Fabric of Courage: Highlighting the Role of CBAAC in Propagating, Promoting Black and African Art 

Salon Africana, in collaboration with prominent African cultural organisations including the Centre for Black and African Art and Civilisation, CBAAC, recently hosted “The Fabric of Courage,” a groundbreaking multidisciplinary arts exhibition celebrating the historic Festival of Arts and Culture, commonly known as FESTAC ’77. Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that it brought to the fore the all important role CBAAC plays in documenting and preserving such valuable history 

The weight of the all important duty the Centre for Black and African Art and Civilisation (CBAAC) plays in preserving and promoting history and culture of Black and African Art, especially when it comes to the 1977 World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, commonly known as FESTAC ’77, recently came to bear at “The Fabric of Courage,” a groundbreaking multidisciplinary arts exhibition by Salon Africana. 

What has CBAAC got to do with FESTAC’77? Everything! Established by Decree 69 of 1979, the centre came into existence after the hosting of the historic FESTAC ’77. As an agency, CBAAC is expectedly saddled with the statutory responsibility of promoting and propagating Black and African Art and cultural heritage in its totality. 

This is because after its establishment, its statutory responsibility was to be a storehouse of all the materials, which constitute the core collections and those artefacts and rare cultural items that were exhibited during FESTAC’77.

The decision to handover these materials to Nigeria was to reinforce and build on the gains of the historic festival, hence the centre was established in fulfillment of Nigeria’s pledge to keep the materials in trust for the 59 black and African countries and communities that participated in the festival.

Thus, to effectively discharge this mandate, CBAAC holds arts exhibitions, cultural festivals, performances, conferences, public lectures, workshops, youth programmes and other activities that promote Black and African Culture in its totality both locally and internationally. 

Beyond this, it also has a library, archival collections and audio/visual library, an art gallery, a studio, and a Hall of Fame with varied collections of significance to Black and African Peoples all over the world. 

The centre also engages in other activities, which project the overall image of Black and African Peoples and enable their cultures to be appreciated globally. Statutorily, the centre is charged with the responsibility of preserving, promoting and propagating Black and African Cultural Heritage in its totality.

Through its numerous programmes, the centre has continued to contribute to the pool of universal knowledge on Black and African Peoples. The centre has a strategic mandate and plays a key role in making Nigeria the arrowhead in the preservation, promotion and propagation of African Cultural Heritage. 

The Fabric of Courage as Tribute to FESTAC’77 

Therefore for Salon Africana, it was pertinent to partner CBAAC seeing that the centre was interwoven with its quest to celebrate FESTAC’77.

So on a certain Sunday, Salon African in partnership with prominent African cultural organisations including CBAAC, 

African Artists Foundation, Chimurenga Magazine and The Africa Centre with generous support from the Mellon Foundation, hosted “The Fabric of Courage” at the Old Printing Press on Broad Street, Lagos, Nigeria. 

In its tribute to FESTAC ’77 exhibition, the outing featured works by renowned artists such as Marilyn Nance, Tam Fiofori, Somi Kakoma and treasures from the CBAAC Archive. It was afterwards opened to the public for free viewing of the curated works. 

Esteemed guests at the event ranged from Art Aficionados, writers, Jazz lovers, Nollywood stars, documentarists, art collectors and even federal and  government representatives. For CBAAC, its current Director General, Hon. Aisha Adams Augie, showed off her passion for all things FESTAC’77. 

Also present were Ayo Adeagbo, Special Assistant to the President on Arts, Culture and Creative Economy and Special Adviser for Tourism, Arts and Culture, in Lagos, Idris Aregbe. 

Curated by East African Grammy nominated vocalist, composer, and writer, Somi Kakoma, the evening kicked off with a poem by Nigeria’s Najite Dede, who read Audre Lorde’s Poetry is not a Luxury. 

Soon afterwards, Somi mounted the podium to belt out thrilling live musical performances with her international band comprising Otis Brown III, Toro Dodo, Philip Uzo and Ben Williams. 

According to the award winning vocalist, her “ongoing and deep dive into the archive of FESTAC 77 is the accidental happenstance of tracing the life and legacy of the great Miriam Makeba. I was particularly curious about why, on the long list of world-class artists and dignitaries who attended, she was often the only woman named. 

“After looking through thousands of images of named and nameless women who also participated, I discovered the true gravitas of FESTAC 77 along with the staggering archive housed in Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation right here in Lagos Island. No matter how much I tried, I could not look away.

“The Fabric of Courage aims to reconstitute a small part of the fragmented but vastly local, transcontinental, and diasporic archive of FESTAC 77 while exploring the ways in which the seminal event continues to reverberate in Africa’s cultural imaginary and historic sites of cultural production.

“I am deeply grateful to the work of featured photographers like Marilyn Nance and Tam Fiofori for maintaining and sharing their archives so that we might journey to that history more closely. This exhibition is about honouring Black cultural labor and the courage we find in the making of ourselves when we willingly choose to witness ourselves. 

“The archive of FESTAC 77- both the tangible and the ephemeral is a testament to that. It teaches us that the work is not about the ways we have forgotten it is about the ways we need to remember. it is for the past and the future. It is for the now. Let us continue to find ways to be a witness.”

Headlining the event, renowned American FESTAC photographer, Marilyn Nance, who was on her first visit back to Nigeria since 1977, also showcased her work from the acclaimed book “Last Day in Lagos” which was edited by a Nigerian lady, Remi Onabanjo, who is the Curator of Photography at Museum of Modern Art Museum New York. 

While serving as the photographer for the US contingent of the North American delegation, Nance documented more than 1,500 images, which has become one of the most comprehensive photographic accounts of FESTAC 77.

Also, Nigerian photographer Tam Fiofori’s imagery selections from the archives of CBAAC were also exhibited. 

To wrap up the evening, a panel discussion anchored by arts journalist Jahman Anikulapo, saw Marilyn Nance, Hon. Aisha Adams Augie; and former CBAAC DG, Prof. Duro Oni, dissecting the gains of FESTAC’77 and ways to ensure the momentum never fades. 

Afterwards in an interview with THISDAY, Special Adviser for Tourism, Arts and Culture, in Lagos, Idris Aregbe, who commended the organisers of the event, noted that we must understand our culture and tell our stories. 

Stressing that Lagos is always open to ideas and to partner with stakeholders to promote culture and tourism, he however said to carry the youths along, government and institutions must present arts and culture in an educative and entertaining format so they can compete with what they love to see either on their phones or on TV screens.

Hon. Aisha Adamu Augie’s Dreams for CBAAC 

During the panel discussion, the DG of CBAAC engaged all with the passion of what she is set to achieve at the centre. Although she would often appreciate the staff of the centre, it was also obvious she not just had figures and facts at her fingertips, but also workable plans that would double on what has been done so far, one of which was the partnership with Salon Africana.

In an exclusive interview afterwards with THISDAY, she said contrary to opinion that the CBAAC archives were laying fallow, a lot of researchers access it including from the international community. She however added that they are currently digitising the archives and are now at 30 per cent with plans to complete the remaining 70 per cent. 

But even with the huge task and the numerous challenges it portends, she acknowledged that this is a digital era and “the plan is to ensure that the whole of the world can have access to our archives. We are taking the thousands of tapes, over a thousand vinyl records, sound, photography, everything that came to FESTAC that was tangible, non tangible can be seen at CBAAC or at least you get the information on it and there are books and publications. We will definitely be doing more to ensure that the world has access to them”. 

On the need for collaborations as well as catching them young, she said for the latter, they are targeting the social media aspect as well as making it a not just a part of the university system, but also nursery and primary “because this history is important. The CBAAC history is not only concerned about the FESTAC story (we are talking countries like Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad, Madagascar), but you have items from every state in Nigeria in our archive. 

“These stories are so important to our history. It reminds us of who we were, where we are today and where we need to be and you can see, we are standing behind the photo of the National Theatre photo, which is even being renovated today and that aspect alone is going to increase and put value on our GDP. 

“We are looking at the Ministry of Art, Culture and Creative Economy. We are all working together as a unit. It’s not just individual digits doing their own thing. We are actually connecting with each other to see how we can strengthen each other’s mandate and also collaborate multinationals with the internationals. So we have a lot of work to do”.

Addressing the issue of funding to power her vision for the centre, she said as a creative, they always find a way. “As you can see, we have already started partnerships and collaborations as having events like this would bring out our work to the limelight. We are also going to work with donor agency and developmental agencies and partners. 

“We have a lot in store for Nigeria. For someone who has been a part of the creative and cultural sector, I’ve always been an advocate for the creative a d cultural sector in Nigeria. I think we would try as much as possible to tap into all these networks that we have to make things easier so it’s not just limited to funding. Because you can have all the funding in the world, if you don’t have the best of ideas, nothing will happen”.

Chiefly for the DG, beyond her initial short term dream to have FESTAC at 50, she wants a world class museum; for  some of these items to be showcased in other countries, moving around and having a travelling exhibition for other people to experience; and a training centre that would support young people that would want to do a lot of research.  

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