(P012)
Dis/enchantment and the popular arts in Nigeria
Location SOAS Senate House - S108
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 16:30
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • David Pratten (Oxford University) email
  • Will Rea (Leeds University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Juliet Gilbert (University of Birmingham)

Short abstract

This panel invites papers that examine the popular arts in Nigeria. By engaging with a framing of enchantment and disenchantment the panel explores how performative and plastic arts celebrate and critique the signature features of the African petro-state.

Long abstract

How do the popular arts reflect a dialectic of enchantment and disenchantment with the Nigerian petro-state? In what ways do the popular arts celebrate its profits and politics, and critique its inequalities and injustices? Enchantment and disenchantment offer multivalent concepts from art, religion and politics with which to frame an investigation into the anthropology of Nigerian arts.

The conceptual dialectic of enchantment and disenchantment plays across a number of registers - enchantment in relation to the oil economy operates in terms of the magical state, and discourses of progress and excess. It relates to a moral economy of spiritual practices connecting to the fetishistic qualities of oil (Watts 2004). Enchantment also operates in Gell's (Gell 1992) sense in relation to cultural production and the 'technologies' of art offering a system of persuasion celebrating the existing patrimonial social order.

Disenchantment too is multivalent. It has a powerful conceptual lineage associated with rationalisation and secularisation (Bourdieu 1979). It can stand for critique, protest, and violence. It can mark a temporal moment - after-enchantment, post-boom, post-oil, eco-criticism. This contrast between enchantment and disenchantment finds a particular resonance in the study of popular arts shaped by the logics of an oil economy. How do the popular arts interrogate the spectacle, illusion, corruption and violence associated with the Nigerian political economy? Is the popular culture of oil a protest culture? Can we demonstrate the role of political ecology on cultural creativity?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Optimism and Hope in Epa-Type masquerade.

Author: Will Rea (Leeds University) email

Short abstract

This paper will offer a re-evaluation of the Epa-type masquerades of Ekiti. While much has been made of the visual impact of these masks, little attention has been paid to the actual form of the ritual (the exception being Ojo, 1978). This paper will detail the relationships of enchantment that surround the central figure of these festivals, the Imole (the Ekiti version of Orisha, as well as the practical politics of revealed town relationships. The central aim is detail the structural form of these rituals in relation to a wider moral economy of hope and anticipation.

Long abstract

This paper reviews the temporal structure of Epa-type festivals within the Yoruba communities of the Ekiti region. Often related to the past historical turbulence of this region, the paper seeks to understand the cultural specifics the might underpin what Guyer has termed the moral economy of hope. Guyer's attempt is to understand the parameters of optimism that she describes in Western Nigeria - here the attempt is to look to the ritual structure and material manifestations that may structure those parameters (at least in Ekiti). The bi-annual structure of the rituals, the petition to a very real material manifestation of enchantment and the sense of abeyance and anticipation all suggest an epistemological structure underlying the wider sense of everyday optimism that Guyer describes. This paper thus looks to the way in which an art history of particular material forms may intersect with a wider anthropology of the Nigerian condition; looking to the way in which 'enchanted' traditions still persist and inform day to day experience within the modern state.

Art, materiality and sociality: Incorporation, extirpation and contestation

Author: Charles Gore (SOAS) email

Short abstract

Following Evans Pritchards famous well-known adage that "People not only create their material culture and attach themselves to it, but also build up their relationships through it and see themselves in terms of it" (Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer, 1940, p.85), this paper considers considers three casestudies of how art and its materialities build up relationships, sometimes of mutuality; but also use them to extirpate social relations and thereby rewrite local histories; or to contest and destabilise them.

Long abstract

The first casestudy considers how in Benin City a local government area chairman is inducted into new social relationships that promise wealth for all parties; the second considers how the Oba of Benin removes some artefacts and destroys materialities to extirpate particular given social relations that have been presumed to underscore his kingshipand, and in so doing, rewrite local dynastic histories; while the final case considers how a contemporary modern artist in referencing the riverine conflicts of southern Nigeria in a visual art perfomance unsettles the exercise of local power and is incarcerated temporarily. In all three cases what is done with the art and its materialities has wider social and political implications within the Nigerian nation state where protagonists seek personalised relations to extend networks and to extract resources.

Fashionistas and Sartorial Fakery: Sewing shops and the enchantment of self in Calabar, Nigeria

Author: Juliet Gilbert (University of Birmingham) email

Short abstract

In Calabar, a city in southeastern Nigeria, young women lament the difficulty of buying fashionable clothes. The cheap ‘Aba-made’ and ‘China-made’ goods in the market are considered poor imitations of the real thing (‘UK-made’ clothes) and, sold in bulk, do not allow young women to stand out from the crowd.

Long abstract

Wanting to showcase their unique selves as prescribed by God – and to be known as a ‘fashionista’ – young women learn to sew. Doing so, they overlook the parts of the market that sell clothes for those that sell off-cut materials, and exchange factory-made knock-offs for their own creations that copy the sartorial designs of clothes found in foreign magazines, films and websites. This paper examines how young women in Calabar learn to sew in order to create outfits that allow what they believe to be their true selves to be revealed. As the discussion focuses on young women’s desire to be unique, it exposes the creative process that is contingent on knowing the balance between innovation and imitation. Compounding the insecurity that permeates everyday life, standing out from the crowd therefore requires a form of artisty that hinges on the tensions of authenticity and fakery, global and local, and revelation and concealment.

The Arts of Oil: The Cultural History of Port Harcourt

Author: David Pratten (Oxford University) email

Short abstract

This paper will examine what the popular arts tell us about understandings of African petro-states, resource curse, and post-oil futures.

Long abstract

Is there a popular culture of oil? How is the history oil - its production, pollution, profit and politics - inflected in Nigerian popular arts? Can we understand how the oil industry is perceived through the popular arts that represent and resist it? This paper will examine what the popular arts tell us about understandings of African petro-states, resource curse, and post-oil futures. Through the art, literature, and film produced in Port Harcourt, the urban hub of the Niger Delta this paper will explore localised and everyday ideas about enchantment and disenchantment, wealth and inequality, pleasure and pain derived from the oil economy.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.