Monday, 28 July 2008

To Uli or not to Uli: That is the question.

Basically my simple ( i thought) question snowballed into this drawn out informal email discussion. (see earlier posts below) If nothing it got people from different parts of the country talking which can sometimes be rare in these parts. Even if our leaders are not doing anything at least the power of technology is bridging the communication divide.

16th June

Hallo Bisi,

Thanks for the warning sign that you sent to Oz about certain terminologies that remind us about the Phantom chains that some people still see around our necks. Thanks also for not setting the ball rolling on the Uli question. Some of us have developed some latent scholarship about that term.

Thanks again.

Ken (Okoli)

16th June

Hi Ken
Thanks for your comment. Well it is not so much to highlight its irrelevance but I would be really excited to read/learn/see the new ways in which Uli has developed beyond the rehashes of the last couple of years. I think it needs a renaissance but one that is appropriate for the 21st. The first and 2nd wave were indicative of their time but I think there is more juice - pardon my English but it is late - that can be got out of it. Anyway what is tradition all about if not re-invention.

And as for terminologies we are all familiar with western canons of discourse and criticism but when do we start creating our own especially within the visual arts.

17th June

Hi Bisi.

Thanks Bisi. How you dey? Just couldn’t resist saying something on this. If there is USO, INKA ANKA UKU etc why not ULI. It is very difficult to branch out into new things and it will be accepted from you in the East of Niger except linked with ULI,UL..U..UUUU...........ANYTHING.

OZ, you are by now above this. Your works, visual or literary certainly have a newness in Uli that I thing we wait for in any other thing you are into, OLD or NEW.

Mike (Omoighe)

17th June

Hi Mike
Thanks for your comment. I always and still kind of believe that one of the fundamental role of the artists is to challenge status quo by bringing out the same thing but in a new way and allowing us to see things outside of a given.


17th June

Mallama Bisi, Mallam Mike and Dr Ken Okoli, Una well write on Uli and Oz oh! I dey read una.
Tonie (Okpe)

18th June

Dear all,
As for me I can handle the name Uli for the journal. After all it is a name. And a name is what you call a thing/it. The multiple references are always inevitable. What matters is what the name assumes over time. New names are always problematic.
Yes I agree with you that you do not need the 3rd world term. It is just unnecessary. Period
Lets move on. Jerry (Buhari)

21st June

Of course, Uli as a word would carry so much negative connotations for us, especially when the idea comes from inside. If the announcement had come from somewhere in the "First world," even if the name of the journal is SHIT Journal of Art and Design, we will all roll heads over heel to submit dusty articles for publication for possible promotion in our various universities without pondering the name. Uli as a concept is not parochial, if it means design, art and alludes to aesthetics.

If you know the meaning of Uli, and if you appreciate that meaning and are able to separate it from the artists that have espoused Uli as a movement in the last thirty years and from the region it derives, you would be able to link it with its more universal relationships. And why not 'so-called' for Third World, if you say it suggests suspicion? Who created the "Worlds" and what right do they have to assign us to the
third position? Uli Journal is not born out of nostalgia for Uli and their exponents. We should rise above myopia and romantic "modernity" to appreciate Uli for what it represents beyond Nsukka and the linear configurations we know so well. What was Nka, the Igbo word for art, as the name of Journal? Although the use of Uli is not a reaction to anything, why is it suddenly parochial?

Why must we discard Uli because it has been around for "too long"? Why do we not stop the celebration of Things Fall Apart because it has been around for too long and has been translated into more than 50 languages? Or shut our ears to Picasso because his name has been mentioned too often and for too long in the history of art? I think we need to tell ourselves some self-evident truths here.

I write this in a hurry as I travel and will react more when I reach my destination, if need be.

C. Krydz Ikwuemesi

22nd June

Hi Krydz
Thanks for your mail. Sorry I missed you in Enugu.

Well I don't know about Uli carrying a negative connotation. At least let me speak for myself. It definitely and certainly does not anymore than Ona, Osogbo, cubism, feminism etc carry a negative connotation. But I sure as hell don't want to wear them as badges as much as I continue to find them relevant and engage with them.

I think my question is interested in something you say 'what it represents beyond Nsukka and the linear configurations we know so, I wasn't so much thinking of parochial in the sense of the East or Nsukka but within Nigeria.

However for third world - I hate the term just as much as I hate primitive or tribal art or Negro and I avoid it because I do have some knowledge of its historical significance. I am not interested in challenging it by bringing it up but by sending it to obsolescence by avoiding its use.

22nd June

Hey guys: I am reading this discourse. I am learning.

Toyin Akinosho

27th June

I had sent a response to Bisi and Ozioma on the Uli journal that has caused so much headache in the art circuits in the West and the North of Nigeria. The comments remain my final testament on the matter, although I am publishing my mail to Ozioma here below as it was not circulated like that to Bisi. I am also adding "un petit mot" as I am beginning to feel mischief in the pot.

That the controversy subsists looks like some of our friends and soi-disant watchdogs are aiming for a "coup de grace" even before a single line is published under the proposed name.

Why not boycott the journal if the name belongs to an earlier period and does not fit into your new supersonic image, or if it reminds you of the cavemen and cave painting? Was it not Chinweizu, while commenting poetically on the problem of originality, that said that "He who must do something altogether new" should start by swallowing his own head. As I said in late 1990s when the debate on the so-called death of painting caught our fancy in Nigeria practiced for too long (since the evolution of man)?(with the wind blowing the fashionable discourse down through the Atlantic), why don't we proclaim the obituary of art and, in its place, set up a new concept and practice since art has been

Why did we not shy away from the "Eye" - that important but short-lived journal published in Zaria in the 1990s - because the eye as a name was too commonplace since every human person is endowed with a
pair of eyes? Dr Ken Okoli contradicts himself when he wishes for "a renaissance of Uli." What renaissance? So if the journal is called "Uli", it will now only publish Uli matters? Did the Eye publish matters about the eye, that
is if the whole argument can be as simplistic as Okoli images it? I think there is a deliberate, if mischievous, attempt here to reduce the argument to a game of children and thereby ridicule the proposed journal and its promoters, including the art department at the university of Nigeria.

And talk of Uli, I must hasten to inform those who would hear of it that, C. Krydz Ikwuemesi, am still carrying out research in different villages in the Igbo country and that the last has not been heard on the ancient genre. Sooner or later, the results will be in the public domain, as important materials in the advancement of heritage education which is so lacking in Nigeria - because we want to be everything else other than ourselves. Not only that. My on-going research in Japan will culminate in a comparative literature on Igbo and Ainu arts and cosmos. Of course Uli will feature prominently in the book. It looks like I am living in the past, isn't it?

But what are traditions all about? Are they not about history and continuity? Perhaps the tragedy of the Nigerian artist today is that he cajoles history and laughs at tradition. Yet those are the hubs on which the wheel of art turns.

C. Krydz Ikwuemesi

Dear Ozioma
I thought you should have responded to this rather than forward it to me. I sent a comment to Bisi. I do not know how effectively it was circulated among her army of virtual discussants. I do not share a hopeless sense of belonging to a bandwagon whose only hope and vision lies in aping what goes on elsewhere, without any will for looking inwards. When Uli is mentioned, it becomes a rehash of an old idea. Yet cubism and co can live forever. It is colonial hangover.

But of course, we are not on a new spree of Uli experiment as far as the journal is concerned. So why can the name not stand, in view of the wider meaning of Uli in Igbo aesthetic parlance? At times, we reason through our backside in the art circle in Nigeria and I do not want to be discouraged or distracted by such short-sightedness, especially from the axial scatter-brain majority who talk loudest in this kind of argument and convey very little meaning practically.

Hope you are well.

4 July


I once had an Indian teacher who forever spotted a navy blue pair of trousers and a light blue shirt from Monday to Friday. It was in my form five when I struck friendship with him that I discovered that he had several sets of the same clothes. Interesting, isn't it? The fragility of the ego of Krydz on my mere mention of Uli matters is gradually marching us towards my earlier suspicion that some Nigerian art commentators feel
cults of the old, nobody should say anything at all about Uli if not positive. People have a right to protect whichever group they belong, be it a cult, sect or any other form of grouping. However, like I have mentioned elsewhere: You cannot bring you masquerade to the market square and expect people to keep mum. Some of us have our paternity originating from the rich culture that produced Uli and we are very proud if it any day.

There is nothing wrong with living in the past O! Krydz. After all is the present and future not influenced by the past. I do not also see anything wrong with pre-emptive comments. Why should academics be afraid of criticism? Krydz's reaction for sure appears to reveal some level of rejection of any form of contributions of other persons outside ones immediate grouping to the things that they do. Categorically speaking, the day
academics will stop making useful criticism on art development, because some parsons deem some areas as red lines that should not be crossed is the day that we all move to Holy Ghost Park in Enugu and displace members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers. We will not let Uli be. Uli is not and East, West or
North thing as we always chose to regionalize most sensitive issues in Nigeria. Uli is an art issue and must be discussed. Period.

Ken Okoli O.

4th July

Dear Bisi,
Reading all the discussions on Uli reminds me of the year 1996 when I decided to use the word agufon as the name for my publication. The reactions of people to the name were very interesting. some comments I liked, some I didn’t. But as Ken as written in one of his emails, if you bring your masquerade to the market square, people will have their say. However, please let us be careful in our reactions to criticisms otherwise we will loose the essence of exchanging ideas. If I get angry because I don’t like what other people say about my work, I should not abuse them. We shall surely celebrate the birth of Uli like we celebrate all new babies.


Bunmi Davies

8th July

Nice one Bunmi!!!!!

12th July

Dear Ken,
I have followed this argument to a point I can make a contribution. It is my firm belief that as an academic one should contribute to this argument because it involves an on-going discourse on what heritage should be. First it is what Tunbridge and Ashworth call ‘Dissonant Heritage.’ What this means is that sometimes there is a dissonance on what we all regard as ‘our’ heritage. Ken the implication of my statement is to clear your doubts on what heritage is all about as you may not have known that ULI is our heritage. First your convictions tell you that “heritage interpretation is endowed with messages which are deliberately framed by an existing power elite” (The West), which makes you think that ‘contemporary discourse’ is only enunciated by the West or that the context of contemporary excludes a ‘name’ as ULI irrespective of its dynamics. If you understand the simple logic that the present time and place is an inevitable and self-evidently desirable culmination of past events then you should know that the name ULI does not negate ‘contemporary.’ Contemporary means whatever that is happening now be it the re-enactment of the ‘Renaissance’ or the rebirth of the Classical period. If the ULI journal is published now it becomes a ‘contemporary discourse’ as you said. Nsukka School cannot offer much to the world through the use of the word ULI. Rather I had expected you to say that the content of ULI has become more pluralist. I would have even been more comfortable with your submissions if you had argued that ULI evolved as a ‘Dominant Ideology’, a dominant heritage that your submissions try to challenge by engaging in a passively conscious resistance without success. You cannot proclaim the death of ULI. ULI will die whenever it chooses to die. Yes change is inevitable but your perception of change is misinformed and dependent on the so-called official agencies, which are those who construct international narratives. You can also construct yours and the whole world can follow you. We are constructing Uli and we hope it will soon emerge as a Cultural capital which according to Bourdieu “is not concentrated in the hands of a few official agencies like The West but dispersed among many producers and curators, especially in democratic societies like Nigeria” (of course italics mine). ULI is our own democratic dividend.
Okey Nwafor.

12th July

Thanks for your contribution Okey.

14th July

My Dear Okey,

I wish I had all the time to busy myself with this jaw jaw about Uli. I have said somewhere (maybe you did not read) that Uli is a Nigerian art issue and that every academic can comment on it. My dear namesake, is anything wrong with that? What I do not agree with is that some persons think that Uli is an "East" thing and not a "West and North thing" and so the latter should not comment on it. If the North and West commented on it: mischief must be in it. Do we stop to ask ourselves who is this north or west? The art family in Nigeria which includes the east, west and north should be permanently grateful to the events that lead to the formation of the Zaria Art Society and how it infected the art psyche in Nigeria. I doubt if anybody from the "north" challenged Chika Okeke-Agulu when he said that the dance had shifted from Zaria to Nsukka. I guess this is what academic freedom is all about. If an Nsukka product made the same comments that I made
would it have attracted this barrage of academic attack? I still think that the earlier we stop sectionalising art or academic issues based on its geographical matrix, the better for us.
Well, the reappearance of Uli as a journal is welcome and we are waiting to see the issues that will be addressed in the first edition to see if we can contribute also. Art belongs to all of us and so is Uli.
Ka omesia.
Ken Okoli O.

22nd July


I think i am enjoying this debate particularly as artists are beginning to interogate these issues deeply. Yes! softly softly make una comment make Una no vex. I will be happy to contribute to the journal named Uli, Nsibidi, Ibiebe(dont ask me what this means ask Baba Bruce) as long as it has depth. Please keep the discussions going and please keep up the good work all of you. Cheers

Dr (Mrs)Peju Layiwola


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