Search, Research

23—26 May, 2018, CCA, Lagos


Looking for Colette Omogbai initiated a search that is going way beyond the actual person, Colette Omogbai, a promising Nigerian female artist in the 1960s who vanished from the art scenery soon after. She became a reason for us, a baseline, and triggered all sorts of questions around methodologies of research, of how we approach and navigate an archive, or the archives, and what we might do if there is just none. In the third issue of the Women on Aeroplanes Inflight Magazine we will continue with more contributions on Colette Omogbai at length. In the meantime, we’ll follow several other tracks of passionate debates. Among many other changing fellow passenger we had on board: Ayo Akinwande (Lagos), Garnette Cadogan (Boston), Ndidi Dike (Lagos), Jihan El-Tahri (Dakar), Rahima Gambo (Abuja), Lungiswa Gqunta (Cape Town), Gladys Melina Kalichini (Grahamstown), Maryam Kazeem (Lagos), Fabiana Lopes (New York), Seloua Luste Boulbina (Paris), Wura-Natasha Ogunji (Lagos), Iheanyichukwu Onwuegbucha (Lagos), Temitayo Ogunbiyi (Lagos), Odun Orimolade (Lagos), Nadine Siegert (Bayreuth), Michael C. Vazquez (New York).

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What you are doing is bigger than archive—. (gc)

As soon as you say, She was really important, I have to find this person, you have already decided that she was really important although the archive is telling you she isn’t; so what does it mean to you to find a space and listen and interact with—I hate the word— raw material—but in a way, it is. It is not necessarily footage; when I’m talking about archive, I’m talking about much wider things. You can find an object in an archive; an idea or something that she said or quoted that opens a hole or a lock. Sometimes, one of the things I love finding in an archive are contact sheets because on them you have a given time circled in red; there’s so much information in just that decision that says so much about the person. (jet)

Knowledge is one thing, orientation is a whole other thing, and then there is information. The largest archive we can ever carry is the body. It is a fantastic machine. What the brain does while storing information is very minor compared to how the body stores it. Our bodies experience two million sensational impacts per second and less than two hundred of these get into the brain consciousness. Then all this information just gets stored up in our cells—you carry information. (oo)

If you know Broad Street, there is the old Ministry of Justice building which was the headquarter until the capital of the country was moved to Abuja from Lagos in 1991. Most of the records and archives have been abandoned. They have become like nuisance, because nobody is interested in them while a sizeable chunk of the files were thrown away by the waste management folks when the place was cleared. We had a dance festival recently and I just went up and I saw a lot of these files on the floor. I started opening them and many have ‘Top Secret’ labels. I got some sacks and I filled them with the records I found littering the floor and even some scattered on the street and I took them to my house and kept them there. (aa)

I remember, when I used to run interviews with students, they would risk their life to hang on to their documents. They would not leave their documents because they just didn’t have that trust in the Institution ... (rg)

You know, when Guinea Conakry was getting its independence, when the French left, they took everything including birth certificates with them. Those who did not have a birth certificate were all given 1 January as their date of birth. That certificate shows the ultimate power of the document. Documents are the objects of power, our governments exercise power through them. An important document is either to be concealed or it is made irrelevant so it cannot be used against the powers that be—it’s about the power structure. They are only salvaged because someone thought this document was important. What becomes important when?—The relevance of something is disconnected from the concept of an archive. We tend to look at archives from the prism of what we think is important now. But archiving is a completely different thing. (jet)

So about Mrs. Awa, I think you should speak to Chijioke Onuora— she’s still alive and she was with Chikezie Udeaku. It is about speaking to faculty in the school in your search and not students. Onuora has been recovering archives over the years. I was co-curating an exhibition for the 50 anniversary of the school, we were looking for photos of when it was built, photographs of the processes—so we had to go to his father’s archive and dig out photos there. There are archives that one could access if you go to the right place. (io)

One interesting thing in this conversation is the action of those who were witnesses to these events. Speaking about Pa Fasuyi, I don’t think, there is a systemic agenda to eliminate some things or people; it’s just that they probably didn’t think it was important. I remember while I was still in Architecture School, there wasn’t any focus on the History of Architecture in Nigeria, all we were taught was about the Western Architecture History—the Gothic, Renaissance, and focus on the like of Le Corbusier, Frank Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright and a host of others but no mention of any Nigerian or African Architect. It was after I left the university that I knew about the architectural practice of the artist, Demas Nwoko. So one would expect the people who witnessed these histories to write and document all of this but it often doesn’t happen .We had Prof Adeyemi—the first professor of Architecture in West Africa, as the head of the Department at a time, we ended up knowing little or close to nothing about our architecture history. (aa)

So, what you are doing—searching for and putting together a story—is bigger than an archive, but we shouldn’t forget that the archive is a tour guide. It shows us a bunch of different rooms, revealing its personality as it does so. Someone comes in and recognizes that personality, and imagines: Here's how I can get a handle on this information, following the path laid out by my guide. One is in search of the character of the archive, then, so that you can tell a story in a way that reveals trails that will help other people tell their stories as they explore those archives ... (gc)