NKATA is an Igbo word from the language spoken by the Igbo people of Nigeria. It simply means "Conversation". Thus this podcast series will feature conversations with selected individuals (artists, cultural operators, and creatives) whose work I have known – some over many years and others, a little less so. What sets them apart is that I consider them and their works to be compelling, engaging and relevant to the time. The idea of this podcast is to have in-depth but also accessible conversations about who these individuals are, their life’s journeys and how this translates into their vocation as creative people. Conversations will depart from exploring the background of the artists' personal history while meandering through key themes, positions, and ideologies central to their works. Each episode will feature one conversation with a selected artist. Emeka Okereke (Host).
EP12: "We are workers of the Spirit". Nkata with Koyo Kouoh
The 12th episode of Nkata Podcast: Art & Processes features a conversation with Koyo Kouoh.
Koyo Kouoh is a Cameroonian-born curator. She is a leading figure in the Contemporary art world. More specifically, she is one of the pioneers who helped shape and articulate contemporary art practices from the African continent and beyond. Her work is rooted in community and institution-building through collaborations. She is the founder of RAW MATERIAL COMPANY, an art space in Dakar that promotes critical thinking and knowledge production through artistic activities. She is currently the Executive Director and Chief Curator of Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town.
Her work spans geography in a tentacular manner and no given order. So, suppose one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century is the limitations that come with mapping and shaping of the borders of the world. In that case, she is one of those remapping and tangibly affecting culture through her movement and way of being in the world.
The podcast conversation starts with Koyo recounting her earlier days. Then, prompted by Emeka Okereke, she dwells extensively on the experiences that propelled her towards her vocation as a curator.
She speaks of her encounter with Toni Morrison's Beloved, the birth of her son; her work as the editor of the German version of Magaret Busby's Daughters of Africa (1992), and meeting of the late avant-garde Senegalese artist Issa Samb. These encounters – layered unto her upbringing (having been born, raised and "bathed in the care of extra-ordinary women") in Cameroun before moving, with her mother, to France and Switzerland at the age of 13 – served as the earliest compass in a world and discipline that she would eventually help forge.
Yet, throughout the conversation, Koyo reiterates the half-truth of merely understanding her work simply as a curator.
"This is not a job. We are workers of the spirit".
The conversation meanders through myriad recollections of Koyo Kouoh's trajectory while elaborating on how they feed into her professional practice.
"I believe in Professional Genealogy".
Faithfully keeping steps with her pace of thoughtful word choices, the conversation makes a running thread from Koyo's dedication to her relationships with artists and young professionals and how that has shaped her notion of institution building.
Koyo's words are a beacon, just as they are a backbone, for artists and art practitioners interested in the wealth of hindsight.
If not for the nuggets of wisdom scattered across the length of the episode, let it be for her concluding words when she speaks of her responsibility in managing a 9,500 square metres space as the Director of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Arts in Cape Town. It exemplifies the disposition Toni Morrison refers to as "Careful Optimism". In other words, we do this for joy. We do this for hope. We do this for posterity. There is nothing to prove beyond that. Yes, the work is cut out for us. Yet, the possibilities of our agency and subjectivity are humbling as much as they are empowering.
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Bonus: Welcome Message to Paid Subscribers
A short message from host and producer, Emeka Okereke to (paid) subscribers. We look forward to making this journey with you.
EP11: "We were brought up to strive for Eloquence". Nkata with Olu Oguibe
Olu Oguibe (b.1964, Aba) is a Nigerian artist and academic living and working in the United States of America. He is one of the foremost scholars of his generation whose work constitutes a pillar of what we now know as Contemporary African art and post-colonial studies. Since 1988, he has saddled a rigorous and prolific artistic practice as a visual artist, writer, curator, professor and art historian. Put succinctly, a credible account of the history and trajectory of Post-colonial/Contemporary art from Africa and the Diaspora is unimaginable without referencing the work of Olu Oguibe.
In conversation with Emeka Okereke for the 12th Episode of Nkata: Art & Processes, Oguibe relives his childhood days growing up in the East of Nigeria. He credits his artistic inclinations to the peculiarity of his childhood upbringing and the circumstances into which he was born. Like James Baldwin or Fela Kuti, Oguibe was born a preacher's son. In the same vein, his birth preceded, by just three years, one of the most defining wars of independence struggles in the 20th century: The Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967 - 1970.
The two hours long conversation takes, as a marker, three poems from the book, "I am Bound To This Land By Blood" – an anthology of poems by Oguibe, written over 25 years. This anthology could easily be considered a sojourner's handbook. To say the least, it lays bare some of the thoughts and emotions underpinning the condition of Exile. It allows us a glimpse into visceral yet convoluted experiences of Patriotism, Love, Conscience, Self and Home(lessness).
The poems set the premise for delving into anecdotes and recollections upon which Oguibe's lifelong preoccupation threads.
He comes full circle when he insists that, all along, his has been "a search for eloquence". However, he anticipates a misreading here by grounding this notion of eloquence in the Igbo cosmology and artistic aesthetics as embodied in the works of Obiora Udechukwu and Chinua Achebe.
The conversation is riddled with references to pioneers who, working in the 20th century, paved the way for the 21st. Each name referenced is a door of history opening out to divergent trajectories. We encourage the listeners of this podcast to further research the practices of all those referenced. The tapestry of history is rich and multilayered!
The podcast is marked with timestamps to help the listener navigate the conversation.
0:00 – Early days, Family home, being Biafran and Nigerian.
10:15 – I am bound to this land by blood. The prophetic vision.
36: 40 – Conscience as a sojourner's totem
49:50 – Do Not Forget where you come from/ new Diaspora.
59:00 – The disposition of those who came before us.
90:30 – In Search of eloquence from earlier to recent body of work.
97:20 – Love, Self-love, The Road, Home(lessness).
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EP10: We are trying to remember the future and rewrite the past. Nkata with Qudus Onikeku
In episode 10 of Nkata: Art & Processes, Emeka Okereke is in Conversation with Qudus Onikeku (b. 1984, Lagos), a Nigerian contemporary dancer, performer and Choreographer. He has been active and consistently prolific since 2004, so much that one cannot knowledgeably talk about the practice and evolution of contemporary dance in the 21st century without stumbling on the name Onikeku. As with many notable artists who came of age at the dawn of the century, he embodies the belief that art is only as important as what one can do and change with art.
This long-form conversation builds on the cordial, professional and collaborative relationship between the two artists dating back to their encounter as art students in Paris in 2004. It is a reminiscence of how much of the longs hours of exchanges on ideas, concepts, urges and dreams have coalesced into tangible forms and methodologies today. In this episode, we get a sense of the fundamental beliefs that, over the years, have stacked up to form an indomitable propellant for this tirelessly itinerant artist.
“It was already by then that I realised that freedom of expression is not free”.
He starts with his childhood days, and how growing up in a polygamous home taught him one of the first lessons that would be crucial for his artistic practice: co-existence. The only way to walk towards a sense of self and freedom is to allow space for others to express their freedom as well.
Much of the conversation dwells extensively on the complexness, language and constitution of the body as with when he says: “There is something divine about dance and this whole conversation about the the body. Our body is the house of everything”.
All through, Onikeku manages to ground his inferences on his knowledge of the Yoruba cosmology. His delineation of the connection between image, performance, remembering and reincarnation in this regard, is one of the most vivid and picturesque illustration of this relationship which is often at the heart of any visual art-making.
The overarching premise could be surmised in this reference made in the course of the conversation:
“Bob Marley said “We have to fulfil the Book”, but now the book has been shattered, thorn into pieces and thrown into different parts of the world. To gather that book together [to articulate, to re-imagine history], you must be attentive. You must be observant, you must see with your inner eyes.”
Here, we return to the dispersal, the truncated cartography, a damaged, disparate and multi-contextual world within which our proactive movement engender its healing and, in turn, the restitution of consciousness.
When Onikeku speaks of the “wholeness of consciousness”, he speaks of a possible culmination of the Fanonian human being – those whose struggles, grit, defiance are transformed into a celebration of the imagination rather than an indictment. In other words, “we are trying to remember the future and rewrite the past.
Duration: 103 mins.
Host: Emeka Okereke
Guest: Qudus Onikeku
Production: Atelier E.K Okereke / E.O Multimedia
Photography: Kayode Oluwa
Listen on: nkatapodcast.com
Also on: Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Overcast, Deezer and more
Join our community of Patrons: nkapodcast.com/patreon
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EP09: "Water will always find its crack". Nkata with Ahmet Öğüt
Ahmet Öğüt (b.1981, Diyarbakir, Turkey) is a conceptual artist living and working in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He works with a broad range of media including video, photography, installation, drawing and printed media (Wikipedia)
In the 9th Episode of Nkata: Art & Processes, Emeka Okereke and Öğüt discuss the concepts and thought processes behind his work. Ogut is what one might call a peripatetic artist – an artist whose practise relies on constant displacement from one location to the other. It also involves an interplay of myriad mediums and materials.
Captured succinctly in the podcast is one of Öğüt’s ethos: artworks have afterlives; as such, they must not be isolated from their destiny. This reference to the animateness of art is further deduced from his belief that between art and life, there are no boundaries.
Although Öğüt had dreamt of becoming a renaissance painter, he ended up as a conceptual artist – a catch-all designation that does more to contain his ever-evolving and metamorphosing process than capture its entire scope. Weighed against his prolific artistic production, it comes as unconventional that he has no studio. His works begin from a concept and make their way across detours of unpredictability, ending up in exchanges and negotiations involving collaborators and host institutions.
You will appreciate his insight and detailed expounding of the importance of negotiation. As if that, in itself, is an act as much as an art. He is an intervener, and he allows himself to entertain the myriad forms and turns which the term “artistic intervention” could take. As such, his work is replete with metaphors, satires, sarcasm and paradoxes, all intersecting as if to suggest crossroads in subversive cartography. Yet, it is not always about objects. On the contrary, Öğüt begins the conversation by underscoring the fact that much of his work is inspired and materialised through encounters and collaborations. It is no wonder that, counted amongst his artistic outcomes, is The Silent University, which he passionately discussed in the podcast.
When asked by Okereke about what informs his displacement and way-of-being in the world, Öğüt responded with a recollection of a saying by an Armenian journalist: “Water always finds its crack”. The podcast conversation takes on the nature of water looking for its cracks as it meanders from Öğüt’s earlier days as an art student in Ankara and Istanbul to Amsterdam and Berlin – two cities contending for attention whenever he is asked the habitual question: where are you based?
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EP08: "If I write for them, it means I am removing myself from my source". Nkata with Niq Mhlongo
Niq Mhlongo (b. 1973, Soweto) is a South African writer born in Johannesburg. Today, he is considered "one of the most high-spirited, irreverent voices of post-apartheid South African literary scene".
So far, he has four novels and two short stories to his name: Dog Eat Dog (2004), After Tears (2007), Way Back Home (2013), Affluenza (2016), Soweto Under The Apricot Tree (2018), Paradise in Gaza (2020). He has also edited two collection of Essays: Black Tax, A Burden or Ubuntu (2019) and Joburg Noir (2020). In between his already illustrious and prolific practice, he is also the city editor for the Johannesburg Review of Books, while still finding time to mentor, young writers both in South Africa and beyond through workshops and lecture programs.
What is most striking about his work is that while it retains all the attributes of a powerful literary work – articulation, poetry, constructive narrative; dealing with topical/relevant issues of the society, etc. – his works are also accessible. He writes for an audience much broader than the literate class which comprised of the middle class and upwards.
All of this, and more, are expounded in this long-form podcast conversation with host Emeka Okereke. To understand Niq's creative language and disposition is to return over and over to the streets of Soweto from where his highly tactile and experiential journey towards becoming his kind of writer began. Soweto Jive, a groovy number by Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse, sets the mood for the nearly two-hours long conversation.
Niq's knack for anecdotes and personal stories leads the way all through. He makes a point to emphasize that, thanks to his eidetic memory, he can easily recall incidents which eventually feeds and informs his writings. In the conversation, he goes down memory lane while weaving pieces of incidents together to give the listener a sense of how his work – like many artists of his generation – sits at the transitory space between a past of pain and the present of hope where the Black South African can look at the horizon and conjure the possibility of "a future tense", as Shoshana Zuboff puts it.
Towards the end of the conversation, he speaks extensively about Black Tax: A Burden or Ubuntu?, an anthology of essays by Twenty-six South African authors, also edited by Niq. This timely assemblage of voices attempts to ignite discussions around the meaning and place of responsibility as attributed to familial ties in the black South African reality. This book is Niq's first-ever collaborative project. According to him, it was a subject bigger than him, and thus requires the strength of numerous voices.
If you know Niq Mhlongo's work, this conversation will offer a more expansive, informative, yet entertaining frame for better appraisal. Those encountering him for the first time will find that he continues in the tradition of many African artists whose encounter with art was underlined by remarkable coincidences which, in hindsight, could only be understood as a calling.
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