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A Shining Moment of Pan-African Promise in a New Book

by Ronaldo Derric
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pan african promise

Marilyn Nance had not yet returned home.

February 1977, Lagos, Nigeria. Nance was 23 years old, an up-and-coming photographer from Brooklyn, and had just graduated from Pratt Institute. This time, on her first trip outside the United States, she will be participating in a landmark pan-African cultural event. Her ambition and scale had never been tried before or since.

She arrived on a charter flight with more than 200 other black artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, academics and cultural activists. They joined colleagues and peers from the African continent, her global diaspora, and Aboriginal Australians during her four weeks at FESTAC ’77, the 2nd World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture.

In all, some 17,000 artists flocked to Lagos to exhibit and perform in the National Theater Complex built for the occasion, and to live in the newly constructed FESTAC Village. There were stars: Miriam Makeba, Stevie Wonder, Sun Ra and ArkestraAmong the American visual artists were Samera Lewis, Valerie Maynard and Melvin Edwards. What Nance remembers best, however, was the exuberant exchange between a multitude of today’s little-known artists.

Thinking beyond borders was the spirit of the 1970s. Pan-African currents rose in black American culture. “My politics got me to Nigeria,” Nance said recently. “I was desperate to get there.” Accepted to the U.S. delegation but declined due to cost, she heard that the delegation needed engineers, and Howard University organizers I accepted her in that capacity.

Two weeks later, Nance was due to return home with the first US delegation. No way. She stayed at her own expense and kept her negatives.

her new bookLast day in Lagoshas collected over 100 of these images along with essays by artists and curators. This is the first book for Nance, who is now 69 years old. I have been practicing photography for a long time. She prioritized her day job, first in advertising and then as a public school educator.

Hers is the deepest personal image archive to come out of FESTA ’77. Not only was it a significant contribution for these reasons alone, it was also long awaited for the early work of an important black photographer. (Images of the subsequent project were recently featured in the “Greater New York” exhibition at MoMA PS 1, and “The Dirty South” hosted by the Virginia Museum of Art.)

In Lagos, Nance brought his own camera and film and moved as he pleased. She hangs out at her FESTAC village and participates in excursions to meet Nigerian artists in other cities. She had no strategy for her own image. But she was drawn to the edges, the quiet moments, the faces in the crowd, a four-week festival as a daily routine, not a series of stage events.

FESTAC said it left a bittersweet mark on Nigeria Orlemi C. Onabanjoa scholar of African photography and Associate Curator of Photography at the Museum of Contemporary Art, who worked closely with Nance to edit Last Days in Lagos.

Onabanjo was born after the event, but heard from relatives in Lagos. “It was a time when Lagos was packed with people from all over the world. It was a time of great parties and possibilities for weeks.” spent without But all that new construction was also accompanied by corruption, and many ordinary Nigerians resented the flashy costs in the face of more pressing needs.

After FESTAC, Nigeria’s claim to leadership in the black world fades. So was the energy of transnational political thought and cultural alliances in the 1970s.Today, due to global environmental and social crises, the world will benefit from a renewed internationalist spirit, artist says Julie Meletu “Last Day in Lagos” (Johannesburg, Forswall Books, and Center for Art Studies and Alliances, New York). Mehretu wrote that the joy of these images was a testament to the “euphoric and imaginative” possibilities.

This image of Nigerian Navy sailors with a traditional dance troupe at the opening ceremony has become an icon of FESTA ’77 and is generally widely circulated without attribution. “It’s floating around the world,” said Nance. But that only scratches the surface of the event and her experience.

Nance remembers trying to get his bearings the morning after his arrival when he was living in a new neighborhood that hadn’t finished construction yet. “Lagos was creating a place for people to come,” editor Onabanjo said of the image.

Nance, on his way to do laundry in the Festival Village, comes across Sun Ra Arkestra rehearsing (Sun Ra plays keyboards, Kamau Seitu of the Wajumbe Cultural Ensemble on Drums). She hurried back to get her camera. “They rehearsed for hours,” she said. The image alludes to the interaction between the band and local onlookers. “Anyone could look in. Some people came in and were dancing.”

FESTAC’s final concert was a star-studded affair headlined by Stevie Wonder and Miriam Makeba. South African singer Makeba was a pan-African icon and a charmer. “She must have changed her costume five times,” said Nance. The crowd is not shown, but it is packed and enthusiastic. “Atmosphere was dark”

Great Afrobeat bandleader Fela Kuti has resigned from the Festac Planning Commission, criticizing corrupt contracts and the motives of the military regime. He held an anti-matsuri concert at his club, Africa Shrine, which was attended by a large number of FESTAC representatives. “He’s overjoyed. He’s elated,” Onabanjo said of the shot.However Brutal military raid on Fela grounds She would come to symbolize the dashed political hopes of the 1970s in the immediate aftermath of the festival.

The modernist lines of the National Stadium and the traditional masked dancers of Sierra Leone make up this image. Scattered debris shows the chaos that has accumulated at the festival and that official photos avoid. “I’m not creating a spectacle of masks, I’m just being there,” Nance said.

FESTAC has proven to be a meeting place for the east coast and west coast wings of the black arts scene. People, including members of the Wadjembe Cultural Ensemble, an Oakland, California dance group (its director, Nontsizi Kayu, back left; Dolores Curry, second from right. Mpho Ratliff (far right) has found rest. “There is a sluggishness,” Onabanjo noted. “You know something good happened. People are just writhing.”

Nance’s eyes turned to the day-to-day Nigerians who made FESTAC possible. Here, a kitchen worker emerges from the Festival Village cafeteria. Onabanjo said the image epitomizes the kind of intuitive lyricism that characterizes her Nance’s style: “When I’m taking pictures, it’s the feeling,” Nance replied. rice field. “My fingers touch the mental shutters.”

During his stay, the African-American artist visited Benin City and Ileife, Nigeria, which have a rich cultural history. Nance created this image of contemplative potter Winnie Owens Hart on her way home. “She must be in some moment,” Nance said. Owens Hart frequently returned to West Africa, Close ties with traditional potters until today.

Nance hopes her book is “the beginning of the research that needs to be done about this moment and this period.” Her images paint a world of lesser-known black artists today. From left to right: Oghenero Akpomuje, Frank Smith Unknown Artist, Winnie Owens Hart (with camera), David Stevens, Patricia Phippsunidentified, Napoleon Jones Henderson, viola barley Tyrone Mitchell Agbo Foralin (Aviola Foralin, who hosts the group and has a child), Charles Abramson. kneeling: Bisi FabunmiMore, Inca Adiemi unconfirmed.

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