Writings of the general word's body

Monday, March 19, 2007

From Courage to Freedom

2007 is the bicentenary of the abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire and there are many exhibitions and related events ongoing, in commemoration and remembrance. From Courage to Freedom is one of them. Featuring West African artists El Anatsui, Romuald Hazoume and Owusu-Ankomah, the exhibition is at the October Gallery, London, until 28 April.

I took this image at the exhibition's opening event on 21 February. More pics from the event at the next blog update.

Funmi Desalu on Ugly Betty

It was a classic blast from the past three weeks ago, when during an episode of Ugly Betty, a friend I'd not seen for 9 years or so came swanning past on the screen. I was on a phone call at the time and screamed into the mouthpiece, "Ahhh!!! Funmi Desalu's on Ugly Betty!!!"

Blink and you'll miss her, but a few seconds was enough. When the hour-plus repeat came on shortly after, I took this blurry shot of a screen in constant motion. Ever had a friend you were very fond of but had lost touch with, and wondered now and then where they were? What they were up to and if they were okay? I've wondered the same concerning Funmi Desalu since she left London for the US in search of bigger modelling dreams circa 1996. She, myself and a number of mutual friends were once part of what I've called
"an impossibly glamorous pack of young Nigerians living in London known as the North West Set."

Born in Moscow to a Gambian mother and a Nigerian father, Funmi Desalu was/is tall, sophisticated and witty. She inspired a character in a short story of mine. I remember Funmi always used to laugh at the way I called an irritant male "a cretin". I've scanned the odd fashion magazine for some sighting of her over the years - and saw nothing. Until now. I guess I'm glad to learn my old friend is walking on the right side of fame.

In this episode of Ugly Betty (starring producer Salma Hayek and Vanessa Williams, who is astonishing as Wilhemina Slater), Funmi is credited for a non-speaking role, playing an assistant in a conference scene with Ugly Betty star America Ferrara. And in the following week's episode, it was a game of 'Spot Funmi' as she could be seen as one of the extras in the elaborate choreography of background office workers walking back and forth behind the main players. My curiousity piqued, I googled Funmi only to find that she's credited for a string of small roles as "Fumi Desalu" (somebody please put the 'n' back into that name! At least Ugly Betty got the spelling right). As a result, I'm now paying better attention to episodes of 'How I Met Your Mother' in case my old friend turns up one day as a 'bar waitress'.

Funmi's biggest turn to date would appear to be in Eddie Murphy's latest film, Norbit.

Unfortunately, it is the kind of film I absolutely detest, for the lavatorial humour that reaches only for the lowest common denominator. But most importantly, for the perpetuation of the disgusting stereotype of the 'dark' black woman who is so fat and undesirable no one in their right minds would want her. She is so ugly, even a man could play her convincingly on film.

Eddie Murphy (and Martin Lawrence - with his 'Big Momma's House' movies) has a made a career of raking millions out of this uneducated stereotype (I'll never forgive his twisted-mouthed African woman's: "Eddieee, what have you done for me latelyyy?" joke) which is harmful to black females. Murphy does this, while (1) his ex-wife and mother of his five children; (2) his contentiously pregnant ex-girlfriend Mel B; and (3) his current, joined-at-the-hip squeeze Tracey B Edmonds (Babyface's ex-wife) - are all very obviously mixed race - light-skinned black women; the opposite of the 'dark' black woman he lampoons mercilessly onscreen. And in this new film, the 'disgusting'-fat-mistake-of-a-black-woman is juxtaposed with the 'fragrant' female that Norbit-the-geek desires - and she's played by the obviously mixed race Thandie Newton. Need I say more?

It was really good seeing Eddie Murphy challenge the viewer's expectation in
Dreamgirls, a film in which he is really, really good. But any goodwill he garnered for that role is destroyed by Norbit. I'm glad he didn't get that Oscar.

But look at me! Talking about my delight at seeing a long lost friend on an international hit show and getting bogged down with the colour politics of a movie! After all, it's only a movie, isn't it? No, it's never really only a movie. But I respect the fact that Norbit was good payday and another notch in Funmi Desalu's resume. Writers have to work strategically sometimes too - some you do for love of the art and some you do for god-knows-what. And for this reason, I shall put myself through 2 hours of excruciating 'humour' - and pay for a ticket to see Norbit - just to see Funmi Desalu for a few minutes on that big screen. That's what old friends are for, I guess.

And I look forward to the day I see Funmi in the flesh, again.

New Reads

In Muthoni Garland's Of Love and Insects, published in the current issue of Per Contra, Doreen needs extra time off work in order to deal with the challenges of a family devastated by AIDS. And she struggles with a crippling preoccupation with insects and contagion.

Here's an extract
The black dots on the carpet reminded her of long-ago helicopter beetles. When she and her brother, Caleb, had caught the fat black lazy fliers, they tied the legs with string. And raising skinny arms, they twirled the beetles around and round buzzing like helicopters. Caleb and Doreen stared up at the blur of insect and string until it seemed the sky was closing in, and God, the God of Sunday school – oh be careful little hands what you do - would knock them on the head. And laughing for all of Africa, they’d fall to the ground, onto that worn dusty clearing, dizzy and uncaring that Mama would scold about their filthy clothes, especially her, the eldest daughter – Yawa nyamama!, and make them scrub their bodies with loofah.
- Read Of Love and Insects in full.

Muthoni Garland, a Kenyan writer
shortlisted for the 2006 Caine prize, has strong Nigerian connections. You can also read another short story by her - The Obituary Man - in Kwani?

Jude Dibia's Unbridled

Who was this man? My mind screamed. This was certainly not the sweet man who loved black people and who wanted to have an African queen to be his bride. This could certainly not be the man who courted me all these months.
He walked to the dresser and gave it a big kick. I jumped slightly in fright and stared at his back. I could hear his deep breathing from where I sat.
“You women are all the same,” he said, turning round to look at me. “You always want to change things that need no changing.”

The above is
an extract from Jude Dibia's second book, Unbridled. The author of Walking With Shadows describes the new novel as "a psychological look at the power relationship between men and women, fathers and daugthers, strangers and lovers told from a woman's point of view."

Unbridled is out next month.

Anatomy of a Woman

Nollywood star Stella Damasus-Aboderin stars
in Wole Oguntokun's play, Anatomy of a Woman
is at the Muson Centre, Lagos,
on Sunday 25th March @ 3pm & 6pm.

Habila & Sontag

In Saturday's Review section of the UK Guardian, novelist Helon Habila presented his rereading of Sam Selvon's The Lonely Londoners, which centres on the experiences West Indian immigrants in 50s Britain.

Habila's second novel, Measuring Time, is published is published by WW Norton.

~ ~ ~ ~
Still on the Review, the late Susan Sontag, in an essay written before she died, discusses the novelist's task.

Hear her - "I'm often asked if there is something I think writers ought to do, and recently in an interview I heard myself say: "Several things. Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world." To that she added, "Be serious".

Fittingly, Sontag's son, David Rieff pays tribute to his late mother, discussing "her almost devotional insistence on never missing a concert, an exhibition, an opera or a ballet was for her an act of loyalty to seriousness, not an indulgence, and a part of her project as a writer, not a taste, let alone an addiction."

Sontag was torn between her yearning to work on her own fiction, and a sense of duty to write about other writers. "And yet when I asked her once why she had devoted so much time to making essayistic cases for writers ranging from Nathalie Sarraute at the beginning of her career to Leonid Tsypkin, Halldór Laxness and Anna Banti in the year she got ill , what she once called "the evangelical incentive" she spoke of as a duty, whereas fiction writing alone had brought her pleasure as a writer. But she was never able to think of herself as a writer alone, and in the essay on Banti she speaks of "militant reading." It was that militant reader, or, as she put it elsewhere, the would-be "world-improver ", I believe, who wrote most of the essays, while the fiction languished."

Some months ago, I blogged about
Annie Leibovitz's own 'tribute' to Sontag - a project of unrestrained bad taste masquerading as love, in which the famed photographer published intimate pictures of Sontag, including some showing her in varying stages of nudity. Thank heavens for Rieff's touching son's tribute and Sontag's own words which will continue to find their way to us. This is how one would wish for Sontag to be remembered.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Remember Chima Ubani

Friends of Africa presents...

A Tribute to the late Chima Ubani

Room G50, School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS)
Thornhaugh Street , London WC1

Saturday, 17 March 2007
2pm - 5pm

Join us on Saturday 17 March as we celebrate Chima's life.

At the time of his death Chima was the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) where he worked for 15 years. A committed human rights activist, Chima was remarkable for his unwavering dedication to social justice for ordinary Nigerians. Since his university days, Chima has been actively involved in shaping political events in Nigeria . He held a number of key positions: general secretary, Campaign for Democracy (CD), 1992 – 1994, joint secretary, United Action for Democracy (UAD), 1997 – 1998, general secretary, Democratic Alternative (DA), 1994 – 2001. He will long be remembered as a skilled and effective mass organiser and strategist.

He co-ordinated a trip of a representative from the African Liberation Support Campaign (ALISC) based in London to Nigeria in 1994. His last few months were taken up with coordinating the response to another increase in the price of petrol introduced by the federal government. Plans included the organisation of 16 rallies across Nigeria . Chima was killed in a car crash on the way back from a rally in Maiduguri on 21 September 2005. His untimely death is a terrible loss for his family and a huge blow to the movement in Nigeria .

Remember Chima - Programme & Guest Speakers

  • Dr Raufu Mustapha - Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University , talks about Chima and the context of his political intervention in Nigerian politics;
  • Dr Paul Okojie - Manchester Metropolitan University , School of Law , talks about The Challenges for Nigeria;
  • Dapo Awosokanre - Formerly of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria (CLO);
  • "Chima in pictures" - A slideshow of photographs of Chima at work and with his family;
  • "Chima speaks" - Film footage of Chima in Nigeria;
  • Dike Chukwumerije - A Poem for Chima;
  • A time to remember - Messages from Chima's friends, colleagues and comrades.
Info - Email: friendsofafrica_ soas@yahoo. co.uk / Tel: 07984-405-307

Press Statement

A Tribute to Chima Ubani

The late Chima Ubani, foremost pro-democracy activist and former Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) will spring back to ‘life’ on Saturday, 17 March, at the University of London.

On that afternoon, Friends of Africa, one of the students’ societies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a college of the University, will pay tribute to Chima with a programme of events including talks, poetry reading, and filmic and photo presentations – all celebrating the life and work of this incomparable Nigerian. The event is being coordinated by Eki Gbinigie of the African Liberation Support Campaign Network, (ALISC Network). Guest speakers include Dr Raufu Mustapha, a lecturer in African Politics at the University of Oxford, Dr Paul Okojie who teaches law at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dapo Awosokanre, formerly of the CLO.

‘Chima in Pictures’ will present photographs of Chima at work and with his family. ‘Chima Speaks’ will offer those who were not privileged to meet him while he was alive a rare opportunity to hear the late activist in film footage. Dike Chukwumerije, a rising Nigerian poet in the United Kingdom, will read poems dedicated to Chima. There will also be messages and eulogies from the late activist’s friends, colleagues, and comrades.At the time of his death in a car crash on 21 September 2005, Chima Ubani was the Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Nigeria’s premier rights advocacy group. He had worked in CLO in various capacities since 1989 when he joined the organisation after his national service, eventually to take over from Mr. Abdul Oroh as Executive Director in 2003.

But Chima did not restrict his labours on behalf of Nigeria’s oppressed and downtrodden to CLO. Indeed, he had begun his work as an advocate for civil rights and political liberty at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in the mid 1980s where he was General Secretary of the Students Union. To this day, UNN students and alumni remember that period in the university’s political history as the ‘golden years’ and the name ‘Chima’ is synonymous with vibrant, honest and dedicated politics committed to enhancing students’ welfare. Chima also brought this dynamism to bear on the wider Nigerian universities student body, playing a key role in the 1989 nation-wide students’ protest of General Babangida’s punishing Structural Adjustment Programme.

Chima was actively involved in shaping political events in Nigeria, a country he loved almost to distraction. He held a number of key positions: general secretary, Campaign for Democracy (CD), 1992-1994; joint secretary, United Action for Democracy (UAD), 1997-1998; general secretary, Democratic Alternative (DA), 1994-2001. A mass organiser, political thinker, and strategist of the finest pedigree, Chima brought humour, empathy, and the common touch to the difficult and often dangerous work of rousing ordinary Nigerians to stand up to their military oppressors.

He was harassed, calumniated, and detained by Nigeria’s unaccountable rulers several times during his career. But not for a single moment did he give in to despair or anger towards his tormentors. Indeed, he radiated love and optimism, focussing only on the brighter side of things. Chima always insisted that that there were no political ‘enemies’ in the struggle to win liberty for Africa’s oppressed, but only opponents, who, he was convinced, would change their ways when they were properly educated about the beauty of democracy, human rights, and life more abundant for all.

Chima Ubani’s last months on earth were taken up with coordinating the response to another increase in the price of petrol introduced by the Federal Government. Plans included the organisation of 16 rallies across Nigeria. He was killed in a car crash on the way back from a rally in Maiduguri on 21 September 2005.
It is often said that individuals may make history, but that ultimately, important political victories are the handiwork of people and social movements. This may be true, but exceptional individuals make a most valuable contribution as their complete dedication, honesty, and leadership skills fuse people together to achieve these victories.

The late Chima Ubani was one such exceptional political leader. It is therefore fitting that tribute is being paid to a life lived for others at the University of London.

Dr Ike Okonta
Department of Politics
University of Oxford

For and behalf of:

The Organizing Committee, Tribute to the Late Chima Ubani.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chika Unigwe... Litfest, New Read

Chika Unigwe joins other African writers including Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Tsitsi Dangambga, Doreen Baingana, 2006 Caine Winner Mary Watson and many others - at this year's Time of the Writer Festival. The festival on in South Africa from March 19 - 24.
~ * ~
Staying with Chika Unigwe, this week's new read is from her pen. In Efe, a young woman discovers the downside to dallying with an older man - the hard way. Here's an excerpt...
Efe was 16 when she discovered sex at the back of her father’s house. That first experience was nothing to write home about. She had no notion of what to expect, yet she had not thought it would be this lackluster. She felt somewhat cheated, like a child who had been given a coin that ought to be all shiny, but had turned out instead to be black with rust. She remembered nothing but a wish that it would not last too long and that the pain between her legs would be very well compensated for. The man who held her buttocks tight and swayed and moaned and was responsible for all that pain was 45. He was old. Experienced. But most importantly, he had money that was rumored to be endless. He had promised Efe new clothes. New shoes. Heaven. Earth. And everything else she fancied between the two as long as she let him have his way. “Jus’ tell me wetin you wan’, I go give you. I swear! You don’ turn my head, dey make me like man wey don drink too much kai kai. I go do anytin’ for you. Anytin’!”

Happy 60th, Osundare!

The poet who faced the Katrina and lived to tell the tale in a verse or two, Niyi Osundare - is 60.
And here's a post that's better late than never. Celebrations have been ongoing for several weeks marking the birthday of this great poet.
This flyer left announced an event as recently as last weekend.
Many Happy Returns, Osundare.

Writer in Detention




The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Kaduna State branch is deeply disturbed by the inexplicable and unjustified detention of one of its executive officers, Mr Friday John Abba. The above mentioned has been kept incommunicado, without access to legal representation and contacts with members of his family and associates by the State Security Service (SSS) over a period of one month.

This situation is even more worrisome taking into consideration the fact that we are in a democratic dispensation where all arrests should be within the ambits of the law. Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria in sections 35-36 and ancillary portions has clearly provided for the modicum of basic human rights of all persons in the custody of the security agencies of the state.

The association is a law abiding one and like most bodies of its kind around the world, has been working as a change agent toward a sound democratic state where the rule of law is sacrosanct. We therefore appeal to the relevant authorities to take necessary actions towards the release and the reuniting of Mr Friday John Abba with his family in the shortest possible time.

ANA-KWL SECRETARIAT; Kaduna State Library.

Email: Kadunawriters@yahoo.com, sakkyjojo@yahoo.co.uk

Chimamanda on Richard & Judy

Apologies, gentle blog readers, for my having been away. I've startled myself awake to catch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Channel 4's Richard & Judy earlier today - the author made me watch the show for the first time in eons - and the feature was a sumptuous affair. To compensate for my having been away, here's a pictorial of the impossibly photo/telegenic author of Half of a Yellow Sun.
- Wordsbody.

Chimamanda on Richard & Judy 2


Richard & Judy called Half of a Yellow Sun "a Nigerian Gone With The Wind". Adichie herself discussed the historical background to her second novel and briefly introduced her characters. Rageh Omaar (Author and former BBC correspondent lately with Al Jazeera) and actor Brian Cox (Braveheart, Troy) came on to discuss Half of a Yellow Sun, which they praised to the high heavens.

As this week's book in the Richard & Judy bookclub, Half of a Yellow Sun is one of 8 books so honoured this year. All the books are in the running for Richard & Judy's Best Read of 2007. The winner will be announced at the Galaxy Books Awards, to be shown on Channel 4 on Saturday 31st March. Adichie (seen in one of these pictures with her parents) will be flying into the UK for the awards.

Love Half of a Yellow Sun? Vote Now.

Chimamanda on Richard & Judy 3

Members of the Walsall Library Black Reading Group got in on the action, telling viewers about the impact made on them by Half of a Yellow Sun. This man below, said he came from the Biafra region; this woman chose Ugwu as her favourite character in the book.