bus Stop in Oju Elegba. When we ended up at Jazzville, he moaned the fact that we had given in to the Ajebutters, and have stripped the party of its status of rebellion against the status quo.  Still we managed to use the event to make a point; sometime in the mid 90s, we took the stampede to Ayoota Arts Centre in Ajegunle, which we thought was doing the kind of “culture in the community” that CORA wanted to foster.

What the stampede has largely achieved was to sow “ideas in the air”. That’s one of the reasons CORA sees itself as a landscapist. Over time, we decided more that we should intervene in culture programming. If we wanted a robust culture scene, why can’t we inaugurate programmes? The Monthly Highlife Party, the Lagos: The City Arts Guide and the Lagos Book and Art Festival (which we insisted would not be a fair, but a book event with very high arts content) are some of the results of this thinking. The LABAF, for us has been the best example of “sowing seeds”. Since it started in 1999, at the onset of our return to democracy, there have been several high quality book festivals that have “purchased” the franchise; in Port Harcourt, Rivers State; in Ake, Ogun State, in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State; in Awka, Anambra State. The only problem is we haven’t received any payment from these franchisees.

Toyin Akinosho

Secretary General, Committee for Relevant Art,

June 2, 2016, Lagos, Nigeria,

 

 

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