It is beautiful watching artists at work. When I say work now, I mean beyond field work. We are all tired from the journey into Aba — it is our first night — and so it is understandable that the meeting that has been scheduled for 7am the next morning does not start early. Some people hadn’t even gone to bed by past 3am because they were working on photos and writing. When the meeting commences, it at once gives a comprehensive view of what to expect on the trip from each artist. We view images that were made from Lagos to Aba. There are discussions, in relation to the photos, on what each artist’s concept/project for the trip is.
Novo has taken some landscape picture and she tries to make us see why and how that ties into her project, which is centred around women. It doesn’t. Emeka believes that she has made something her heart gravitates to and tells her as much. It remains to see which wins, head or heart?
Christian has made photos of working men in a state of rest. His photos also show that he went ahead and made on-the-spot symbolic sculptures with these men in the process of making the photos. It is interesting. Emmanuel’s Conversation with the artist — which will be published soon — will touch more on the work.
Mario has 3 images to show the team. Although he doesn’t have a phrase that sums up his concept, as he likes to call it, he has a firm idea what he wants to do on the trip. He explains that one or two good images that fit into his concept are all he seeks daily.
Jide goes triptych with his project, the Potrait of an African. The team bounces ideas off him, suggestions on how to view it from a different approach or build on what he already has. That is the summation of what goes on; a mini-workshop — to not just view each other’s work but help build on it with suggestions etc. as a collective.
Lesedi has made a short video on music and spaces (which is available here) and the team watches this. You should too.
Ray and Emeka do not show their photos because of time. Although Emeka does show some of his past works, but as a point of reference to Novo, on working with spaces.
It is past 3pm and no one has had anything to eat. We’ve been busy with the mini-workshop. Some of us go out to a restaurant to eat. Rice. Peppersoup. Fufu. Working indoors, it is almost easy to forget you’re in a different city. Food is one of the things that reminds you. Even when it is the same food item, it is rarely made the same way, and rarely tastes the same from place to place.
At about 5pm, we are set to explore the city. We intend to go to the famous Ariaria Market and make photos. However, the rain starts just as we set out, and for the rest of the evening, photos are made from inside the van.
Driving through Aba, one gets the feeling that the city would like to move into the present, but is being held back. There is something ancient about this place, but without the preserved beauty of most ancient settings. Newer buildings are side by side with the old ones owned by the original people of the area, the Ngwa people. We drive through potholes and mini-lakes on the roads, with Emeka acting as our tour guide. He knows this place. It is the land of his childhood. He tells us about exploitation, the potential of the city and its industrious people. Indeed, Aba is famous for industry. It is often the ‘Nigeria’ in Made in Nigeria shoes. There are forty thousand handmade shoes being churned out daily. But Emeka says that it is only recently that the government gave the local shoe manufacturing industry a permanent site. Even with that, the potential of the people is not being properly harnessed.
We drive past the old Waterside Abattoir. Emeka tells us that Bakassi Boys — once famous for being vigilantes — came out of the abattoir and the Ariaria Market to fight crime at its height in the city. They grew to become a force to be reckoned with, not just security-wise but also politically.
We don’t get to see Ariaria because of time and the rain, but as dusk settles, we drive past the 7up market which is still bustling. On our way back, we drive on the Glass Industry Road. There are no potholes or bumps. It’s the best road we’ve driven on since we came into the city. Emeka explains that because of the corporations around, the area was developed, with the surrounding roads well maintained. To grow, a city should not have to wait for big corporations. The rest of Aba is still waiting for development.
We head back to the hotel to get some sleep. We leave for Calabar in the morning. We are eager to make the trip. Most of us have heard that it is a beautiful city.
May the dawn break.