Nigeria: A Visual Account of Soyinka's Life Story At 85

29 November 2019

Curator, Damola Adebowale recounted the defining moments in the life of the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka at the just-concluded Lagos Book and Arts Festival in a series of exhibits at the "Timeless Memories" show to wrap up the year-long 85th birthday for the literary colossus.

Bright coloured illustrations on flex material were hanged in the art gallery of the Kongi's Harvest Hall- the venue of the trumpeted art exhibition for Prof Wole Soyinka's 85th birthday celebrations at the 21st edition of Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF), which is the city's largest cultural picnic. The literary giant's milestone in life has been captured in this visual form including a media installation that features a short documentary on the travails of Soyinka after his infamous imprisonment in 1965.

Titled, "Timeless Memories: Elastic Effects of Soyinka", agraphic story of his arrest was retold at the Freedom Park withfascinating illustrations. Soyinka was charged with holding up a radio station at gunpoint (as described in his 2006 memoir You Must Set Forth at Dawn) and replacing the tape of a recorded speech by the premier of Western Nigeria with a different tape containing accusations of election malpractice.

Several years down the road, the same socio-political narrative pervades the Nigerian state, making Soyinka a hero of the tragic story of a country's cerebral disorder. Through each piece, this occasionally misunderstood playwright and essayist is explained. For instance, Soyinka is blamed for cultism in Nigerian universities. An image at the show captures the years in which Soyinka founded and was a part of the Pyrates Confraternity. It was not created as a sanguinary venture unlike what exists today.

Soyinka brought honour to Africa by being the first African to win the Nobel prize for literature in 1986. This was captured in one of the works at the exhibition.

The curator explained why the show was necessary in telling the story of Soyinka.

"There is a need to constantly preserve history. This exhibition is the grand finale of the Wole Soyinka at 85 celebrations which kicked off in July and ended in September. The core of this exhibition is to showcase the history around the man for the younger generation. When I curated an exhibition for his birthday in July, I was asked so many questions by children who didn't know much about him. So, I felt the need to do something to create a continuous dialogue around him within the younger generation. That's the reason why we came up with this," he said.

Walking into the Kongi gallery, the titles of the Soyinka's plays, prose and poetry collections had been arranged as street signs, just as the curator did with Evangelist Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi's museum booth at the Federal College of Education, Osiele, Abeokuta."Soyinka's books are pointers and directions in life just like street signs," Adebowale remarked.

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