SYNTHESISING INDEGENIOUS MOTIFS AND IDEAS IN VIDEO ART: A STUDY OF ULI AND NSIBIDI MOTIFS

SYNTHESISING INDEGENIOUS MOTIFS AND IDEAS IN VIDEO ART: A STUDY OF ULI AND NSIBIDI MOTIFS

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ABSTRACT

Recently, video art concepts in Africa have been haunted by tentacles of universalism, transculturation and acculturation that threaten their socio-cultural thresholds prospectively. The implication of this includes a muted indigenous voice and the possibility of the genre not being indigenously personalised by African artists in the course of its development. The intent of this research is to address this. Methodologically, it is strictly but flexibly constrained to video art footages that are sometimes depicted in the form of animated drawings. Nsibidi and uli motifs have been chosen because of their aesthetic and functional qualities. Finally, the strategic approach adopted in the organisation of the study is the researcher’s attempt to justify and satisfactorily contain the vast nature of its subject matter. 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Background to the Study

African art has been in contention with the growing challenges and influences imposed on it by western perspectives on modern art over the years. Among other factors, these challenges are sometimes associated with the ideal indigenous creative communication pattern and its adaptation to this burgeoning global art phenomenon without characterising a compromised cultural inflection. One cannot ostracize the fundamental role culture plays in a society. It is a vital aspect of a people’s very humanity and identity (Teaero, 2002). In Africa, however, art is wholly integrated in the socio-cultural norms of ethnic groups in nations across the continent; in fact, culture is a holistic part of art and vice versa. Teaero (2002) further stresses on the threats haunting this pattern, this shrewd manifestation and dictation of what he dubbed ‘eurocentricism’ in the African artistic expression when he states:

   

As an important part of culture, art has always been traditionally conceived, produced, used, distributed, and critiqued by islanders from their ethnocentric perspectives. Over the centuries alternative perspectives – especially from a Eurocentric viewpoint– were introduced, used and perpetuated through the school system.(ibid.)

 

 

There is a salient need for newer ways of expressing the African traditional ideologies and worldviews in a relevant and updated contemporary language for the purpose of preserving, establishing, and empathically communicating the continent’s cultural identity and ideals. It is also necessary for this ideological approach to be adapted to the evolving twenty-first century art world. So far, this syndrome, what the researcher would refer to as an “afro-centric renaissance in modern art”, has affected areas in the visual arts such as sculpture and painting. On the contrary, however, there is an obvious conceptual dearth when it comes to the aspect of employing the multimedia and, more specifically, video art as a medium for expressing and projecting this concept.

The works of prominent African video artists like William Kentridge (South Africa) exhibit a kind of universality that was not created to be interpreted from that cultural angle. More so, they are actually not intended to do that. Perhaps this is because Video art, which is an art that combines music, dance, performance, and computer graphics, shown on video, is not only a relatively new genre in art, but is quite an alien concept in Africa unlike the other aspects of arts that have definitive historical roots in the continent. Interestingly, it is a new and exciting art and technological development that is fast becoming a huge consideration fraught with endless innovative possibilities to both the artistic and academic worlds. Kentridge’s works are primarily animations or animated drawings to be more precise. Animation could be defined as:

   

motion pictures created by recording a series of still images—drawings, objects, or people in various positions of incremental movement—that when played back no longer appear individually as static images but combine to produce the illusion of unbroken motion.” (Furniss, 2007).

 

the term implies to to creations on film, video, or computers, and even to motion toys, which usually consist of a series of drawings or photographs on paper that are viewed with a mechanical device or by flipping through a hand-held sequence of images (for example, a pad of paper can be used to create an animated flipbook of drawings). The term cartoon is sometimes used to describe short animated works (under ten minutes) that are humorous in nature. (Ibid)

 

Furniss further states:

Video art has generally undergone some conceptual evolution over the years, since its introduction in the modern art scene around the late fifties and early sixties. Presently, an avalanche of video art presentations have been created by artists and non-artists alike because the medium itself is easy to obtain and manipulate by both professional and nonprofessionals alike. What separates the video artist from the experimental video consumer is creativity; that is the artist’s ability to manipulate the medium in order to address a whole range of issues in its thematic content.

The integral Africa identity and worldview has been compromised in this new genre of modern art. Unlike the other aspects of the visual arts, the challenges confronting video art are connected with the technology that actually initiated it. Furthermore, the tendency of the art to be abused due to the relatively easy accessibility of the technology by consumers and the overabundance of easy-to-use editing software is another problematic issue. It is important, since this art is still in its early stages when compared to the other arts, that the African ideology be integrated into video art footages and themes, at least aesthetically. There are very few video art footages in existence truly project the African ideologies and motifs conceptually. In addition, it was Uche Okeke’s (1961) letter to the then president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, which stoked the embers that later flared up the radical development of the natural synthesis philosophy in Nsukka years later. The content of the letter reads:

I believe that it is only through the acceptance of ‘natural synthesis’ that the conflicts of the contemporary African mind must be resolved…the African artist must live in his culture and express or interprete the yearnings of his society. He must not live in an ivory tower (Okeke, 1961).

 

Uche Okeke was not just the leader and founding member of the Art Society (popularly known as ‘Zaria Rebels’) that was formed in 1958, reputed for their propagation of the Natural synthesis ideology, he also played a significant role in its development. The Natural Synthesis ideology, as the name implies, involved ‘the acceptance of much of European media and technique (though not barring experimentation with these)’ and the development of styles and content close to the students’ Nigerian experience, whether it be their own cultural tradition, that of other Nigerian cultures, or current Nigerian life’ (Ottenberg, 1997). Ottenberg, in citing Okeke’s 1960 speech to fellow members (which later became its manifesto) states that this synthesis “was to be natural, unconscious, and unforced, to come from the experience of the individual artists, including from their cultures” (ibid.)

The project is an investigation and creative exploration of the bridge that connects the possibilities this new form of art offers with the integral creative tenets of indigenous concepts in order to initiate a new artistic trans-cultural paradigm. The videos will involve interpreting selected proverbs in staged and animated footages, and will also exhibit a sort of aesthetic visual conundrum that is both poetic and surrealistic. The motifs and sketches will be animated and sometimes interfaced with the abstract motion backgrounds in most of these videos. All of these will relate to the general idea of the respective concepts. The visual effects will not be entirely subjected to software manipulation alone; other creative strategies and mediums will be employed if they are appropriate in ensuring a creative expression of the video art. The project will be deliberately streamlined to accommodate motifs and ideas that are indigenous to the Igbo (that is the uli and nsibidi motif), because of the patterns and symbols inherent in them that are somewhat unanimous and relatively easier to access. 

Statement of the Problem

Although there is an impressive display of dynamism in terms of video art concepts shown by notable video artists in Africa, Europe and the rest of the globe, there is still an aspect that has not been extensively explored or addressed in the aesthetic aspect of the footages. The African socio-cultural identity, for instance, has been lost or ignored entirely in these conceptual outbursts. 

There is therefore a need for diversities in artistic expression that individualizes the African artists’ video concepts in a socio-cultural context, hence establishing a plausible and effective platform for their respective projection.

Objectives of the Study

The objective of the research is to investigate the following issues:

To synthesize indigenous motifs and ideas into created video art footages in order to arrive at themes that reveal socio-cultural ideologies. This would be achieved through drawings, digital adaptation of the motifs to video footages and animations via appropriate video and animation software alongside other relevant media hardware like HD cameras and green screen props

To creatively employ innovative techniques that will bring out interesting results, as well as approaches that reflect the African socio-cultural identity. Most of the concepts will be captured chance occurrences and selected reference footages with socio-cultural allusions, all of which will be digitally manipulated

To


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