Sunday, 2 May 2010

From Kumasi to Bobo Diou Lasso

"Snow White and the 10 Dwarfs" photos of the group at Jirapa before border of Ghana/Burkina Fasso. Photo by Amaize Ojeikere

Morning breaks on the 3rd of May and it’s time to be on the journey to Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Fasso, We set off as early as 6am hoping to maximize the daylight hours. The morning is cool yet sunny. As we drive out of KNUST, a big yellow sun is rising over Kumasi. Only Charles Opo and Lucy are fortunate to capture it. We fill up our fuel tanks and drive through Suane out of the city. The sun is streaming down but is defected by the tint of Snowhite’s windows. We drive fast to maximize the daylight. Our target is to reach Bobo before dark.

The road has been repaired and is very smooth. Some of us hint that they would like to have breakfast “NO!”, bellows the Provost Marshall and Uche the Navigator, we must forge ahead; no meals till much later. Our Chairman concurs as well. The breakfast people recede into their shells maybe too weak from hunger to argue further. They wait. See akara, let’s buy some now o, before its too late o!, someone tries yet again. NO! again. The bus goes quiet. Some doze off. We reach Acromfo and the protesting voices rise yet again: this time, they have recruited more supporters. The Chairman reads the mood and insists we stop “right now” for breakfast. Relief. The team scampers out of the bus. There is a rice seller nearby. Uche, the Navigator, Charles the Provost, Ray Daniels, Emeka, Chidinma and Chriss swoop on her. I make a beeline for the akara seller joining Lucy, Unoma Amaize. The akara is sprinkled with an appropriate dose of pepper, is delicious and body warming. Some find something to capture around the environment.

We move on and reach Wenchi. The sun is bouncing joyfully off the leaves. We forge ahead to Arorya.We reach Kingya Krom. Suddenly, a little down the road, a family of about 10 antelopes dash across the road. Nike shouts, See, Bushmeat! See Bushmeat! Necks cringe to see, but the animals are f-a-s-t. It turns out that we are close to the Bui National Park. We approach New Longoro and Lucy and Chriss take over as the van comedians regaling us with funny tales spoken in Igbo. Bamboi. Bamboi! This is where we stopped for breakfast last year! A little way out of Bamboi, the road is being reconstructed. Felled trees, casualty of the infrastructural development line the sides. An orange luxury bus is taking a break to the right side of the road, just like last year. We note that the Ghanaian authorities are alive to their responsibilities to the citizens even to those who live in the hinterlands, quite unlike some other countries we know.

Maluwe, then Sigifura and the felled trees are tinged with amber, as though they bled when felled. The sun is high now in the skies. The road is smooth and sparkly. Nandos co????

We make a stop in Wa to refresh, fuel the van and convert our cash to CFA. Hamile is still ahead, some of us are apprehensive of the last stretch of the Jirapa -Hamile road because the last time we passed here, the tarred road ended suddenly and a dirt road appeared that stretched on for over three hours to the border. The rains have come and who knows if the road will turn to tyre-gripping mud? Our fears prove to be baseless. The earth around Jirapa is so thirsty; it simply guzzles all the rain leaving a dry wetness on the face of the road.

We sight an arch of two striking baobabs and decide to make a picture of the group here. A kindly villager asks if he should draw some water for us. We do a line up, a self portrait of the group . We view the picture. It is beautiful. Snow white is distant in the background. Nike christens the image Snowwhite and the ten dwarfs, because the baobab in the background dwarfs us.(See image above).

We move on and shortly we come upon a strange sight: a man dressed in what Nigerians call “complete Agbada” with shoes and cap, and holding a staff across his thighs, is seated high in a display stand facing the road. Green and orange fabric have been used to decorate the display stand, Nearby, a group of men are seated to one side, and much nearer, another group of women. We move past but something about the displayed man causes us to reverse to have a second look. Why is the man sitting so still? Then it clicks: the man is dead and this is a rite of his passage! None of us has seen this ever before. Immediately, Chriss says he would like to take a photo of the event. Lucy shrieks at the suggestion, “it wouldn’t be right!” Nike concurs. “That would be an invasion of privacy. A burial is a private ceremony”. Chriss disagrees, ‘We could have alighted, greeted them and asked for permission to take the man’s picture” “No!” bellowed Charlie Opo, our Provost, supported firmly by Uche, the Navigator. “We have no time for that! We must get to Bobo soonest!” Chriss continues to make his point in the bus: “But this may be our one chance to document this ceremony! What if the man is an eminent personality and this type of burial ceremony, is a rare cultural event?” “Too bad then”, injects Unoma. “You cannot get all the pictures you like, all the time, so live with it!” says Amaize.

The arguments go on for and against. In the end, Emeka mediates that the two camps are neither wrong nor right but that photographers must always be careful to respect people’s spaces. An agreeable conclusion. Silence reigns for the moment.

We move on further on the dirt road to Hamile. It is quite motorable and has been recently graded, in readiness for construction. Massacred trees, looking now like sculptural pieces continue to pay grudging homage to passing vehicles. We joyfully spot familiar landmarks. We are nearing the border! In a short while, we see the immigration building and our van comes to a stop.

Goodbye Ghana, Hello Bobo Dioulasso

40 minutes later, we pass the Goodbye to Ghana golden stool archway and enter the Burkina side of the border. We do the formalities, give the officials our postcards and posters and move on to get our "laissez passer". We renew our friendships made with the officers at the border and move on. Dusk is drawing nigh, and we drive for about 4 hours on the much improved road which a sign says that an European Union agency has helped build for the comfort of road users.

Unoma and Amaize are discussing photography. Unoma says that though she usually likes to do her darkroom work by herself, the generally poor quality of household water has been a challenge. Amaize suggest that she uses filtered water in the darkroom. Unoma says her worry is beyond the physical impurities; it is more about the chemical composition of the water which may compromise the archival quality of her negatives- since the best negatives are gotten through a thorough rinse with clean water.

Photography and Style

The discussion then veers into style in photography. Unoma says she is tired of the needless over-intellectualizing of photography and just simply wants to enjoy the craft and art. This makes the bus come alive. Amaize, Emeka and Charlie Opo express opinion variously with Lucy and Nike interjecting at an interval. Unoma and Emeka make the case that an artist should simply produce works that are true to his nature and not consciously pursue having a style simply for the sake of standing out or bowing to the prescription of the critics. All good works will eventually be noticed and their intrinsic style eventually appreciated and documented. For Amaize, an artist must be true to himself and whilst doing so, carve out his own trajectory. Even whilst working as Emeka has suggested, Amaize insists that the artist will eventually be marked out by certain tendencies; manner or ways, of doing/presenting his work and that would be termed his style. Charlie Opo believes that a photographer must learn the rudimentary laws of photography first, master them and then proceed to deviate from the familiar to etch his style. Uche holds the same view and roots for the breaking of the rules based on what the artist wants to personally achieve. Lucy believes that the discussants are all saying the same thing but in different ways. Nike believes that no particular approach is better than the other so, a photographer working blind but creating great work that impresses the critics must have learnt the rudiments of her craft informally, or unconsciously and will eventually be described and documented by the critics. All are agreed that contriving a style that panders to the dictas of art critics and curators in a bid to “achieving relevance” is dishonest and despicable of any artist. The animated discussions span well over an hour and shorten the road to Bobo.

Eventually, we reach Bobo Dioulasso a few minutes to 8.00PM, hook with the amiable photographer Paul Kabre who leads us to the agreeable surroundings and rooms of the Entente Hotel - our home for two nights and a day.

Our day in Kumasi

Kumasi. An ancient town with a tome of ancient history. Its numerous hills and valleys bring Ibadan, Nigeria to mind. Whenever “Kumasi” is mentioned, four images come to mind. The Asantehene, The Golden stool, Gold and David Darko , my colleague in Lagos who comes from this town.

When we arrived here on Friday night, Kumasi, we reasoned, was the place to stop and make pictures. Its scenic, historical and cultural and artistic advantages spoke for it. As we made a whistle stop at a petrol filling station to print a detailed map from an internet cafĂ© we spotted there, and enquire about where to lodge, two of us notice a vehicle that announced on its body “Anglican Hostel KNUST.” We enquire from the passengers about lodging at the hostel, one of them phones the place and they assure us of space and internet connection! We cannot believe our luck! A place to work and post our experiences within the secure precincts of the Kwame Nkrumah University, Kumasi. We make a dash for it, with thanksgiving.

Next day, as we discover the city, I keep wondering why David left this city for Lagos. Kumasi is the path of inter country journeying to Burkina Faso and beyond. Trailers, travelers and trade wind through its noticeably neat roads. Kumasi is cosmopolitan, with a rustic tinge; modern, but proudly cultural and down to earth. I observe a lot more people than I have ever noticed in Accra spotting their dramatically patterned authentic Kente or its print variety, draped across their chests. Perhaps it’s because today is Sunday? Or because, as we were to discover quite by serendipity, it is the 60th birthday anniversary of the Asantehene? Amaize, Unoma and I are in luck today; we get a chance to enter the Manhyia Place Museum grounds, venue of the lavish birthday ceremonies full of pomp and ceremony on our way from visiting the Almighty God. We drink in the environment. The palace grounds are throbbing with drumbeats and every imaginable colour of kente. A prominent Asante chief is paying homeage to the King in a dignified procession redolent with umbrellas, pageantry and a dramatic peacock headdress. Our spirits lift at the vibrancy of culture. We bow to the makers of great traditions. We frame the moments in pictures...

Banku Fest

Manhyia was right after our Bankufest in a little but decent ‘eatery’ and ‘drinkery’ in the Baba Yara Stadium area. Banku is the foofoo of the Ghanaians. It is made from cornmeal, salted, and eaten with a salad of tomatoes, onions, peppers and shinto sauce, and served with fried fish- in Accra, and Cape coast, but with delicious okro soup in Kumasi. In terms of the culinary arts, Kumasi’s fare seems more suited to our Nigerian palate than anything else we have tasted so far. Perhaps we haven’t been lucky to reach the food ‘hotspots’ of other places passed? We eat the Banku and freshly made “okra stew” with relish and second helpings. It is delicious and fiery with a dash of hot, blended peppers that we West Africans appreciate in our cooking. We are upbeat. Time to shoot the images! We decide to split into smaller groups and and head in different directions, the better to diversify the subjects our images.

"Baba Yara Stadium where Super-Eagles dared the Black Stars" by Emeka Okereke

Almighty God

Chidinma, Lucy and Chris head for an old motor park in the inner city that we discovered in Kumasi during our Nov 2009 trip to Bamako. Dan, Emeka, Uche, and Charlie Opo explore the stadium area, Amaize, Unoma and I go in search of Almighty God in Suane. Almighty God Workshop is across the road to the Suane Police Station. He is dark, tall and dressed today in a black and white lace fabric, the utilitarian type that doesn’t get in the way. His creations overlook the street in their sundry hues and textures. Others are hung around the workshop, many are finished, and some are in progress. Many bear messages that reinforce the concepts. There are a number of them warning people off smoking- the “ If I smoke , I will die” series. The eye is also recurring image in a number of the works, depicting inner sight, foresight, wisdom, and value. There is the mixed media image of Socrates. Obama stares at you with unnerving details in his eyes, and the Ashatehene sits under a shade, next to Obama in regal glory. Almighty God says, “The Billionaire”, a work in progress, will be the definitive work ever created. We gaze at it in wonder and ponder how it will evolve. The first question I ask is: Why did he name his workshop and gallery “Almighty God Art Works”? He used to be called Tony Artworks he said, but when he moved to Suane, another workshop named King Anthony Artworks was already in the vicinity who didn’t take kindly to the name conflict. So he simply changed the name to Almighty God Artworks. A simple route to dramatic name.

The Artist-in-Chief and Proprietor ironically called “Almighty God” for short, is Kwame Akoto who says has been painting for over 30 years. His tutelage was under two masters and he has himself trained over 600 artists. His three daughters Stephanie, Mary and little Beatrice are budding painters too. They show us their effort with pride. We have of course been clicking cameras, recording the effort of this man who is able to cross the invisible border of the mind to create works of artistic beauty. Shortly after, take our leave and hook up with our team near the Baba Yara stadium.

Disunity in front of Unity Hall, KNUST.

We head off to ‘the Anglican “our hostel. Some of us elect to stay around the university and create some work on the way. We are already impressed by the decent offer of accommodation to students as we have seen in our hostel and we are expecting to see more even commendable things during the drive-around. We reach a hostel that declares itself as Unity Hall. It is ensconced by an ancient tree with a network of roots hanging from the top to the bottom a beautiful piece of natural art. We click cameras to record it. The kaleidoscope of colors from clothes hanging from the balconies attracts Unoma. As she moves to click the beautiful display of colours, an eruption of voices gather from the several balconies and congregate in the courtyard, grumbling. She beats a retreat. “What’s wrong?’ We enquire, as she walks away from the courtyard towards us. ‘They seem suspicious” she says. What is there to suspect in making images of clothes hanging in beautiful array from balconies? Or of the wooded environment or of the striking Vodafone advert on display on the wall? We are still pondering this when a student lacking in social graces rudely beckons to one us with a flippant summon of fingers, accompanied by Ghanaian accented English,“cam”- this from a distance of about 25yards. She gives him a look over and asks him to ‘cam” also.

"Unity Hall" by Emeka Okereke

Unthinking aggression and brainless brawn then breaks from its leash, barking, charging, opening its eyes, widely, speaking threateningly about smashing cameras. ‘You tink you ken jest cam here end teik peples pictaz”? And why would we want to take your picture? Was the camera ever pointed at you or anybody in particular? Our cameras remain unimpressed and unintimidated and one of us makes that clear to him in succinct words. Next followed noise, bedlam, aggression from other members of his lounging-under-the-tree supporters club, threats and one of the greatest acts of unfriendliness, and rowdiness we have so far witnessed in Ghana. Soon, security officials from KNUST arrive and escort us to the University’s Security Post, in the company of students Gyan Yeboah and Twamasi, both members of the University’s judicial committee, who have also arrived the scene. There, we explain our innocuous mission, hand them our branded postcards and posters, refer them to our blogspot and get educated that it has become something of a high crime to take pictures of even KNUST’s public spaces without a written request to the Vice chancellor. It turns out that, unbeknownst to us, the students and its guardians have become highly suspicious of journalists having recently received “bad air play” from one of the local stations about a collapsed building which never collapsed. Even if we were Ghanaians, they said, we could have gotten locked up for breaching the regulations. They show us a 2008 circular that allocates charges for photography within KNUST - even during weddings ceremonies.

Clearly, we and our cameras had crossed an invisible border in the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi - a university established by the great Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, to foster Pan African ethos. It was however quite ironic that such vibrant disunity should have taken place right in the front yard of Unity Hall.

The security officials at KNUST (a lady and three gentlemen) are efficient yet civil. One of them narrates the incident to their big boss over the phone, and we are asked to leave our particulars- names and phone numbers, which we do. For good measure, we include our blogspot address. The big boss commands over the phone that we should be told to leave the premises immediately. We are glad to do so. We drop off Twamasi at Unity Hall, and the good mannered Gyan Yeboah at the Republic Hall, with thanks, as we head back to base. Gyan, Twamasi and a number of other students, who made genuine efforts to make peace, rather than escalate tension, are for us, the true champions of PanAfricanism at KNUST.

Images from Kumasi

"gloomy" by Emeka Okereke

"The cracked sign" by Emeka Okereke

"Highly flammable" by Emeka Okereke

"Game of Numbers" by Amaize Ojeikere"

"Untitled" by Amaize Ojeikere

"Culture Encypted" by Adenike Ojeikere.

Italic"Cash Man II" by Ray Daniels Okeugo

"Gbogbo Poster" by Ray Daniel Okeugo

"Stacks" by Ray Daniels Okeugo

"Finding Rest Series " by Uche Okpa-Iroha. KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Tech) Kumasi.

"Finding Rest Series " by Uche Okpa-Iroha. Anglican Hostel Kumasi.

"Kumasi IV" by Charles Okereke

"Kumasi III" by Charles Okereke

"Kumasi II" by Charles Okereke

"Kumasi I" by Charles Okereke

"Waiting For The Bus To Come In Kumasi" by Chriss Aghana Nwobu

"Keep Going, We Will Get There" by Chriss Aghana Nwobu

"Where Does It Really End?" by Lucy Azubuike

"My Leg...Am Not Complaining" by Lucy Azubuike.

"Confrontation" by Lucy Azubuike

"Pure Waste" by Unoma Giese

"The End Is Nigh" by Unoma Giese

"Spoon Fed" by Unoma Giese

"We Can't Wait II" by Chidinma Nnorom

"Plot 15 Block 5" by Chidinma Nnorom