Photos: Jide Odukoya, Novo Isioro, Ray-Daniels Okeugo & Emeka Okereke; Text: Emmanuel Iduma
Note: I have taken the liberty to make ‘chapters’ of our stories, with the hope that readers find it accessible, and ultimately, delightful. The reader may choose to read the text as it appears underneath each photograph (repeated in photos belonging to the same ‘chapter’, without italics) – or the reader may choose to read the text preceding each assemblage of photos.
The body made its demands. There was need to pause, look in the distance, sometimes with bottles on a table in a bar in a Minkok market (Jide), other times in a small blissful village in the outskirts of Cameroon where Ijegam is spoken (Amy and May). With food, we had a complicated relationship, every time trying to establish the parameters of our difference, the extent to which we could take in foreign diet. There was always a period of unknowns, waiting for the food to arrive (Emmanuel, Novo, Mario). Meat was regular diet, even when we arrived new places at night – Jide was crowned our food champion – or when we found thatched structures that offered fresh food (Gloyer, Emeka, Amy, Ray). Feeding presented a newer opportunity to access intimacy – communicate by phone, exchange girl gists (Emmanuel, Novo, Lesedi).
The body made its demands. We often had to find new meanings to ‘cleanliness.’ It was not strange to find corners to brush our teeth, doing so with as much incompetence as the situation demanded (Emmanuel). The need for cleanliness, complete with the fleeting meaning we attached to it, resulted in new bonds (Amy and May).
The body made its demands. In the van it often seemed that rest was snatched from us, demanded despite our tireless, wandering, herculean minds (Ray).
In one of the senses in which it is defined, ‘van’ is a noun for “Any creative group active in the innovation and application of new concepts and techniques in a given field (especially in the arts).” This is who we became. The van represented a living space, a melting pot of converging personalities, a teleporting machine. The photos I now present are in many ways representative, speaking their own words, keeling the viewer over with portrayals of resilience, strength, triumph, and need. Snow White, as we fondly termed in, became human in its dealings. On several occasions the question “is it a four wheel drive” was repeated, to which we responded in the negative.
“Work was a regimen of perfection and competence, and it neither allowed improvisation nor tolerated mistakes,” it is said in Open City. To negate this, necessarily because we always placed ourselves at intersections, seeking out the details lurking in everyday normalcy, some of us often took morning walks (Christian), while others defied muddiness (Novo). Patterns emerged in the manner in which cameras were held (Lesedi, Mario), held (Emeka), in the distance covered (Gloyer, Novo), in spontaneous creativity (Jide), in attempts to record the nonhuman (Christian).
Collaborations ranged, in form, demands. Two filmmakers joined us from Al-Jazeera, as we began our journey back, recording the almost indeterminate contours of our project, giving form to the slippery nature of our aches, sharing our experiences (Amy and May stooping behind the van; May focusing her camera). In entering into the terrain of collaboration, where all things individual leap into the collective, we had to visit such places as Khaliland, a dreamy house of visual art and transcendental imagery (a barely lit room with occupants standing), whose ‘guide’ Em’kal Eyongakpa is certainly searching himself for traces other than himself (Emeka, Emmanuel and Em’kal talk as they walk out of Khalishrine). Em’kal showed us his work and that of his friends (Em’kal, Mario and Lesedi with their faces downwards), artists that had willingly contributed their work for free to Khaliland, artists whose work often possessed overarching elements.
There were roadside collaborations, urgent recordings of collectible wisdom (Emmanuel holding a microphone; Mario making a photo of Emeka and Landry with an old man at Ebolowa). And less urgent, equally cogent recordings of collectible wisdom (Emeka in conversation with Jean Remy, Gabonese choreographer). And reviewing recorded performances (Lesedi with Gabonese performers). Other roadside collaborations, in a different context, were those that demanded emphatic explanation of our work, an insistence that we wouldn’t play by the rules of a game that, in fact, was arbitrary (Emeka making a point to a policeman, his right hand showing a ‘path.’)
The hardest part was letting go. There’s a feverish honesty in her closed eyes (Dilong hugging Jide); in the manner he offered himself to our cause, he always seemed as one who had seen the future, our role in shaping it, and had resolved to attempt the inevitable with us (Landry standing in front of the gate of his house, eyes upwards.) The only thing to do, with group photographs as keepsakes, was to remember (group photographs with Landry; Emmanuel and Landry holding a copy of the poster).
The moments of memorabilia are those, for instance, fixed in an art-space that offered timelessness (Mario and Christian sitting in Doual’art). And that moment when our feet, firm to the ground, unite us (Christian, Em’kal and Ray’s feet).
She finds her space of music, a ‘millennium park’ where time is frozen on plaques, naming names of eminent Calabarians, and where a group of amateur, ambitious choreographers are rehearsing (Lesedi, with her hands up). But, like Ugo in my book Farad, music found us – caught up with us in Tiben where one of us used her camera as a microphone (Novo being filmed by Lesedi). And when, with our feet above ground (May), we called for attention in front of a Doualan supermarket (Emeka with bowed legs; Landry dancing, Emmanuel laughing), knowing that in motion, especially when captured, our faces show a joy that is indescribable and unending (Ray dancing with his hands).
We left our lives, froze our realities, and embarked on a journey. We made faces at each other (Lesedi, Gloyer, Novo; Emmanuel covering his face with a book), bought an underwear for one of us who’d won an award we organized (Emeka showing off an underwear), showed off our personalities (Lesedi’s rings and fingers), insisted on photographs (Mario and Emmanuel; Jide beside a boat). And even at the end, when three original participants had returned, and another had joined us, it was impossible to shake away the knowledge that, after all, none of us was alone, despite our diversities (group photo in Tiben).