Monday, 11 October 2010

Invisible Borders 2010 at Kunsthalle Bern (Museum of Bern) Switzerland

Exhibition Title : Idea of Africa Reinvented
Opening Date : Friday 22nd of October 2010
Closing Date:  Sunday 5th of December 2010
Venue :  Kunsthalle Bern ( Museum of Bern) Switzerland

Participating artists of Invisible Borders :

Amaize Ojeikere, Ray Daniels Okeugo, Uche James-Iroha, Lucy
Azubuike, Charles Okereke, Uche Okpa-Iroha, Chidimma Nnorom,
Emeka Okereke, Adenike Ojeikere, Chriss Aghana

 Ghanian Flag by Charles Okereke (Courtesy IB 2010)

In November 2009, a group of ten Nigerian photographers, film-makers and writers travelled from Lagos to Bamako in a rented bus. They were planning to present a documentation of this journey at the 8 Bamako Biennial for African photography. Their trip was in part motivated by a desire to experience the “invisible borders”: borders with no geographic basis, unnatural borders that were arbitrarily created at some drawing board, borders that cannot be seen from a plane. The reality of border crossings – humiliations, bureaucracy, corruption and crime – can only be experienced if one attempts to cross the continent by land. Mere months after this first project, the Invisible Borders-team undertook a second journey, this time from Lagos to Dakar. Their destination was the Dak’ Art 2010, the Dakar biennial for contemporary art. The exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern features photographic, filmic and textual works from this year’s project. Invisible Borders operates a blog at:  http://

This exhibition is the direct result of the participation in a workshop and research trip earlier this yearby Philippe Pirotte (Director of Kunsthalle Bern) to Lagos, Nigeria, organised by CCA Lagos and funded by Pro Helvetia.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


They journey has been gruesome, tiring and most times, charged.  After doing almost 1,700km on the return trip and entering Bamako, the 'dwarfs' were a bit relieved by their entering a familiar terrain. The dwarfs contemplated whether they should continue the journey all the way to Ouagadougou or make a stop over at Bobo Dioulasso (both in Burkina Faso). The attempt to make a decision on where to retire for the day prompted another session of much frayed nerves.

The presence of a very caring 'dwarf' (Adama) resident in Bamako helped soothe the tension as Snow White waited patiently in front of the Bamako Tennis Club.  Soon, the dwarfs lost all sense of coordination and direction due to fatigue, and incessant arguments frequently ensued. The burning desire to see home was paramount so it somehow kept hope alive!!

The Bamako 'dwarf' knew he had to talk some sense to the bunch headed to Lagos and then led them out of town in the direction of Bobo Doulasso. Still without a consensus of where they'd end up for they day, they dwarfs drove off for the unknown destination led by fate and faith, knowing that some how, Lagos beckoned!

A silent chill enveloped Snow White as the dwarfs contemplated their fate.  The pilot, who had, until now been doing a fairly good job had now become marooned to the hilt by the excruciating distance he had covered coupled with a  malaria attack, but remained adamant not to let go of his steering. At some point, some dwarfs planned a 'mutiny' against him.  But he hung on. He must set a secret record for himself, some of the dwarfs deduced. This was his first time driving that distance through the West Coast. At least he'd have something to brag about back home.

With some lapses in navigation, Snow White ended up at the Sikasso border post between Mali and Cote d' Ivoire ( the original plan was to reach the  Mali/ Burkina Faso border) and the dwarfs pondered their next move.  Fortunately, this time around, the Malian Border Police had some good advice for them…” Woe is on you if darkness meets you here. You must leave here as soon as possible; any other minute spent here will cost you the services of a military escort to Koury, the next safest border”.  Time was running out and so was our money; the plan to reach Bobo became a mirage. To the dwarfs' understanding, the border between Mali and Cote d'Ivoire was volatile and rebels prowl the whole area. It wasn't the place to be; life is precious!

The dwarfs sped off to Koury, danger lurking and the fear of rebels became the beginning of wisdom for the dwarfs.  Snow White pulled up at the Koury border post in record time and everyone had their documents processed.  Time to move on, but the dwarfs Achilles heels and bone of contention set in again - arguments and more arguments!  One dwarf enthused, “we go to Bobo tonight”; others: “no we can't”; some others: “Bobo is just two hours away from the border, let's go there!”  Arguing now was a peculiar for them. It  raged on! 

As the argument increased, three dwarfs went in search of mats.  They had to book for 'mat spaces' (to lay their heads for the night) at the border.  The female dwarfs went in search of small comforts- like taking a bath, even if it meant their paying for it! Surprisingly, indeed miraculously, they found comfort and more comfort. Another female a resident at the border post, struck a friendship with them, offered all three of them bath, dinner, cold water, bed and breakfast! The male dwarfs had to fend for their food and sleep in the outdoors!

Gentlemen, welcome to the domain of donkeys.  As the female dwarfs settled in  near by apartment, the male folks - not as fortunate and privileged - got 'mat spaces' in the donkey's domain.  The night wore on and the hours stretched.  The male dwarfs tried to sleep and knock off fatigue, but it was impossible. Some couldn't find 'mat space' and had to join the pilot in Snow White's belly. The weather had another idea and dusty wind encroached for several minutes. The mats flews in different directions and the donkeys began to 'sing' lullabies. They were on heat!  It began to drizzle and the donkeys brayed some more.  It was a long tortuous night as the donkeys sang harsh lullabies to the dwarfs.  But animals don't sing lullabies-apart for once, when it was recorded to have spoken in Bible.

No other evidence was needed; this was obviously an invisible border the dwarfs didn't foresee.  A border that will hinder sleep.  This tongue was different, the language was not comprehensible. What was it that the donkey sang? A love song to a new company? Was it a protest for a sudden intrusion? Whatever it was, it was a night the dwarfs could never forget because it took 'donkey years' to end.  A night of a thousand lessons.  A night the dwarfs were humbled, A NIGHT IN THE DONKEY's 'DEN'.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Dirty Linens by Uche Okpa-Iroha

Ten photographers and a writer left Lagos on a quest supposedly “to save the west coast of Africa from unnecessary divisions of geography, trade and human interaction, using photography as a platform.” The region is full of potentials both in human capital, energy and God- given natural resources, yet in self-imposed shackles.

The photographers’ mission was herculean: prodded by the confidence of their last adventure to Bamako in 2009, they sought to break all the obstacles presented by the physical borders imposed - courtesy of our colonial masters in 1884. Aware of the unseen problems along their path, they christened themselves the “INVISIBLE BORDERS TEAM”.

They travelled by road .First, the BLACK MARIA that conveyed them on their maiden voyage to Bamako. Unfortunately, poor little BLACK MARIA is still convalescing somewhere in the capital of one of the West African countries…waiting to awake from her partial coma.

Now, a new beauty named, SNOW WHITE, was commissioned for the trip. She glittered under the African sun too difficult to go unnoticed. Racing past rusty towns, fine cities and remote villages, it looked fit and sound. The beauty, initially ignorant of the characters in her belly, became agitated. The occupants rumbled, fumbled and agiter (a French word from agitate). Sick enough, SNOW WHITE had her first purge in BoboDioulasso because the dwarfs’ (as the occupants now referred to themselves) linens had become very dirty. So DIRTY LINENS comically called “Dirty LINENS “had to be washed. The dwarfs became less by one: that one couldn’t stand it, was stretched to the limits and decided to ABANDON SHIP. What a pity!!!.

The dwarfs had choked SNOW WHITE with a lot of Iyalamiyas and Gbalagbala filokes (please read our earlier blogs for enlightenment on these peculiar terms). The space became so choked, it couldn’t contain them and consequently linens had to be washed in public! Yes in public! At several intervals.

In Africa, eras and epochs come and go, rise and fall. It was now evident amongst the dwarfs that the era of washing of DIRTY LINENS had just begun. SNOW WHITES thought-pattern had now become a bit suspect and warped: “Am I having engine fatigue or malaria” She asked? The hallucinations continued as the dwarfs washed more DIRTY LINENS in her belly.

Egos clashed and tempers flared. SNOW WHITE sneezed, coughed and became feverish but still, managed to coast along her trajectory targeting the 3142km that she set for her self. If only the dwarfs would wash their LINENS privately…

The dirty linens set us thinking: Are Africa’s problems due to DIRTY LINENS that are washed by the leaders and permeated to her people? Could it be that DIRTY LINENS were planned and instituted by the WEST to put the continent in some state of disunity, or are they self-inflicted wahala ?

“DIRTY LINENS” now become an INVISIBLE BORDER for the IB 2010 team as they zoomed into Dakar. Where have respect, dignity, love and camaraderie gone? SNOW WHITE was trying to rationalize this when two particularly close dwarfs erupted again in gbalagbala after a very pleasant dinner with one of our finest hosts in Dakar. The Eyfjallalokul (the Icelandic Volcano) could not compare to it. One threat after another lead to seniority and juniority claims which were now are tabled ungracefully before the other dwarfs. MR. CHAIRMAN had an onerous task before him. Thank God, he proved his mettle.

The IB team is still young, just in its second year, and expectedly, a lot of rough edges still need to be chipped off. The Invisible Borders Project is already turning into a beautiful bride, attracting a lot of suitors. The team is becoming more cohesive and focused. LINENS are a lot cleaner now as the very dirty ones have been already washed.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Images Of Dakar

"Nescafe Mobile" by Ray Daniels Okeugo

"A... Dakar" by Ray Daniels Okeugo

 "Posing Tree" by Ray Daniels Okeugo

"Super Hero X8 II" by Chidinma Nnorom

"Not Alone II" by Chidinma Nnorom

"All for You II" by Chidinma Nnorom

"Where Do You Choose" by Lucy Azubuike

"See the Sea" by Lucy Azubuike

"Flower Changed to Blood" by Lucy Azubuike

"Tyre Tire" by Lucy Azubuike

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Journey Through The Invisible by Emeka Okereke

For about ten days we’ve been on the road. Ten Nigerians – photographers and a writer, traveling across cities, towns and villages on the West of this beautiful continent!

When this idea first struck me sometime in March 2009, it came with a deep urge to experience the raw lands and diverse landscapes of the countries of Africa. Finally, this dream came through in November of the same year.

Today, here we are making the dream more and more real.

It has been an overwhelming experience, one that makes it inevitable to see ourselves as the proverbial guinea pig for an idea and vision we all share at different degrees.

I see it as a performance in which we are the performers, surrendering ourselves to uncertainty in other to ascertain the certain, leaving our chosen life behind for a one of fiction in other people’s reality, self-inflicted parenthesis of a sort.

Our physical and emotional limits constantly stretched.

Some are more elastic than others while one of us got to her yielding point halfway in the journey and took her leave back to Lagos.

This is social art

Like some cases in art creation, though the process might be a fiction, more like a staged act, the resulting experience is real.

It is this real experiencing that keeps me going when certain moments or incidents seem delusional.

When I see the end products of this project, namely: images, written materials, and numerous individuals met through networking, I can’t help but foresee the role this initiative will play in the reshaping of 21st-century Africa if only we remain consistent.

I have no doubt that this is a good thing. The question is: how good are we willing to make it?

Therefore as I sit at the front seat beside Sam the driver, watching the long roads which at some point seem infinite, reveal landscapes, villages towns and cities, I say to myself “Nothing is further than one’s determination to get there”.

No matter how far the journey is, it will reveal a destination!

One day we will look back and reminisce on how it all began and it will seem so far away.

As if the past too is infinite.

...And Then There Was DAKAR!

Kayes .Tambocunda .Dakar

Kayes (pronounced kai) is a transit town. It looks like a rural area that has been forced quickly to live up to new responsibilities; so that while a sturdy bridge leads into the town, and an Ecobank branch sits prettily on the road leading to the town, and mini satellite dishes and communication masts adorn the roof of some of its buildings, and one can spot vestiges of the colonial incursion into this city, and the town even has a rural radio station of its own, one will just as sooner find, untarred roads, ancient looking buildings with crumbling mud walls, grazing donkeys, open sewage and other icons of rustic living.

We enter this ambivalent town- rural, but not quite, modern but not quite- and begin to search for a hotel with Wifi. We ask around and are told that there is no hotel with an internet connection in Kayes. Unbelievable! We continue our search until we are directed to the shop of a Nigerian, Joseph- a polite young man. He is not there, but his wife is. She is preparing food on an open hearth right in front of her restaurant, but calls her husband to come to the shop. Some Nigerians are here. ‘Restaurant Africana”. Restaurant Africana‘s doors are painted in the colour of the Nigerian flag with “Nigerian Restaurant “scrawled on them. Chriss comes to inform those of us still waiting in the bus that,” if anyone wants to eat hot Eba, they had better come now”.

Joseph is on his way; but in the meantime, we get the chance to eat another round of authentic ‘home” food. Joseph arrives on his bike and we greet and him, introduce ourselves and explain our mission. Joseph receives us politely and offers to lead us to a suitable rest house. After a drive to one or two places, we eventually settle for the rest houses at the Rural Radio House on the Kayes Plateau, across the old train station. The building is a refurbished-colonial -type house with chunks of granite quilted together as walls. The roof is garrisoned with strong iron frames and the flooring is made of solid wood panels. It now serves as the residence of workers at the audio –vision project at Kaynes , with left over rooms hired to guests like us. Behind this colonial building are newer, modern bungalows serving the same purpose and nearby, the Centre for Media and Communication – a cyber caf√© overseen by Mike, an American working with the Rural Radio at Kayes.

Tales of the Unlikely

Mike was an unlikely surprise in the hot and hardy environment of Kayes. There he was greeting us respectfully, offering great customer service as best he could within all the inhibiting conditions of his environment Рpower trip-off in some of the rooms, water trip-off in others, and the underutilization of the cybercafé, plus breaking out in sweat because of the heat waves that keep Kayes as warm as a furnace, for several hours, even after sunset. Every observation we made, he said he would bring to the notice of the management of Radio Kayes. When we asked for water in buckets to enable our early take off from Kayes very early the next day, Mike personally fetched and delivered buckets of water to no less than of 4 us- and this well after midnight. His service delivery was quite impressive. Chriss noted aloud later, that the commitment to service delivery was an outstanding differentiator of European-American marketing culture.

The other odd surprise of our trip was Mark, a Londoner that we had found sticking out like a sore thumb at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Bus Park in Accra. On sighting him, I drew nearer to explore the phenomenon. It turned out that Mark was a Baptist Minister signed on to do 5 years of evangelistic work in a nearby church in the Circle area. He had put in two so far, and was selling socks to earn a stipend, to keep body and soul together, because he did not like to accept handouts. He said he was aligning with the biblical injunction that says “he who does not work, ought not to eat.” Asked if he would accept a token from one of us, he simply smiled saying there was no need for that as it would end up being given away by him anyway. An interesting fellow who seemed to have crossed the borders of needs and wants, Mark was still pretty human: he will be heading to SA in June to watch the 2010 World Cup, “just for a change” he said, smiling shyly. To have no needs, other than for the bare essentials, is an invisible border that many of us are unable to cross, as Mark seems to have done.

Next morning is Saturday 8th May, and we set off very early, determined to enter Dakar. We move fast though the road is not so great in parts. Kamankole. Danfanbougou, Dylla. Bongonou. Alatina. Dar es Salem. Same Oluf. In no time, we reach the Diboli border at 7.05Am. The regular trio disembarks to do formalities. They return 25 minutes later. The border boys were somewhat soliciting for the “usual but unofficial”, but our team explained that they wouldn’t be able to play ball. They explained the project to the officers. One of them asked perplexed: ‘You haven’t swept your own homes, and you are here, trying to sweep others’.

Chriss thought it was a statement on point, but some of us disagreed: The Nigerian government had set up the EFCC and the ICPC to checkmate corrupt persons and these agencies had recorded a measure of success, in jailing some high profile persons, - that was governmental ‘ home sweeping’. We also thought it already apparent that the Invisible Borders Project was in aid of “sweeping our homes.’ We made no concessions to our country’s officials at the border: we made it clear that we would give no bribes. Back home, we had already observed that unlike our experience during the IB 2009, laudable changes had been effected at the Lagos end of the Seme Border. The stubborn request for corruption money seemed been receiving good attention. As noted in our earlier blog, a public service announcement by the Nigerian Customs Service was now being loudly relayed at intervals ,urging travelers not to patronize touts, or pay illegal charges, and listing authorized agencies at the border. Uche remarked that the admonition was probably working: he recalled that he saw no one being openly propositioned, or unduly delayed in a bid to wrest illegal fees from them whilst conducting border formalities on our way out of Lagos- a departure from our experience in the preceding year.

The truth that we have learnt from our own experiences crossing the borders or checkpoints from Lagos, Cotonou, Lome, Accra, Hamile, Kouri, Diboli to Kidira is that if a West African has correct travel documents, and is not carrying contraband goods, s(he) can choose and insist on not paying a penny in bribes. Corrupt officials will have no choice but fall in line once they perceive that one is adamant about NOT paying, and will have no choice than to perhaps sulk, but definitely let them through. Our insistence on getting receipts for EVERY payment made at the borders certainly helped to checkmate all corrupt intents. In the end, we only gave our post cards and posters which were received with friendly and respectful thanks.

The task ahead therefore, as we perceive it, is for governments and civil society organizations, to educate, educate and educate, the general public on the need to apply for, and get their genuine travel papers; this done, they would be on a good footing to stand their grounds not to do any bribe- giving.

We breakfast at Kidira where trailers line the road, and then move on, to Fete Nimbe, and Gourdry, about 12 kilometers to Tambocunda where SnowWhite suffers a flat tyre. We change to the spare, and use that chance to take pictures. At 12 noon, we enter Tambocunda. We need to buy a new tyre so we hunt for a brand new one. Tambocunda tyre sellers have mainly second-hand tyres for sale. We are out of CFA and must find an ATM. It takes all of three hours to find and buy a good tyre, fit it, get cash, and move on.

At Sinthou Maleme, the road becomes shiny with well-laid asphalt. We drive past Kafferune where a Rasta-drummer is frenetically beating his drum to submission at a wedding ceremony. Gaily dressed people are in the streets, attending weddings and other ceremonies.

A waddle of pigs trundle across the road and the driver’s voice rises in exasperated disgust: ‘Nothing wey we no go see o! Even pig dey run cross road! ’ The bus erupts in laughter. Nike says that the road is an invisible border of which the animals are oblivious, so the poor creatures should not be blamed for crossing the road at will, or expecting vehicles to concede the right of way to them, a though they were royalty.

We reach Sibasso, and then on we go through Gamboul, Bill, Mbelo, Nguith, Kuer Alphas, to Factick. We have already glimpsed the sea and know that we will soon be in Dakar. We drive on to Mbour and eventually, we arrive Dakar, meander our way, in stops and starts, to the Centre Culturel Blaise Senghor and meet the cultural elite who have converged on the city from all over the world, for the 9th edition of the Dak’ Art Festival.

By Adenike Ojeikere

Images of Bamako and en Route Dakar

"Red" by Lucy Azubuike

"Well Welcome" by Lucy Azubuike

"National Colour I" by Chidinma Nnorom

"National Colour II" by Chidinma Nnorom

"National Colour III" by Chidinma Nnorom

"Interconnection" by Chidinma Nnorom

"Bamako,Mali 112" by Charles Okereke

"Bamako, Mali 020" by Charles Okereke

"Bamako,Mali 094" by Charles Okereke

"Bamako,Mali 083" by Charles Okereke

"Bamako - Dakar" by Amaize Ojeikere

"Point of Blur Series - fast than camera" by Emeka Okereke

"Point of Blur Series - Tree and a dozen of Malus" by Emeka Okereke

"Point of Blur Series - The Chariot" by Emeka Okereke

"Finding Rest Series -Bamako" by Uche Okpa-Iroha

"A Great Hero" by Amaize Ojeikere

"Part of a Journey " by Amaize Ojeikere

"Obama en Bus" by Ray Daniels Okeugo

"Orange Transfer" by Ray Daniels Okeugo

"Best Coiffure" by Ray Daniels Okeugo

"But We are Close...Light at the End of the Tunnel" by Lucy Azubuike.

"Untitled" by Adenike Ojeikere

"Dangling Lights" by Adenike Ojeikere

"Butterfly Dreams" by Adenike Ojeikere

The Last Frontier by Uche Okpa-Iroha

He left his fatherland to somewhere called Saudi Arabia (they said) it was for the "Lesser Hajj" and medical check up. Lo, it ended up being a National Health Crisis (they said it was acute perica-something) or whatever.

It became a national quagmire; Oh, poor Nigerians! As concerned as they were and cried to see their beloved RULER (correction, leader). He was announced dead by the western media…confusion and more chaos. Poor little countrymen boiled; had he been kidnapped? No, only “receiving medical treatment”. Could it be that he is still on the ‘LESSER’?

Some people used the opportunity of his absence to take over the country; put it right in their armpit (they said it was the CABAL). Yes the inglorious. Fire and brimstone let loose, and poor countrymen were disheartened.

Some people refused to obey the dicta of that big piece of paper (they said it is called our CONSTITUTION). Crazy people! Na wah oh! (As they say).

Day after day, week after week, month after month, finally our beloved RULER (sorry, servant -leader) spoke to a western media house, just for a few seconds (sorry, MINUTES).

More confusion and wahala. That group called the CABAL devised a plan, hatched it and more confusion (they said he is playing squash and jogging for 15 seconds (sorry again, 15 MINUTES).

A ray of hope appeared when some ‘tomato and lily-livered ‘Ogas’ and ‘Madams’ could not act. A Lioness, bold and fearless sprung up. She single-handedly saved the Nation. She spoke her mind. No ox was gored (but some cried LYNCH HER!). This Country na wah oh!

Coup? Coup? The CABAL took over the airport. With immediate effect, airport lights were lowered and Oga 1 is brought in under the cover of darkness. Haba!

Another twist to the whole macabre story then began. Haba! A country so blessed and endowed yet wallowing in poverty cried FOUL! Scheme after scheme, tact after tact, they plotted, but eventually, the CABAL collapsed. Oga-Madam 1 refused to vacate the PALACE but now has no choice. God na God.

Let me save you the time; I too am ‘FINDING REST’, crossing invisible frontiers hoping to make a difference.

The Country is moving forward again, hopefully towards GENUINE NATIONHOOD AND GREATNESS. Could this be THE LAST FRONTIER we have to cross as a people towards a unified, peaceful and prosperous Nation? I HOPE!