Yinka Olatunbosun

With the central theme “A Fork in The Road”, the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF) returns with a hybrid edition but with open doors at its traditional venue, Freedom Park, Lagos. Dubbed “Visual Arts Day”, November 16 has been set aside by the organisers of this cultural picnic to celebrate creativity and engage in conversations with art scholars, artists, gallery owners, art writers and collectors. Kicking off with youth-oriented creative workshops, the day progresses with a session with the theme “Homage to the Recent Arthouse Ancestors”. This session, which has on its panel Oliver Enwonwu, Dr. Ademola Azeez and Dr Akin Onipede, is a tribute to the contributions of Ola Oloidi, Mike Omoighe and Yusuf Grillo to art scholarship.

On the same day, performance artists, Jelili Atiku and Yusuf Durodola will turn the park arena to their stage. Durodola’s performance piece, titled “Atupa”, has been described as inspirational, nudging humanity forward in the fight against inhumanity. Later that day, Jelili Atiku will thrill the festival buffs with the nomadic performance called “Mokóó Morò”.

Mokóó Morò is essentially an intervention performance. It addresses the present struggle with the pandemic (COVID-19) drawing parallels with the Mémorial de la Shoah (The Holocaust). The performance is based on the philosophy of three words: Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (RRF) and raises the point: tell me the truth about Covid-19. Atiku will be in conversation Juul van der Laan a filmmaker based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands to discuss the performance, Mokoo Moro. A four-minute film on the performance made by Juul will be screened before the conversation.

The trio of Dr. Sola Ogunfuwa, Olu Ajayi and Dr. Kunle Adeyemi will dig into the minds and vaults of select collectors such as Rasheed Gbadamosi, Sammy Olagbaju, Frank Okonta and Abdulaziz Udeh. The session which will be moderated by Mufu Onifade and chaired by Chinwe Uwatse will feature as special guest of honour, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Collector, founder, OmoOba Yemisi Shyllon Art Foundation, OYASAF.

The festival’s staple, Timeless Memories: A Celebration of Life and For Humanity is set to interrogate a set of manuscripts documenting a private conversation between Wole Soyinka and Ulli Beier on Yoruba Religion. The manuscripts include titles such as “Orisha Liberates the Mind”, “The Crisis of Yoruba Culture” and “Death & the King’s Horseman”.

At the heart of the curator is the unveiling of an illustrated art book on the conversation as a special dedication to the memory of Ulli Beier and celebration project of Soyinka’s 87th birthday. Curated by the founder of ASIRI Magazine and archivist, Oludamola Adebowale, the show features as a special Kegites OAU World Headquarters celebration of Soyinka’s 87th birthday anniversary. The show is supported by the University of Zululand and the University of Limpopo in South Africa.

The festival continues with a film screening at the food court. Titled Allelu? Alleluiah: The Legend of Mazi Ukonu, it is a documentary on the life of the master impresario Mazi Anyogu Ukonu, who died earlier this year in January. Born in 1930, Ukonu is one of Africa’s early movie stars to have featured in Hollywood productions such as William Witney’s Panama Say (1957) and Walter Grauman’s The Disembodied (1957). Mazi Anyaogu Elekwachi Ukonu was the pioneer General Manager of the Nigerian Television Authority, Ogbor Hill, Aba. He conceptualised, organised, produced, directed as well as participated in the Showbiz programme, titled Ukonu’s Club.

The documentary traces his early life, through to his times in Hollywood, featuring alongside A-list legends like Clark Gable, Bob Hope and Robert Mitchum. His return to Nigeria saw him mentor a generation of Nigerian artists such as Sunny Okosuns, Christy Essien, Peter Edochie and more. His iconic broadcasting career spanned over 60 years.

Directed by Ezennia Ed Emeka Keazor, the documentary is produced by Muni King-Keazor. After the screening, a question-and-answer session is scheduled to drive conversations around the legacy of an almost forgotten hero of the screen.