Prologue I was born in Lagos – the former capital of Nigeria, just after Nigeria proclaimed herself an independent entity. This was a time my father was working as a cook for some Italian specialist, who handed us the eating-with-fork-macaroni heritage. My native village is called Ikot Ekong, meaning the family of warriors, located some 18 kilometers from the shores of the Atlantic ocean on the south eastern delta region of the country. My childhood memories harbor vivid moments of feats that would later be classified as artistic manifestations. Everything about Arts came to me so naturally: If my maternal uncle’s weaving of the cane baskets and chairs, or my father’s later being a photographer or even my paternal uncle’s love for hot jokes, were anything to be termed Artistic, these were only to be discernible to me later in life, when self-awareness would lead to analysis of the genetic concoction, that molded into substantiality that being that is now me.
I spent my childhood shuttling between the village and the slums of the then capital city- Lagos, thereby satisfying my father’s desire to see his children well rooted in their tribal soil. One such trip in 1966 to the village, sealed us for almost three years from our father, who was out there in the capital, when the Nigerian civil war broke out in 1967. Memories of village women returning from the farm, a constant sight as the African sun sets, were to later become a powerful source of inspiration and motifs for my creative Arts. My father’s being a photographer heightened my level of anthropomorphic appreciation; this would later give me an edge over other architecture students during renderings with human figures. My studies at the secondary school saw me presiding over an Arts club, in a college, that had no Fine Arts in its curriculum, and also saw me in the 4th form sitting externally for GCE Fine
Art exams and scoring a C6, for this subject, that I had never been classically taught. My parents wanted me to be a Medical Doctor, so, my gaining admission to the Polytechnic in 1981 to read Biochemistry, was seen as a stepping stone to this dream. One evening, I had strolled to the architecture department and stumbled on sketches scattered on the floor of the studio. I picked them up and exclaimed “Boy !,This is what I can do”. This moment changed everything in me. The next day, I went to the Dean of the Biochemistry faculty and told him I would love to change to the Architecture department. He told me I could only do that the subsequent academic year. I had to continue with Biochemistry till the end of the year, bearing with equanimity, the pains that the futility of my endeavor brought. I transferred successfully to the first year of Architecture the next year. My joy had no limits, and for the first time in my life, I could draw, and be formally assessed.
On completing the ordinary Diploma, and working in 1985, I got a scholarship to study Architecture in the then Soviet Union, completed my MSc. in 1991 and Ph.D in 1994. While in Moscow For the preliminary defense in 1995, I had brought along some of my paintings, and in a bit to raise some money for my up keeping, I visited several Art galleries. The interest they showed towards hosting my personal exhibition fueled me up. My Visa was expiring and had even no money to frame my works. I returned to Kazakhstan after three months and said to myself ‘if Moscow could recognize me, why wouldn’t Almaty’. This feeling flared my desire to hatch out as a full-fledged Artist. Six months later with the moral assistance of a one-time Kazakhstan Deputy minister of culture, I had my first Art exhibition, that I called “The Return”, seeing this as the return to myself as an Artist.
As I recall those days when mothers would all go to the farms with their young ones dragged along by the arms
My Humble Childhood
As I recall those days When mothers Would all go to the farms, With their young ones Dragged along by the arms And the little ones With their swollen stomachs Left to cry and play In their homes. I recall When we used to play Hide and seek. When ill-fed kids Would refuse to eat. I recall When heavy rains Would thunder on bamboo-leave thatched roofs. When sun rays would pierce through holes on the roofs.
When drips of water Would soak the mud floor wet And water tracks on the Muddy walls would remain. I recall the winds And I recall the flying roofs. I recall the fire-baked mud On the walls of the fire-place. How alluring it was For calcium deficient under-fed kids. I recall the pleasant taste And I recall the rebukings From grown-ups and mothers.
Southern Nigerians have a flair for names that have bearing on the days of the week; it is common to see people bearing Sundays, Mondays and Fridays. You could hardly hear somebody being called Saturday, Thursday
or Wednesday . This could be due to their absence in the constellation of the Christian Easter Holy days. However once in a while, you come across guys with names like Saturday, and you begin to wonder how bold, funny and unique their parents must have been. Some of my close relatives call me Sunday, that is to tell you I was born on a Sunday, three and a half months after Nigeria got her Independence from Britain. My mother, born in 1945 was just a little over 16 when she gave birth to me, in Apapa, Lagos, where my father had been working as a cook for an Italian expatriate. Memories of his second place of work at the European quarter remain so vivid in me. The large compound extending from the service road, dissolved at its rear end into the Apapa canal.
Conglomerations of fir trees created heart-pleasing shades, that protected people from the burning rays of the tropical sun. The murmuring sounds of the air movement under these shades, acted like sedatives inducing sleep in house workers, who had completed their shift, and just whiling away time in a social strata, where physical and not mental labor, occupied the very heart of existence. We would stroll along the beach in the evenings hooking and watching in the distance inexperienced white men and women, doing boat skiing; often falling off, and disappearing from my childish sight, than doing the actual skiing it was supposed to be . I would ask my mother, where those white men had vanished; she would satisfy my curiosity, telling me they had gone to the bottom to worship “mammy water”-,mermaids.