This is the first entry for Invisible Borders 2011 project. Enjoy!
We are not as Invisible as the Borders. This is the story that no news can tell.
It begins with an empty room. We are scheduled to meet by 10.30am on Monday 31st. But one of us – whose name I will not mention for sake of modesty – meets an empty room. There is too much excitement to be muffled, too much expectation to be repressed, so the empty room loses its power to make him melancholic. And that lone sentinel, that participant who comes before the others, decides that this is it or this is it, that there is no reason to be beguiled out of excitement, feverishness, even pensiveness (and by the way, in subsequent meetings, the participant still meets an empty room).
When others eventually arrive – and recall that I am telling a story that repeats itself on Tuesday and Thursday – there are handshakes, backslaps, hellos and heys, name-callings, opening of suitcases, laptops, cameras, bags. Emeka always came with a box, bigger than anything brought by any other participant, a box which remained for most of the time unopened. (I will assume that you know us by name; there are no first names shared, so Emeka is Emeka, Amaize is Amaize, etc.) In-between playing music from phones and laptops, munching snacks from the Domino bar nearby, we discussed the logistics of the journey.
As one must expect, we are not activists, war photographers, or egghead ideologists. As simple as those words seem – even as morally correct – we agreed that we had no point to prove. It is easy to want to prove a point about Africa, which has become in some sense, the world’s sick baby, sick bay, and scapegoat. Here is a project and an initiative which takes as its starting point the fact that it is needless to define what Africa is, or even, what Africa is not. And so, we said to ourselves that we were not travelling across Sudan because there were great images of ‘the real Africa’ to be made, images that embellished the fact that people are ‘suffering and smiling’ in Africa. It is not our business what war is being fought, what sides exist, who is a party chieftain. All that matters is that we are artists seeking to state, through photos, writings, and a film, that the borders that exist in Africa are invisible.
Jumoke asked, “What are we doing about security?” Now, understand that we have become a ‘we’, so that each person saunters within a parenthesis, and I believe this parenthesis is secure – I believe, further, that this is a very necessary arrangement. If we would succeed in this project, ‘I’ must become ‘we.’ And so, when Jumoke asks this question, eyes are lit up, given that family and friends have raised the same question (a friend said to me, “They’ve given you a camera, did they also teach you martial arts?”) For obvious reasons, our path this year is fraught with complex security problems (Jos, Maiduguri, Sudan). Of course, there was no way we could learn martial arts, or hold small arms. We agreed, also, that there was no need to hire security personnel. We would be as transparent and weaponless as, should I say, Jesus. For if we had need of security, our ‘father in heaven’ could send us a thousand legions of war angels. And really, who knows if he will!
I should mention how fit I looked in my t-shirt, but I will not. I will, instead, mention that the other guys looked fit in their shirts – Emeka, Amaize, Tom, Uche, Ray. I mention Ray last because he was searching for stick to beat me; I had complained that my singlet (customized for the trip) was too small and he had asked if I had a second body somewhere. Anyway, I should probably mention the ladies – how Jumoke entered the room during the press conference and heads turned – but it is not my thing to describe ladies. I am sorry. (I will get a word-lash from Kemi and Chidinma for this, I know).
During the press conference, concerns ranged from security to handling checkpoints. Amaize made the point that it was our policy not to give bribes at border posts, and that for this year, it will certainly be the same. There was also the suggestion that each year, we could collectively work on themes for the photographs we made, and what we wrote. Everyone disagreed with this. Uche explained the complexities of this; Emeka had warned us to be as flexible as possible, Africa being a vast and intricate landscape.
We have Jude Anogwih to thank for his tireless effort to ensure that the press conference went well.
Here we are, then. I cannot begin to tell of our mood swings – how our feelings have ranged from out-of-the-world excitement to under-the-rug uncertainty. If we had visitors on Monday or Tuesday or Thursday, at Frameworks Extra, Amaize’s office, they would see that opportunity has translated to responsibility. It might be easy to dismiss us as fun-seeking, clueless young artists. It might be even easier to ask, “what are they doing with all that equipment, anyway?” Yet, I figure it will be more difficult to understand how nervous we all are, seeing that we have history on our heels, and it has made a call we cannot refuse.
My job, dear friends, will be to visualize this adventure in words. I probably think too lofty of my craft when I say I want my writing to be like a photograph. The truth is that I want to prove that I can make photos too (I have been given a camera, yes, which Ray calls a toy – God knows I will have to fight with Ray soon). But I speak of textual photos, the image I hope that appears within these lines.
All I have tried to say, in this first post, is that we are not as invisible as the borders we would be crossing. That, we are real people with complex idiosyncrasies, a mishmash of Nigeria, Ghana, and Sudan. We will be thrown together in a bus – enduring and enjoying farts (forgive me), snores, ebullient laughter, reticence, camera clicks, video shoots and a hodgepodge of every imaginable possibility that can happen in 10,000 kilometers.
Come with us.