By Chuka Nnabuife
SOMETHING is budding in Awka, nay Anambra State but only those with requisite eyes and the faculty to discern what is on board will note it now.
Last Tuesday, April 24, 2018 was remarkable for the arts as the Fine and Applied Arts faculty of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, marked the International Sculpture Day. It was a harvest of motivating discourse convened by Prof. Cliff Nwanna and a rich display of contemporary sculpture pieces.
Some artists and art scholars attended from Port Harcourt, Benin City, Enugu and Owerri. On Saturday, April 28, artists in the membership of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Anambra State Chapter, led by Sir. Tony Otikpa gathered at the Asele Institute, Nimo, Anaocha LGA to mark the second edition of the yearly Uli Day. Last Monday, a three-man art exhibition entitled, Impact, featuring the international artist, sculptor Chidi Okoye, Prof. Cliff Nwanna and Sir Chuka Nnabuife opened in the banquet hall of Trig Point Hotel, Amawbia Road, Nibo.
The engaging display of 50 contemporary pieces of sculpture and paintings will end tomorrow.
Next tomorrow, a group show of art entitled, Akaraka (Destiny) which features a group of young artists named Ije will open in the afternoon at Nelen Studios, 18 Chief Gilbert Nwanna Ave. (Rd. 14), Udoka Estate, Awka.
And the hint is that more are coming. Awka has never had such avalanche of art events. Great joy also hails from the high quality of artistic content in the events that have held so far as well as in the hope raised of more activities in that form by organisers of the events as well as Anambra State’s new Commissioner for Local Art Works, Diaspora Affairs, Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Sally Mbanefo who was special guest in most of the venues that they will sustain the trend.
Mbanefo actually dropped hint, severally, that Anambra State will soon initiate her own art fair through a collaboration between government and the private sector. She also said among other things that the state aspires to offer herself as a hub of artistic activities and regular rallying point for operators in the arts, culture and tourism sectors.
The butterfly in the belly from this development is that Anambra has woken up to smell her coffee and cuddle her gold though the treasure still needs to be explained to many.
Imagining the quantum wealth currently laying, untapped for decades in this realm would definitely, sicken anyone who knows the potentials but it is still dawn as we wake now.
Think about the natural cultural-tourism endowments. At least three or four well known natural caves are located in Anambra – in Ogbunike and Owerre-Ezukala, and a world-known man-made Ojukwu Bunker, Amorka. Three historic rivers Niger, Omabala, Urasi and a notable lake, in Agulu are also hived in Anambra.
There are equally historical locations such as the fabled Uli Airport of the 1967-1970 Nigeria-Biafra war fame; River Niger Bridge; Zik’s Mausoleum among others.
Then there are the human heritages such as the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (the great Zik of Africa), the late Chukwuemmeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the late Chinua Achebe, among other great personalities and locations that their relics embody rare nuggets of rich history of the world, Africa and Nigeria.
Anambra is so steeped in artistic and cultural heritage as well as in artists that played outstandingly in the world stage. From the late Prof. Achebe the grand bard who wrote the novel Things Fall Apart, recognised as one best books of fiction of the 20th century to the late Prof. Uche Okeke (aka Ijele Uli), founder of the Asele Institute who led a team of art scholars and artists whose researches, recreations, preservations and propagation of the uli art made it a world-known art field and faculty in cultural studies.
There is also the late Prof. Ben Chuka Enwonwu, Africa’s greatest modern artist of the colonial and early post-colonial era.
Very remarkable too is that Igbo Ukwu, the land of the Igbo Ukwu archaeological excavations which still thrills historians and scholars in civilisation and use of tools is in Anambra.
Similarly, the state’s capital Awka is the same land reputed for wood (door) carving, metal tools fabrication and blacksmithing prowess. Interestingly, the locations for all these artistic, cultural and tourism treasures are almost evenly distributed across all the zones of the state.
There are also special environmental-tourism sites that cannot be found anywhere. Among them are the outlandish gully erosion sites in Nanka, Oko, Umuchiana-Ekwuluobia and Agulu. Also in the state is a spectacular masquerading culture and peculiar variety of dances.
Anambra’s lavish art, culture and tourism wealth makes it worth noting that the sector is now coming up and playing actively in her mainstream. Indeed, not many sectors can rave up Anambra’s renaissance as the arts.
Some key factors turn around a society for good. Art is one of them. It gives a city colour, character and activity. But more realistically it gives a land, life, verve and the requisite momentum that turns it into a destination.
Over the ages, high turnover of mainstream art activities such as art exhibitions, art fairs, modernist festivals, discourses among other mainstream cultural beats that lure people from far and wide have become magic wands that revived, sustained and became the livewire of cities.
High pulsation in artistic activities has turned towns to craved destinations and rejuvenated even the most lulling economies. Even insignificantly small or hard-hit, war-ravaged and decrepit cities’ have used the mainstreaming of art to lunch into national and global lime light.
Examples abound, from the very remote United States of America (USA) such as Providence in Rhode Island where the WaterFire art project; Danville in Vermont, where commitment to international artists’ residency program has lunched it into national and global map to the Hope Community in Minneapolis, to Kassel in Germany where through the twice-in-a-decade Dokumenta art festival has turned a squalid World War II ruined community to a world-coveted art tourism destination the story of a sustained mainstreaming of art projects buoying economies and making a land greater is mind boggling. Beyond examples abroad there are many of such stories in Nigeria and near bye countries in Africa.
Osogbo in Osun State has used the Osun Osogbo cultural festival to lunch herself into UNESCO reckoning and global tourism repute while the city’s and state’s economy grows from it.
Birnin Kebbi in Kebbi State has done same with the Argungu Fishing festival. Abeokuta, Ogun State capital is budding fast on the same lane with her drum festival while cities like Calabar, Cross River State, Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja have found their handle in hosting yearly carnivals.
Beyond Nigeria, among our international neighbours, the city of Dakar, capital of Senegal plays host to the world every even year for her world-noted DAK’Art festival of contemporary African art as well as her yearly Dakar Motor Rally. In South Africa there is the Indaba in Cape Town, the Sithengi among other art feasts that draw the world there regularly.
Ghana equally hosts her Akwaaba among others.
These are just not fun and revellers’ rally, they are radical ingenuous ways of transforming and sustaining economies.
Only the fool and the irredeemably naïve would dub it oringo.
The frequency of arty events in the state currently, prods one to pray for its sustenance because the gains inherent are surplus and aplenty. Beyond economic growth such initiatives, when they come to take root in a society helps enrich the citizens’ sense of collective heritage, identity and social cohesion.
It helps to ease political thaw, bind generations and easily bridge the gap between classes while reducing social tension. As people amble around, relaxed in the presence of art, the stress of want and discord, where they exist, wear out and into the elevating fervour of art appreciation.
Writers of the book The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook: How to Transform Communities Using Local Assets, Arts and Culture (2007 Fieldstone Alliance) capture what a healthy art culture does to host society thusly: “cultural projects are not simply a luxury but play a fundamental role in reviving the fortunes and boosting the prospects of poor, minority and other disadvantaged communities.
“Civic institutions, like museums, public galleries, community art organizations, performing art institutions, arts councils and public arts organizations have a rare opportunity to lead significant change by engaging specific groups to help devise and carry out creative community-building neighborhood programs.”
So when Mbanefo raised hope of an Anambra State cultural centre and performing troupe in the pipeline the expectation of having the state as tourism destination soon is strengthened.