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NKATA: Art and Processes
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NKATA: Art and Processes

Author: Nkata Podcast Station

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NKATA is an Igbo word from the language spoken by the Igbo people of Nigeria. It simply means "Conversation". Thus this podcast series will feature conversations with selected individuals (artists, cultural operators, and creatives) whose work I have known – some over many years and others, a little less so. What sets them apart is that I consider them and their works to be compelling, engaging and relevant to the time. The idea of this podcast is to have in-depth but also accessible conversations about who these individuals are, their life’s journeys and how this translates into their vocation as creative people. Conversations will depart from exploring the background of the artists' personal history while meandering through key themes, positions, and ideologies central to their works. Each episode will feature one conversation with a selected artist. Emeka Okereke (Host).
7 Episodes
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One cannot exhaustively and informatively review the history of contemporary Nigerian photography without frequently returning to the name Uche James Iroha (B.1972, Enugu). Since 1999, Uche’s ideology, activities and support for younger photographers, have paved the way for the flourishing of Nigerian photography in no small measure.Yet the temperament, attitude and principles he brought to photography preceded him. Before Uche was another hero of Nigerian art: Chief James Iroha, his late father. He was popularly known as the creator of one of the longest-running sitcoms in the history of Nigeria, The New Masquerade. Created to help bring some solace and comic relief to the survivors of the Nigeria-Biafra war, the sitcom would outdo itself to become a foundational source of societal consciousnesses for many of those born in the 80s – the first batch of millennials who came of age at the turn of the 21st century. Thus it is no surprise that when Uche encountered photography in the late 90s, he could not but regard it as a potent tool for social commentary.In this conversation with Emeka Okereke, Uche James Iroha – in his usual manner of illustrating lofty concepts with correlated anecdotes – expands on his life, his convictions, motivations, and naturally, how photography acts as a conduit. Given that the conversation took place in Bamako, in 2019, during the 12th Bamako photography encounters, he recalls the indelible impact the photography festival had on him and his colleagues when, at the invitation of Akinbode Akinbiyi, they participated in the 2nd edition in 2001. The 2001 Bamako outing eventually led to the founding of one of the foremost photography collectives in Africa, Depth Of Field. This podcast gives an up-close glimpse of a visual artist, thinker and activist who stands, however unobtrusively, at the hinge of history and continues to work for it. It is an ode to one of his catchiest lines: “history is not absent-minded”. This Episode is backed by Goethe Institut Munich. Want to support the podcast program? Check out our Patreon page at nkatapodcast.com/patreon
Nontsikelelo Veleko (b. 1977) is a South African photographer most notably recognised for her depiction of black identity, urbanisation and fashion in post-apartheid South Africa. Veleko studied photography at the Market Theatre Photo Workshop(1999–2004).In 2006, her photographs were part of the group exhibition, Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography, at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York; curated by Okwui Enwezor. There, the bold and lively portraits depicting South Africa street style from her series “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder” attracted a great deal of attention, shifting previous perceptions of Africa as a whole on an international scale. Alongside this, Veleko has also implemented clothing ‘to deliberately challenge assumptions of identity based on appearances and historical background’. Veleko’s work presents a strong statement of a younger generation that is loud, self-expressive and daring; a collection of youth she strongly relates to. Such sentiments are evident in the photographs resulting from what she considers to be a ‘collaborative process’. For the 5th episode of Nkata, Emeka Okereke travelled to meet with Veleko in Nîmes, in the South of France, where she is currently based. Their conversation starts with the recollection of some precursory events foundational to her journey as an artist. She speaks of how her father prepared her mind from an earlier age, and by that gave her a sense of independence so rare for young girls/women at the time. How photographing graffiti on the streets of Johannesburg in the early 2000s; going to Switzerland for her first-ever residency program inspired her to turn towards street/urban fashion as would later be seen in her one of her most prominent bodies of work.She illustrates her response to the stimuli of street imagery in a succinct recount of a certain photograph she made: A graffiti on the streets of Johannesburg reads “I am not afraid”. However, the “A” of the “Afraid” was cracked. I found that interesting. Because I thought to myself: that’s how I am, a woman, with a camera, alone, photographing on the street of Johannesburg. I affirm that I am not afraid, yet there is a crack somewhere: I am afraid.The conversation settles on her arrival in France, and subsequently Nîmes, a small but ancient city in the South of France. How with her presence, and in collaboration with good friends and colleagues, she has begun the work of opening the small town to African photography starting with her home country South Africa. She takes Emeka Okereke through the streets of Nimes while discussing new bodies of work, projects and prospects stemming from reinvigorated energy after a long career pause. 
Otobong Nkanga (b. 1974, Kano, Nigeria) is a visual and performance artist whose artistic practice spans almost two decades. She began her studies at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife Nigeria and continued at the National Fine Arts School of Paris. She obtained a Masters degree in performing arts from DasArts, Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 2008. Ever since she has exhibited and published her work in various platforms and institutions numerous to expound here. Otobong’s drawings, sculptures, photographs and how they become integral to a performative constellation examines the value of natural resources as well as the mechanisms, impulses, gradations of power structures that constitute their flows. In an interview reproduced in her book, Lustre and Lucre, she summarised some polarising associations explored in her work when she said: “What we are making in one space empties another”. Yet, her work and its myriad contours draw from a deeply personal place. Her poems, for instance, are a tacit testament to this. The various mediums she works with are held together in a manner that could be likened to the circulatory system of a body: there are independently moving parts yet there are joints that allow for malleability, elasticity, stretching and bending; bouncing back to the original form. In her performances and videos, she uses her body as the protagonist. However, according to her, her presence is merely an invisible hand that sets the process in motion. It is yet another instance of the intricate interplay between the visible and invisible in her work. In her conversation with Emeka Okereke for the 4th episode of NKATA, she begins with a poem – Diaoptasia – Our Future Will Be – that would serve as a running thread for the almost two-hour-long conversation. She talks about resistance, of malleability, beginning from her mother giving birth to her. She reminisced about events and moments that shaped her life during its earlier stages, mainly in Nigeria. Central to this is the role her parents played; more so with the events of their untimely deaths. Her mother, for instance, she would say, liberated her way of thinking at the age of 15 when she told her that “everything is art. It is not for anyone to decide what art is”. Her mother also said to her: “I’ve dreamt of you in colours”. Towards the end, she brings the conversation around to the notion of visibility and how inherent in that, there ought to be a place for opacity. “[Something] needs to be working, doing something that allows for regeneration, repair... there needs to be a time for fake dormancy”. There are timestamps in the podcast to help the listener navigate parts of the conversation. If you enjoyed the conversation, pay it forward by sharing it with those in your network. 
For our third episode, Emeka Okereke is in conversation with Jihan El-Tahri, an Egyptian filmmaker, producer, and visual artist.Jihan El-Tahri began her career as a foreign correspondent covering Middle East politics for the Financial Times, Washington Post, and US News & World Reports. El-Tahri has since produced and directed several monumental documentaries, including the trilogy Egypt’s Modern Pharaohs (2016); The House of Saud (2004); Cuba, The African Odyssey (2006), and Behind the Rainbow (2008). In this podcast, she reflects on events and moments that remarkably shaped her and made her the kind of filmmaker and artist she would eventually become. She elaborated on the fundamental elements that drive her political and creative will. If you do not know Jihan El-Tahri, or perhaps only know her through her work, here is a chance to get a sense of the multifaceted layers that are composites of her powerful, fascinating persona. What do we do with the responsibility that comes with privilege? How do we offer a different narrative? What is the place and importance of archives in the weaving of narratives/histories especially within the process/research of film making and visual arts? How does one stay true to oneself? How does one deal with the stereotypic construct of motherhood where it has to do with being an artist at the same time? These are some of the questions reflected upon. The conversation comes full circle with a quote  (read out by Jihan) by Olu Oguibe, excerpted from his 2004 essay “Exile And Creative Imagination”. Duration: 135 mins. *Timestamps:0:00 mins: Upbringing, returning to Egypt. Role of Family – father, sisters, mother. Childhood Experiences30:00: Place/importance of oral history. Working as a journalist from the 80s. Covering the Middle East and the Gulf War. Cairo as a hub for vibrant revolutionary Africans in the 80s and 90s. Beginning of her Pan African Consciousness. Moment of disillusionment and disenchantment with journalism. Transitioning to film making. 56:30: Film making, process and working with archives, the art of interviewing and accessing important information from the interviewee. The complexness/predominant narratives of the archive. 87:01: Doing the leg work of piecing together our histories through research and archive. What happened to the dignity we were chasing? What happened to the Dream? The transition from filmmaking to visual art. 95:00: Mentoring and helping young Africans to find their voices. Audience: Who do you make your films for?110:00: Staying true to oneself. The Africa Burden. CNN’s publication on “Best of African Photography” as an example of a status quo and oppressive system that urgently needs to be countered by alternative narratives. Privilege and abuse of power. Privilege as responsibility and how to use it. 124:00: Create an alternative system that would make the old, oppressive one obsolete. 126:00: Being a mother who is also a professional. Relationship with daughters134:00: Conclusion. Quote from Olu Oguibe excerpted from “Exile and Creative Imagination”. *Timestamps are only vague estimates that serve as a rough guideline. 
Episode two of NKATA sees Emeka Okereke in conversation with Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung. Ndikung (b.1977, Yaoundé) is an independent curator, art critic, author and biotechnologist from Cameroon, who lives and works from out of Berlin. He studied food biotechnology in Berlin, received his doctorate in medical biotechnology and studied biophysics in Montpellier. Ndikung is the artistic director and chief curator of the art space SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin, which he founded in 2009.In this podcast, he speaks about his early years, touching significantly on the events that underlined his move from Cameroon, and subsequently, his travails of living and being a student in Germany in the early 2000s. He gave a glimpse of who his parents are (with particular emphasis on his mother). He goes on to elaborate on his encounter with art and how this lead to the founding of Savvy Contemporary Berlin — a laboratory of Form–Ideas. He breaks down the fundamental concepts and activities at the core of Savvy as well as how far things have come since it was founded in 2009. Throughout the conversation, he makes a strong case for what art and curating means to him as a ”thinking being” moving through the world. The podcast is (loosely) divided into two parts: the first was recorded in a train — during a journey from Berlin to Munich (hence the ambiance of the recording). The second, building on the Berlin-Munich journey and framed by the untimely passing of two giants of contemporary art/fellow curators — Bisi Silva and Okwui Enwezor, was recorded indoors. This part brings him full circle as he talks about the significance of Silva and Enwezor’s death as ”an incredible recalibration” of what life here on earth means for him. This podcast is 111 mins long. Below are time stamps, should you want to skip or navigate to parts of it in your own preferred order. Part 1 (inside the train)03:00: Bonaventure speaks of the early years. His parents. Moving from Cameroon to Germany. Living and being a student in Germany. Finishing a PhD in biotechnology. Early encounter with art and working his way towards becoming a curator. 32:00: Inspiration behind the founding of Savvy Contemporary Berlin and key people behind its foundation. Savvy after 10 years (2009 – 2019). Some core concepts behind Savvy. Savvy as a proactive/subversive platform. Savvy as a space in Berlin: who is your audience? Part 2 (in the studio)67:50: The legacies of Bisi Silva and Okwui Enwezor. The place of their work in the unfolding of history. Their work as paying into a “Trust fund” (for the larger community/society).84:43: Discussing generational continuity: there are people who do the tilling of the soil, while there are those who plant in them. The notion of the institution (institution of the family (nepotism) versus the institution of the community). The place and importance of archive/archiving in the linking of histories. The economy of discovery and the “Christopher Columbus complex”.  The book as Archive. Archive as Process. Reimagining the archive (the apoptotic archive). 101:43: Streams of Consciousness: Being the Artistic Director of the (upcoming) 12th edition of the Bamako Photography Festival. Expounding on the point of departures of the festival’s main concept/theme. 
In this debut episode of NKATA, Emeka Okereke is in conversation with Akinbode Akinbiyi. Akinbiyi (b.1946) is a Berlin-based Nigerian photographer, writer, curator and educator who has been working in the art world/ creative field for over four decades. This conversation touches on several aspects of his life and practice beginning with moments and events that led to and spurred his vocation as an artist. Some noteworthy anchors of the conversation include: the photographer as a wanderer; movement: being grounded while moving;  the act of “listening in”; the inner voice/inner eyes; photography and writing; analog photography in relation to digital; photography as a tool for the expansion of perspectives, but also for ordering and othering; the artist as activist; spirituality: beyond the material world; archiving, posterity, legacy; art and photography as life’s journey; “the young shall grow”: the future and the next generation. This conversation is a canvas upon which various layers of Akinbiyi’s valuable insights, wisdom and sensitivity, accrued over the years, are – true to his nature – unobtrusively stretched out. Are you curious as to who Akinbode Akinbiyi is? Are you an artist filled with unanswered questions about how to cope or stay true to your creative process? What about those who simply want to get a glimpse of how the artist, through personal experiences, weaves logic together by which he remains ever dedicated to his passion, profession, and vocation? This episode of NKATA is for you. Enjoy it! 
In this intro episode, Emeka Okereke – the host of the program – introduces himself as well as the podcast series. He gave some pointers as to what the podcast program will be all about. Watch out for episode 1
Comments (1)

CCbenji

This is brilliant. Subscribed and waiting for the podcasts!

Feb 25th
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