Arts & Culture
African Studies As A Matrix For Totalistic Knowledge: Exploring Toyin Falola’s Polymathic Creativity In Relation To His Discussion Of Aesthetics In Decolonizing African Studies
Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
Within the context of approaches to engaging Toyin Falola’s polymathic vastness of scholarship and writing, this essay explores aesthetics as conceptual reflection on the nature of art and beauty, in relation to aesthetics as a study of the history of artistic developments, as these approaches are unified, with an emphasis on the latter, in the chapter on aesthetics in Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency and Voice, 2022.
The essay builds on my first discussion of the book, “A Masterly Overview : Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, and Voice: A Thumbnail Review” ( Studying Toyin Falola blog, LinkedIn, academia.edu and various Nigerian news media)
Great thanks to the reviewer who wishes to remain anonymous but whose reading of successive drafts of the essay was vital to refining the piece and to expanding my confidence in the direction the work was going, indirectly motivating further developments in the writing beyond its earlier drafts, even though the reviewer did not get to see those additions, having boosted my confidence sufficiently for my individualistic orientation to take over again, but, it can be quite fulfilling to go beyond the limitations of working on one’s own, as the reviewer’s kind efforts helped me better appreciate.
BOOK REVIEW: Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, And Voice
The Hunger for Totalistic Knowledge
The hunger for totalistic knowledge is one of humanity’s enduring aspirations. It involves the need to know as much as possible about as many things as possible. It is motivated by the need to gain a synoptic awareness of existence from as comprehensive a perspective as may be reached.
This aspiration underlies the structuring of forms of knowledge in their distinctiveness and interrelationships as these configurations have been developed at the mature stages of origins of systems of thought in various cultures. These range from the Platonic and Aristotelian synthesis of ancient Greek thought and its shaping of Western scholarship to such paradigmatic African systems as the Yoruba origin Ifa which harmonizes the visual and verbal arts, spirituality, philosophy, mathematics and medicine. This is a synthesis resonating with other African systems similar to Ifa, from the Igbo Afa to the Dahomean Fa and to others less similar, such as the Ghanaian symbol system Adinkra, which uses visual forms as a template for philosophy. Beyond Africa and the West is the example of Indian Yantra hermeneutics, correlating the visual arts, mathematics, spirituality and philosophy in their literary and performative dimensions.
The Unification of Human Cultures
Individual creatives, from artist and engineer Leonardo da Vinci to medical researcher and philosopher Ibn Sina to poet and international public servant, second United Nations Secretary General Darg Hammarskjöld, who demonstrate efforts at creating multidisciplinary competencies and syntheses, are appreciated as achieving what a writer describes of the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as demonstrating “how our divided culture might be reunited in a new ideal of wholeness.’’
In adapting this observation, I take “our’’ culture to mean, not the European culture that writer may have been referencing, even though Goethe was also a student and emulator of aspects of Islamic culture, but human culture in general. Humanity is understood in this context as demonstrating foundational, widespread similarities within differences. Human culture is seen as constituted by distinctive expressions, which, in their similarities, constitute unifying orientations emerging from the structuring of human awareness at the intersection of human biology and environment. The similarities in difference between individual cultures are perceived as coming together to generate a holistic orientation on existence defining the human race.
Forms of Multidisciplinarity
A polymath, as such figures as Goethe are known, may demonstrate varied competencies within diverse arms of a particular discipline. A discipline is perceived in this context as an approach to studying an aspect of reality in terms of a particular network of methods of investigation and of conceptions of that aspect of reality, in relation to existence as a whole. This epistemic and metaphysical particularity, however, overlaps with others within the broader network constituted by the epistemic and metaphysical frame in which it is embedded, such as the currently globally dominant Western origin system of knowledge. The polymath may also operate across disciplines, creating a variegated web, distinctive but conjoined windows of perception, through which the universe may be engaged with.
Toyin Falola’s Multidisciplinarity Within African Studies
One such interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary polymath is Toyin Falola, whose recently published book Decolonizing African Studies (2022) creates an opportunity to map his writing and scholarly career in relation to his field of engagement, the cluster of disciplines known as African Studies. One may also explore the instantiation of these interests in relation to one chapter in that book, the chapter on aesthetics, so chosen because of my fascination with its subject as well as its provocation of approaches to adapting Falola’s multidisciplinary scholarship in alignment or disalignment with his methods.
Intrinsic, Extrinsic and Structural Approaches to the Study of Toyin Falola’s Work as a Matrix in Exploring African Studies and Beyond
Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies demonstrates an admirably extensive coverage of ground, enabling its use as a matrix for exploring African Studies, in relation to the process of rethinking the foundations and directions of the field, in alignment or disalignment with the author’s approaches in this and other texts.
Falola’s total body of work is also strategic for such an exploration because it constitutes a very rich library of engagement with the various disciplines constituting African Studies, the scope of his work being unique in the field. This wealth of expression, sustained across decades, may inspire a range of exploratory approaches, perceptible in intrinsic and extrinsic terms.
The intrinsic relates to the internal structure and progression of his writing and scholarly project. The extrinsic involves its relationship with other bodies of knowledge beyond itself. This intrinsic study could include diachronic exploration – of its historical progression. It may involve synchronic analysis – of its character at a point in time. The convergence of the intrinsic and the extrinsic could be demonstrated by structural studies. These examine correlations between the total structure of ideas and investigative and expressive approaches developed within the network constituted by Falola’s body of work and its intersections with other bodies of knowledge.
READ ALSO: Toyin Falola’s Decolonizing African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, And Voice
Rhizomatic and Architectural Metaphors
Within this structural analysis and synthesis, the total body of Falola’s work may be understood in terms of various unifying metaphors. His productivity may be seen as rhizomatic, demonstrating a restless proliferation of possibilities across disciplines, without any effort at systematizing the cognitive network thus developed, an image adapting the development of this biological metaphor in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri’s A Thousand Plateaus (1980). It could be understood in architectural terms, as constituting a series of rooms, organized around a centre, an image adapted from Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle (1577).
The various rooms in this architectural metaphor may represent different disciplines or the relationships between disciplines demonstrated by various texts. Their order could be circular, arranged in a circle around a centre. Their organization could also be sequential, suggesting some disciplines or disciplinary conjunctions or particular texts as fundamental, points of entry into this proliferative cognitive universe, gestative zones enabling the myriad expressions demonstrated by this body of work, without this ordering suggesting superiority of value.
Motivational and Summative, Disciplinary and Textual Centres
That centre could be understood in terms of the ultimate motivation of his work, the originating and sustaining inspiration and rationale running through or emerging from the various expressions that constitute that work. Such a centre could also be seen in terms of the ultimate vision actualized by his creativity, the constellation of understanding reached through this diversity of expressions. Both approaches overlap and may be combined.
Along those lines, Falola’s originating discipline of history may be appreciated as a primary point of entry into his oeuvre, history understood as the exploration of the complete range of implications of the development of a phenomenon, Falola branching out from this superordinate study to engage its divisions across the humanities and social sciences within African Studies.
Perhaps one could focus on a text instead as such a foundational point of entry, understanding his In Praise of Greatness (2019), for example, as unifying the various expressive forms in terms of which he works, ranging over historical and synchronic humanistic and sociological studies, poetic and autobiographical writing and philosophical reflection. These structurations could also be organized in terms of ideas developed by the investigator, distilled from studying Falola’s work rather than directly applied from his own ideas and texts.
Between Work, Self, Society and Cosmos
The adaptation of Teresa of Avila’s architectural image from her The Interior Castle in interpreting Falola’s work suggests significant potential for such distillation of ideas and expansion of their evocative power. The Interior Castle is a mystical text, describing an approach to relationship with the essence of the self. This essence is understood as God, the identity in the central room of the castle. The castle represents the self, with the various rooms symbolizing aspects of the self. The self is depicted, in this context, as the expression of an ultimate reality constituting the core of the individual.
In adapting this image to Falola’s body of work, questions of correlations between self and work may be thereby evoked. What is the full range of relationships between the scholar and author and his creativity? How may his perennial, multidisciplinary creativity be understood, for example, in terms of ideas of access to performative powers dramatizing the self as an interface between the instrumentality of the mental, biological and social construction of the self and human embodiment of a life force that underlies existence, a summation distilling ideas of the self at the intersection of human creativity and creativity in nature represented by the Yoruba origin concepts àṣẹ, universal life force, and orí, the self, as this conjunction is particularly forcefully outlined in Henry John Drewal et al’s Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought (1989), a distinctive expression of ideas recurring in various ways in other cultures, such as the Indian Shakti and the Chinese ch’i ?
History and its implications within the construction of knowledge as storytelling and interpretation of stories, is one way of depicting the various rooms, the varied idea complexes constituting Falola’s work as represented by each text and the relationships between these texts. This is a summation adapting the hermeneutics of the Yoruba origin Ifa knowledge system. This interpretation of his work is convergent with Falola’s intellectual origins in historical studies and his explicit identification with Yoruba culture and thought, from which Ifa emerges. At the intersection of self and expression represented by this unfolding creative matrix, what may be understood of the ultimate direction of this exploratory journey at the convergence of human creativity and the creativity represented by the universe?
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Falola’s forthcoming Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies (2022) suggests an approach to related questions at the convergence of the self, its creativity and the embedding of this unity within larger socio-cognitive complexes, the social contexts that shape and are shaped by the development of knowledge. The book is described as applying ”autoethnography to the understanding of African knowledge systems [considering] the ‘Self ‘ and Yoruba Being (the individual and the collective) in the context of the African decolonial project [using] diverse and novel methods to access an African way of knowing [exploring] the different ways that a society understands and presents itself…”
”Memoir And Memory,” Falola’s Fall 2017 course at the University of Texas, demonstrates his efforts at translating into pedagogy these intersections of orality, memory, writing and the development of individual meaning and its social resonance, as evident from this representation of the course description, using its sentences but reorganizing them for the purpose of this essay:
Memoirs are reflections of events as filtered through the author’s emotions and cognitive frameworks. We will attempt to transform memory and reported experience into personal essays [developing] the craft of converting memories into compelling narratives. The class is an exercise in both developing writing skills and appreciating the importance of memory and oral tradition as history.
Exposing and converting truth to art requires courage and a refining of the artistic skills that allow memoirs to effectively communicate the deep layers of truth and humanness that are usually absent from conventional discourses.
Since the ascendancy of print, memory has been relegated to the background and substituted by texts. Scripts are privileged over oral accounts. Yet, these verbal accounts play important roles in writing history, and share the same weaknesses as archival sources. For historians and researchers, therefore, the course highlights the importance of memory and how it counterbalances texts.
The Centralization of African Agency as Motivating Vision of Falola’s Work
In terms of motivation and summative vision, Falola’s work may be understood as centralizing African agency, African creative powers, through the medium of multidisciplinary scholarship, complemented by autobiography and poetry.
Addressing the challenge of African empowerment and the revitalizing of African Studies everywhere through generating a greater degree of independent thinking as the field rises from constriction within templates created by its entry into global scholarship through the colonial encounter, is the vision of Decolonizing African Studies.
This and similar forthcoming texts may be described as Falola’s crowning projects at this point in his career, in a career demonstrating perhaps varied climaxes as the scholar ascends new peaks, generating new vistas of possibility in relation to the subjects he studies and within the topography of his work in general, a creative unfolding suggesting unpredictable future developments.
These current developments, bolder projections of orientations also evident in some earlier works, are often sole authored texts developing summative engagements with almost the entire field of African Studies and at times trying to rework its epistemic and metaphysical centres and modes of operation- ”Pluriversalism,” ”Ritual Archives” ( both in The Toyin Falola Reader on African Culture, Nationalism, Development and Epistemology, 2018 ) and Decolonizing African Studies-or centring on summative aspects of it- Sacred Words and Holy Realms (2022) and with Nicole Griffin, Religious Beliefs and Knowledge Systems in Africa (2021) – or surveying the field from a view both personalised and sweeping- In Praise of Greatness: The Poetics of African Adulation (2019) and perhaps the forthcoming Decolonizing African Knowledge: Autoethnography and African Epistemologies.
Questions of Scope in Falola’s Rethinking of Modes of Knowing and Structures of Existence as Understood Within African Studies
After reading his “Ritual Archives” where he projects ideas about metaphysical orientations outside the secularist paradigm shaping the globally dominant Western knowledge system, I wonder “to what degree is Falola ready to go beyond making assertive statements on these ideas to clearly mapping how factual he thinks they are and why he thinks so?”
In ”Synthesis and Storytelling:An Interview With Dr. Toyin Falola” ((E.D.Watson, Front Porch Journal), Falola mentions how an ”Indian guru…gave me a religious symbol and walked me through some spiritual dialogue so that I could recover” from the trauma of losing a number of his own unpublished manuscripts while travelling.
Will his first-hand experience with such cognitive systems, which are outside the dominant strains in Western academia, inform his work on pluralistic epistemologies, expanding theory and going beyond theory into practice?
He presents an expansive account of the power of words in Sacred Words and Holy Realms, but does he explain why he thinks those views are valid beyond being accounts of classical African and some other cultures’ ideas about language?
In stating ”Words, as stand-alone and in combination with objects, are translatable into various forms of power. Words can produce spells and trance, prophecy, commands, death, and flights into the holy realms,” in a talk presaging the April 2022 publication of the book, will he go beyond this assertion, a description of the metaphysics of language in terms that capture classical African, classical Asian and Western esoteric and Christian perspectives, to explain why he thinks that assertion is an accurate description of the power of words?
In sum, to what degree is Falola a describer and analyst of non-secular systems of thought and to what degree is he a person who identifies with these systems as an accurate description of reality?
In asserting the latter, as he seems to be doing, how far is he ready to go in validating his case? In other words, to what degree is he ready to move from dipping his toe in the water to diving into the river? We need critical thinkers who will dive into the river and tell us what they see, while keeping their critical intelligence alert.
Falola moves in that direction through his superb meditation on the Yoruba deity Eshu in ”Ritual Archives” but it would help if he were also to describe the ontological frame of such a meditation.
In what way does Eshu exist in that context, as Falola understands that spiritual figure, independent of the human mind or created by the mind or both? A cosmic identity as claimed by some?
In moving into these kinds of waters in his escalated efforts to centre African thought in scholarship, Falola rethinks the epistemic and metaphysical paradigms in terms of which he had conducted scholarship for decades, paradigms in terms of which the globally dominant Western academia is constructed.
Even then, however, Western academia is often so creatively elastic the longer it develops, challenges to its dominant paradigms do thrive within it, as represented by the growth of non-secularist yet non-religious orientations such as those of environmentalist David Abram and Chicano, feminist and sexual rights thinker Gloria Anzaldua.
Navigating the terrain between the ratiocinative thought dominant in the Western academy and the more intuitive, imaginative and multi-cognitive modes Falola is pointing towards is a delicate task. Falola seems to be boldly declaring his commitment to this navigational process. The expectations generated are great. One will need to read those texts to see how he pursues this task.
Falola’s Scholarship as Exemplifying the Paradox of Enablement and Disempowerment in Relation to the Work of the Diaspora African Scholar: The Migratory Context
Falola, as Jacob & Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, titles implying extraordinary achievement within and beyond the concept of the professorship, is one of the Nigerian scholars who moved from Nigerian universities to the West, when Nigerian academia entered into decline after the glorious years that ran from the 60s to perhaps the 80s. Like many who made that move, he has thrived in what is the world’s most highly developed economic system. The development of knowledge represented by scholarship is here understood as an aspect of an economy. The structure demonstrated by the Western economy represented by Europe and North America is depicted as the most highly developed and most inclusive of diversity, in spite of challenges that may exist to such inclusions.
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One aspect of this migratory condition is reflection on what is, what has been and what may be, in terms of the tensions between the distinctive though entwined characters of where the migrant is coming from and where they are. A particularly poignant demonstration of this orientation is Abiola Irele’s ”The African Scholar,” (1991) in which, from his professorship at Ohio State University, Irele looks back over the glorious decades of academic scholarship-centered in higher institutions-in which he played a central role across Nigeria and Ghana. He laments the decline that motivated himself and others to move to the West. He describes these migrants as entering into a paradoxical situation, in which the scholarship to which they had devoted their lives as they built a new cultural structure shaping a distinctive African identity as the continent slowly emerged from its transformation by colonialism did not enjoy the centrality it had in their home countries.
Irele’s younger contemporary and later Harvard colleague, Biodun Jeyifo, told his own view of the story in ”One Year in the First Instance,” (2000) describing how one year exploratory visits were used by African scholars in testing Western academic waters for the possibility of migration. Other books and essays, such as Falola and Niyi Afolabi’s The Human Cost of African Migrations (2007), Falola’s The African Diaspora: Slavery, Modernity, and Globalization (2013) and other sole authored, co-written or sole edited and co-edited texts by Falola, as well as Nkiru Nzegwu and Isidore Okpewho’s The New African Diaspora (2009), amidst both broad ranging discussions of the subject and more fucused studies, such as Tejumola Olaniyan’s The African Diaspora and the Disciplines (2010), explore the experience of the migrant African scholar as well as the centripetal pull of the West for scholars from different parts of the world. These stories are correlative with migrations from various parts of the world in different fields of endeavour, such as technology, with the massively influential first generation Indian presence in US technology companies being one of the most prominent examples.
Falola’s Creation of a Research and Publishing Network Spanning the West and Africa Within and Beyond Academic Contexts
Falola has been particularly successful in this migratory framework. Working outside any academic position beyond his professorship, and, to the best of my knowledge, often without any access to institutional funding outside resources generated by himself and his collaborators-most likely except for the annual University of Texas Africa conference and the recent conference of Nigerian university administrators he was central to organizing, and possible institutional contributions to the Toyin Falola conferences and other conferences in his honour- he has built a research and publication network spanning Africa and the West.
This is represented by articles and books by himself and with others, sole authored, co-authored, sole edited and co-edited, and various book series with different Western publishers, along with editorships of a number of academic journals and memberships of editorial boards of academic journals in different parts of the world.
These initiatives involve such particularly prestigious brands as Cambridge, the world’s oldest academic press, and such resonant names in academic publishing as Routledge and Palgrave. It integrates such staples of Africana academic publishing as Indiana UP and Africa World Press and his edited series with University of Rochester Press, among other publishers, as well as publishing a number of books with Bloomsbury, famous as the publishers of J.K. Rowling, the most economically successful writer in the history of publishing and who also have a rich academic publishing arm.
The Challenge of Access to Comprehensive Information on Falola’s Work
The website of the Toyin Falola Network is a useful guide to mapping Falola’s productivity, even though its account of his creativity is incomplete. It gives a very rich presentation of his books but only up to 2019, even though Falola’s book publication has expanded in volume and variety after that year. The completeness of its records of his published books even up to 2019 is uncertain beceause, as far as I can see, it does not include The Toyin Falola Reader, published in 2018.
The site’s records do not include his articles, and do not indicate his general editorship of various book series. Another entry on the University of Texas site lists his editorship of a number of book series but seems to be an old entry, with a biography by Sam Saverance from 2005 and a valuable picture of a much younger Falola, and does not include his general editorship, with Carina Ray, of the Cambridge University Press series ”African Identities: Past and Present,” to which Decolonizing African Knowledge : Autoethnography and African Epistemologies is a contribution. His various CVs online are also incomplete. The one on his page at the website of the Department of History at the University of Texas tracks his books up to 2010. Another from the same university stops at 2011.
Questions of Scope of Audience Emerging from Falola’s Scholarship
These achievements emerge from a culture of yearly multi-book publication he embarked upon after his 1981 PhD at the then University of Ife in Nigeria, having undergone all his education in that home country. Having practically reached the heights of visibility in African Studies, radiating from his originating centre in history to practically all fields in African Studies except the sciences, certain questions remain.
”Whose interests am I serving through this relentless activity? Yes, any comprehensive bibliography on almost any field in African Studies will include a book written or edited by me, with my essays being imaginatively comparable to grains of sand at the ocean shore, but who does my work affect most?” Falola may be imagined as asking himself in quiet moments, in company in which free expression of intimate thoughts is welcome or in public contexts in which such questioning finds a place.
In terms of motivation and summative vision, Falola’s work may be understood in terms of the centralization of African agency, African creative powers, through the medium of multidisciplinary scholarship, complemented by autobiography and poetry.
This task is made paradoxical by Falola’s operating largely through Western publishers, whose books are often priced beyond the reach of the currencies of African countries which are often much weaker than those of the nations in which the publishers are based, and whose distribution presence in Falola’s native Nigeria, for example, is minimal, when it exists in the first place.
Faloa’s situation exemplifies that of the African scholar, particularly migrant African scholars, in the Western academy in its Western location. He is an African scholar, formed in Africa and active in the African academy well before migrating to the US. Yet he operates in the West within an academic system in which publishing with Western publishers is a non-negotiable imperative for career growth, the reach and prestige of these publishers eventually becoming central to Falola’s international esteem in the field. Yet, the work coming out of these publishing houses is often beyond the ready access of people in Africa. The paradoxes of this situation add extra urgency to Falola’s efforts to face the question ”whom does African Studies represent and whose interests does it serve?” the central question shaping his Decolonizing African Studies.
The economic questions invoked here are issues of socio-economic structure which Falola and his collaborators address as far as they can through providing limited ease of access to his work, as represented by book donations, the constant provision of publishing opportunities to any who cares to participate in his numerous book projects, as well as eagerness to help scholars publish their own works, regular conferences in Africa and Falola’s consistent writing in Nigerian news media, dramatizing his belief in the concept of ”brain circulation,” a term I might have heard him use, African diaspora scholars interacting with the continent in a cycle of renewal that ideally involves similar input from Africa based scholars.
This knowledge exchange, however, is often seen, in various contexts beyond the initiatives of Falola and his collaborators, as asymmetrical, with the Western based scholars perceived as those who primarily have something to give while those in Africa, and certainly in Falola’s home country, Nigeria, are understood as primarily recipients from their more advantaged colleagues abroad. Can this dynamic be changed to something more equitable, as Africa-based scholars generate new cognitive schemes, perhaps using the resources of classical African knowledge systems, an aspiration Falola projects with particular force in ”Ritual Archives?”
How may scholarship in Africa and about Africa be empowered, developing its own identity in the marketplace of ideas of how to construct knowledge? That question is the vision of Decolonizing African Studies.
Approaches to Discussing African Aesthetics
As the author acknowledges in Decolonizing African Studies, in a manner suggestive of the myriad possibilities engendered by the fertility of his work as a whole:
The book is particularly informed by the recognition that there will never be one approach to decolonizing knowledge. The book presents decolonization in many ways over various disciplines. There will be the usual contestations, as this book will form the basis of multiple debates, including critical objections to some of my statements. Thought patterns and knowledge systems are, by nature, multiplex and multiplural.
In this essay, my second encounter with Decolonizing African Studies, I have jumped to the chapter ”Decolonizing African Aesthetics” because of my particular interest in aesthetics, generally, and to some degree, African aesthetics. I hereby outline a point of alignment and disalignment with the chapter. Through such a process, one may move towards Falola’s example of integrative analysis over almost the entire field of African Studies as represented by this book, but perhaps approach it in a manner different from himself.
Falola’s attention in this chapter is on varieties of approaches to creativity in the various post-classical arts in African music, fashion and film. ”Post-classical” is a term I’m using in order to avoid the term ”post-colonial,” thereby suggesting the agency of Africans as originating before and going beyond the colonial experience and its consequences.
While Falola focuses on history, he also engages, minimally, in a correlative discussion of aesthetics in terms of ideas that inform or are inspired by art. These are ideas which may be created by the artists themselves or inspired by their work.
In addressing historical developments in music, fashion and film, the chapter complements the one titled ”Decolonizing African Literature.” In creating a mapping of the field inspired by points of agreement and disagreement with Falola’s own mapping, one could group the two chapters together as ”Decolonizing African Arts,” akin to the way more recent editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica classify all African imaginative forms under ”African Arts.”
Along with the arts studied by Falola, we could add the visual arts, which would include sculpture, painting, drawing and architecture, and perhaps others. These additions would be critical, because these are some of the forms in which the artistic decolonization process has been vigorously pursued in Africa and its Diaspora. In architecture, examples such as that of Demas Nwoko need to be examined, correlating Nwoko’s development of ideas of African aesthetics as philosophy, as in the journal New Culture, and his practicalization of his rethinking of African aesthetics through his architectural work. Discussing these arts together would facilitate demonstrating their points of convergence of action and of informing ideas and orientations. Such a correlation would complement the expansive range of arts engaged in Decolonizing African Studies, an expansiveness which is not often demonstrated in discussing African arts.
One could either enlarge the correlative discussion of aesthetics as philosophy, the minimally developed section of the chapter, in relation to aesthetics as artistic progression, the approach Falola centralises, or retain the chapter ”Decolonizing African Aesthetics” as a separate chapter. The second choice facilitates using the chapter as a means of discussing aesthetics, not as first order discourse, as Falola focuses on, a focus on aesthetics as artistic creativity, that being one understanding of aesthetics, but as second order discourse, a reflection on ideas and principles centred in the practice of art and the experience of beauty, as this field may be defined, the subsidiary aspect of aesthetics minimally discussed by Falola.
Aesthetics as second order discourse, as a philosophical discipline, needs to be so closely studied in this context because it’s a central arena in which the struggle for decolonizing African thought is taking place. The field involves both the philosophical positions taken by African and pro-African writers and other artists, to ideas developed by African and non-African scholars in these fields, positions spanning classical and post-classical African arts.
The power of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline is particularly obvious with reference to Western and Asian aesthetics, as developed by artists and scholars. These run from the Indian concept of rasa, to the wabi-sabi concept in Japanese aesthetics, to the Western idea of the Sublime, among others. I am interpreting aesthetics, in this context, as centred in ideas, deliberately constructed concepts, directly or indirectly related to art and the sense of beauty.
African contributions to aesthetics as philosophy include Uche Okeke’s idea of Natural Synthesis in his efforts, as a central ideologue of the 1960s Zaria Art School and his later fundamental influence on the Nsukka Art School, to develop an original direction for post-classical African art. They also involve Rowland Abiodun, Babatunde Lawal, Henry Drewal and others, engaging Yoruba concepts in studying classical Yoruba art as an aspect of reshaping art scholarship on Africa.
These investigations would be later adapted to post-classical Nigerian art, such as employing the idea of oju inu or inward vision from Yoruba philosophy as a category of universalistic artistic analysis. Related to but different from these efforts at demonstrating classical Yoruba aesthetic thought and its contemporary significance is Drewal’s distillation of his theory of Sensiotics from his practical experience as a sculptor in the Yoruba context and his scholarship on this artistic and reflective human environment.
One may choose, though, to subsume such a chapter on decolonizing African aesthetics within the chapter ”Decolonizing African Philosophy,” since aesthetics is a branch of philosophy. Doing that, however, would mean expanding that chapter to also include sub-sections on other branches of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and perhaps even the philosophy of law. This would be critical as a means of integrating developments in these branches in terms of the theme of decolonization.
In metaphysics, one could discuss work like that of Kwasi Wiredu, on Akan ideas of the nature of being, Pantaleon Iruegbu’s development of ”kpim,’‘ meaning ”core or essence of phenomena, from Igbo, Jonathan Chimakonam’s recent book, with Uchenna Ogbonnaya, on metaphysics in an African context, African Metaphysics, Epistemology and a New Logic: A Decolonial Approach to Philosophy (2021), among others. Helpful developments may also be discerned in the philosophy of law, in the relationship between classical African and Western legal systems, such as in the work of Taslim Elias.
In including a section on history and philosophy of science as suggested in my first essay on this book, one could also consider the philosophical orientations of efforts to decolonize African health systems in their adaptation of Western medicine, as in the work of Adeoye Lambo at Aro Psychiatric Hospital and his justifications of his approach with reference to the value of classical African medical systems.
Such studies of Lambo as Mathew Heaton’s “Thomas Adeoye Lambo and the Decolonization of Psychiatry in Nigeria” (in B.M. Bennett and J.M. Hodge (eds) Science and Empire: Britain and the World, 2011), focus on this subject, Heaton doing this in terms of a wealth of intertextual references to studies of science at the nexus of Western and non-Western systems of thought in relation to colonialism and its consequences.
Lambo’s own publications, such as African Traditional Beliefs: Concepts of Health and Medical Practice, 1963, help clarify his vision as a person deeply exposed to both classical African medicine and its philosophical foundations and Western medicine and its philosophical contexts, bringing these into a synthesis.
In sum, an understanding of the subject of decolonizing African Studies which Falola has so broadly covered may be developed through points of identification with or disagreement with his approach. Such a guide to thinking and creation is a central function of scholarly creativity as represented by Falola’s effort to unify the expansive subject of decolonizing African Studies within a summative text.
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Arts & Culture
From The Mouth Of The Authoritative Bystander: Steve Ayorinde’s Commentary On The 30 Years Of The New Nigerian Cinema
By Toyin Falola
Anyone can choose to be an observer. Any observer can choose to document and publish their observations. However, what stands Steve Ayorinde’s recently published documentation of observations out is authority — hence my decision to title this piece “From the Mouth of the Authoritative Bystander.” Authority is earned: in Ayorinde’s case, he has earned the authority to comment on the emergence and growth of the new Nigerian cinema because he is unarguably one of Nigeria’s best and most celebrated film and art critics.
Expertise and experience breed authority, and for Ayorinde, both have been in play in his life. Ayorinde has spent decades as a journalist, media critic, film judge, and international commentator whose takes have often been sought both within and outside the country. Furthermore, he has served Nigeria’s biggest economic state — Lagos State — as a Commissioner for Tourism, Arts, and Culture. All these, among many other achievements and strides, point to Ayorinde’s qualification to embark on the journey to document the evolution and growth of Nigeria’s Nollywood in the past 30 years, a movie and film industry that’s been adjudged as one of the world’s fastest-growing movie industries.
Ayorinde is not new to Nigeria’s movie industry. In his foreword, Prof. Jonathan Haynes takes us back to 1996 — where Ayorinde and Okafor’s media piece introduced and critiqued the nascent Nollywood industry. For Ayorinde, watching this new Nigerian cinema start and grow from his earliest predictions must bring some fulfilment. And while it is still expected to grow in leaps and bounds, writing this book at this point is crucial — as crucial as the newspaper piece of 1996 — for it will serve as a means of taking stock, looking back, gauging achievements, measuring success, and highlighting aspects that need improvement.
In 185 pages, Ayorinde serves his authoritative verdict on the altar of six sub-parts, focusing on feature films, directors, actors, actresses, and landmark events. Through this breakdown, we can quickly examine the evolution through Ayorinde’s parameters.
Ayorinde’s bystander’s verdict opens with a seemingly chronological strip-down of in-depth commentaries on 30 of the most era-defining movies and films produced by the Nollywood industry. These 30 works of art, grouped under the sub-section titled Feature Films, include movies from the days of the early cinema and the VHS cassette player to the days of the VCD to the days of the new cinema and online streaming platforms like Netflix. Ayorinde’s expository commentaries on the films of the first decade of the new Nigerian cinema featured Awada Kerikeri’s Asewo To Re Mecca, NEK Video Films’ Living in Bondage, Mainframe Film and Television Prodcutions’ Ti Oluwa Nile, NEK Video Films’ Glamour Girls, Andy Amenechi’s Mortal Inheritance, Gab Okoye’s Battle of Musanga, Zeb Ejiro’s Domitilla, Cinekraft’s Owo Blow series, Femi Lasode’s Sango, Amaka Igwe’s Forever, Rainmaker 70’s King of My Country, and Andy Amenechi’s Igodo. Through these twelve films, Ayorinde shows us the birth and earliest developmental traits of the Nollywood industry. These films also serve as proof that literature mirrors life and society, as the themes of these movies and many like them that were made in the 1990s reflect the preoccupations of the then Nigerian society — kidnapping, ritualism, prostitution, education as the means to livelihood, the migration to greener pastures in the city, among many other concepts.
Kingsley Ogoro’s Osuofia in London, Jeta Amata’s The Amazing Grace, Niji Akanni’s Aramotu, and Chineze Anyaene’s Ije were Ayorinde’s selected films for the expository commentaries on the new Nigerian cinema’s second decade. Through his commentaries on these feature films, Ayorinde makes us understand that the early 2000s to 2010 marked the era during which Nollywood started to gain global traction and attention. During this period, filmmakers in the industry began to tap into collaborations with foreign producers. Similarly, this period marked an increase in the involvement of female directors and producers in Nigeria’s fast-rising Nollywood industry, as well as the game-changing effects of newer technological equipment to help shoot and project more glossy and flashy films.
Kenneth Gyang’s Blood and Henna, Obi Emelonye’s Last Flight to Abuja, Biyi Bandele’s Half of A Yellow Sun, Kunle Afolayan’s October 1, Ayo Makun’s 30 Days in Atlanta, Izu Okukwu’s ‘76, Steve Guka’s 93 Days, Kemi Adetiba’s Wedding Party and King of Boys, GDN Studios’ Eyimofe, Hassan Giggs’ Sadauki, Funke Akindele’s Omo Ghetto: The Saga, Desmond Ovbiagele’s The Milkmaid, and Izu Ojukwu’s Amina serve as the feature films spotlighted by Ayorinde for the third decade of the new Nigerian cinema. Through these films, Ayorinde showcases the evident changes in the evolutionary trajectory of the Nollywood industry, including massive advertising and influencer marketing made easily through social media platforms and the gross followers industry stars have amassed on social media platforms; collaboration with streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Showmax, and increasing national and international award nominations.
In reviewing the feature films spotlighted by Ayorinde in the first part of his verdict, one would notice recurrent categories such as comedy, epic, thriller, and drama — enough to posit that these are the most defining and popular film categories that have yet existed in the Nigerian Nollywood space for the past three decades.
In the second part of the book dedicated to directors, Ayorinde profiles 30 of Nigeria’s most iconic film directors — 32 if one chooses to consider two couples separately — a pattern that doesn’t fail to drive home the point that the selection is continued deference to the symbolism of 30, being the number of years for which the new Nigerian cinema has existed. Ayorinde’s profiling ramps up directors from the contemporary to the pioneer directors of the new Nigerian cinema — from Tunde Kelani to Kunle Afolayan, to Okwo Mildred, to Ojukwu Izu, Obi-Rapu Chris, Kenneth Gyang, Kemi Adetiba, Steve Gukas, Obi Emelonye, Ishaya Bako, and Andy Amenechi, among other prolific directors that have worked to place Nigeria’s films on the global map. The profiling includes the directors’ filmography, nominations and awards, the education of these directors and how their education has shaped their work.
In profiling actors, Ayorinde’s selection cuts across several sides of the Nollywood industry (indigenous-language and English films) and different generations of contemporary and pioneer actors. This selection spotlights 30 actors, including Abdullahi Sani Musa, Femi Adebayo, Odunlade Adekola, Gabriel Afolayan, Fred Amata, Ekpeyong Keppy Bassey, Sam Dede, Pete Edochie, Desmond Elliot, Timini Egbuson, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Jideo Kosoko, Olu Jacobs, Osita Iheme, and Chinedu Ikedieze. Like the profiling of directors, this also includes the filmography, industry experience, awards and nominations of each of these actors, and how their work and accolades have shaped the industry and strengthened its relevance.
Trail-blazing Toyin Abraham, Sandra Achums, Taiwo Lycett-Ajai, Funke Akindele, Halima Atete, Hilda Dokubo, Rita Dominic, Adesua Etomi, Kate Henshaw, Nse Ikpe-Etim, Patience Ozokwor, Genevieve Nnaji, Joke Silva, Sola Sobowale, and Mercy Johnson, among other prolific Nigerian actresses, have the spotlight for the third part of the authoritative bystander’s tales. The commentaries on these actresses cut across their filmography, education, work experience, entry into the industry, awards, and influence on the overall Nollywood industry. If not anything, Ayorinde’s careful selection of 30 actresses in a way that diversely and inclusively represents the three decades and the evolutionary milestones of the industry while highlighting the growth and development of these actresses — especially those that have been around since the earliest years — is worthy of applause.
The creative industry burns bright with stars and talents. In the same vein, uneasy lies the heads that wear the crown, and the industry is also the abode of some of the most troubled people. In the fourth chapter of his book, “The Unforgettable Thirty,” Ayorinde pays tribute to some of the best minds and most influential people who have shaped Nigeria’s new cinema — albeit they are no longer alive. Among these “Unforgettable 30” are legendary Hubert Ogunde, Moses Olaiya Adejumo, Adeyemi Afolayan, Sam Loco Efeeimwonkiyeke, Francis Agu, Biyi Bandele, Felicia Mayford. Sadiq Daba, Nura Mustapha Waye, and Chico Ejiro. Given that Africa is a place where we don’t speak ill of the dead and hardly even speak of the dead at all, Ayorinde’s recognition of the “Unforgettable 30” is a bold and commendable act — especially as these actors, actresses, directors, and producers immensely contributed to the birth and growth of the industry.
In “Landmark Events,” the last part of the book, Ayorinde maps out stand-out events that primarily affected the growth of the new Nigerian cinema. These events, which he categorized into three — Decade 1 (1990 – 1999), Decade 2 (2000 – 2009), and Decade 3 (2010 – 2019) include film festivals, conferences, major acquisitions, collaborations in the industry, the exposure of Nollywood to global audiences, the growth and expansion of Nollywood, awards, the birth of the African Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, and the selection of Nigerians as Academy voters, among other landmark events that have come to prove how far the Nollywood industry has grown and the influence stakeholders in the industry and the industry as an entity has amassed so far.
In the opening paragraph of this piece, I defined authority and the parameters through which I adjudged Ayorinde as an authority on the new Nigerian cinema. If there were to be any doubt about the authoritativeness of this book — and if the sheer amount would not clear those doubts of information shared in the expository profiling of the first four chapters — the “Landmark Events” chapter is a solid proof of how close Ayorinde has been to the source, how closely he has followed and monitored the growth of the industry, and how deeply invested he is in it.
This book is a gift whose value and worth will appreciate as generations pass — it is a goldmine of information that will shape how future generations of researchers, scholars, and critics will view, understand, study, and critique the Nigerian film and movie industry. A product of passion and dedication, the book will remain of considerable value in the decades ahead and will surely become a treasure to behold in our understanding of Nigerian cinemas.
Arts & Culture
Review Of Idaniloju Sotunsa’s POIGNANT TALES
By Toyin Falola
Human beings are plagued with many challenges in various forms and magnitudes. Life will not always be rosy; it can be tough today and easy tomorrow, depressing today but joyful tomorrow. Some have food but cannot eat, while some can eat but have no food: that is life, e no balance. Until recently, people kept their problems to themselves, even after they might have surmounted those issues, to avoid stigma or misunderstanding from society. This has resulted in people remaining stuck and clueless in similar experiences with other persons who could have shared their story and how they got out of such situations, while some others who did not go through such challenges may be able to understand and help people. After all, experience, they say, is the best teacher. This is what Poignant Tales is set to achieve.
Poignant Tales touches on life’s challenges ranging from loss, grief, marriage, pregnancy and career. It recounts real-life stories of actual people who have been kept anonymous. Each individual in this book tells their story, the challenges life has thrown at them and how they navigated the course of their lives and emerged successful.
I must commend the author, Idaniloju Sotunsa, a first-year student of Mass Communication at Babcock University, for her brilliance and creativity in putting this work together, particularly in bringing to light certain issues which are mostly ignored, such as the part on “Trauma: Main Care Giver”. Her writing style in the form of a talk show is captivating and keeps the reader hooked till the end.
The book opens with a social menace in which several discussions have been advanced, but victims avoid talking about Rape. Many people never recover from it; the memories torment them even years after the incident. It leaves a scar that may never heal. As traumatizing as rape is, rape survivors are forced to keep silent about it; directly by the predators or their parents, indirectly by a society which will place a tag on the survivor. It is important to state that women can be rapists too. There are stories of female domestic staff who have sexually molested their boss’ son. In Nigeria, it is easier to believe that a dog was raped than to believe that a man was raped. Hence, it is extremely difficult for people to come out to share their experiences, and when they do, they choose to be faceless to avoid the stigma and backlash that may follow. It is highly commendable that a survivor would share her story, despite the unbearable way it happened. It helps other survivors relate to her story and gives them hope.
It takes divine help, perseverance, diligence and hard work for a child from a wretched home to become successful. The odds will, a lot of times, not be in his favour. No matter how strong-willed he is, Ms. Sotunsa has shown that he will need God to take him out of poverty. Poverty is a very terrible thing. There are a lot of children all over the world who want a better life for themselves and are struggling and working hard daily to break free from poverty. But there are days when it is just too tough, and thoughts of giving up weaken the soul. On days like these, thoughts of “if Lagbaja, the son of nobody, can make it, I will make it too” strengthen his resolve and push him to get through another day. This is what the story in Chapter Two offers. Do not give up; there is hope. It is possible to become something out of nothing. Hard work still pays.
Loss is an inevitable part of human life, but as inevitable as it is, we are never prepared for it. Loss of a spouse, a child, a parent or a loved one, the pain of one is not lesser than the other. It is still a loss. Navigating through life despite the vacuum that such loss leaves is devastating; many are left helpless and broken while well-meaning people give various pieces of advice. The common one is “to be strong for the children.” As well-meaning as that may sound, it is not what a grieving person needs now. After the condolence follows prying eyes, wanting to know the bereaved’s every movement, particularly if they are widowed. It is appalling to know that society does not always expect the widowed, especially a widow, to remarry. They are considered selfish and not thinking about their children or that they do not love their late spouse enough. They fail to realize that for some, companionship is what they need, while some others cannot easily bear the load originally meant for two now solely become theirs. In Chapter Three, a widower shares her challenges after she lost her husband, Chapters six, eight and twelve recount the loss of a wife, parent and child, respectively. These touching stories will make you realize how fickle life is and how you should love and treat people well while they are here.
Chapters Four and Seven share stories on teenage pregnancy and single parenting. These two issues are a huge blow and can be major life disruptors for women. Low self-esteem and shame can be a constant battle. For many women, their lives spiral downward; they lose a grip of their own lives and dreams to cater for a child brought into the world by two people, only for the other party to bail out suddenly. Many women do not get support from their friends and families, making it hard for them to sometimes get back on track. One mistake mars their lives forever. The stories in these chapters show how empathy, support, love, forgiveness and understanding can help people get their lives back. A child is not a disease; although it can be tough initially, it is not a death sentence or the end of your life and dreams. You can move on to be everything you dream of and more. The experiences of these women will guide you and assure you that your mistakes do not define you, but whatever you make out of that mistake is your choice. If you are not in these situations, you will learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating them.
As stated earlier, this life no balance. While some women are ridiculed for having a child out of wedlock, others are scorned for not having a child in their marriage. TTC (“Trying To Conceive”) women have a lot of ‘horror’ stories to tell about what they face in their homes, from their spouses, in-laws, neighbours, and even from their parents and families. Delayed pregnancy in marriage comes with taunts, mockery, snide comments, awful advice and suggestions, a lot of monetary expenses, tons of medical tests and checkups, emotional and psychological stress, hope, despair, prayers and tears. Society focuses on the woman and tags her as ‘barren’, forgetting that only God gives children and that it takes two to make a baby, and the man could be infertile. TTC women become desperate for solutions to their inability to conceive; some will go the extra mile just to have a child. Chapter Five tells the story of a woman who waited sixteen years after marriage before she conceived and gave birth to triplets! She shares how her in-laws constantly maltreated her and how this challenge took a toll on her and her home. Her story is inspiring; through it, one is assured that God makes everything beautiful in His time.
In different chapters, the book also touches on having a personal vision and the lack of it. Two individuals share their experiences and how they became successful despite having a personal vision or lacking one.
Domestic Violence, another silent killer, is not left unvisited in this book. Abuse does not have to be physical; emotional and verbal abuse can sometimes be worse than physical assault. Here, a woman narrates how she suffered abuse from her husband for years until she summoned the courage to leave. This story teaches women that enduring an abusive marriage is not the best. Fear of what people will say is not enough reason. Whether you leave to live or stay to die, people will talk and move on to the next gossip quickly. Marriage should be enjoyed, not endured.
In all, Poignant Tales is a must-read as a work of literature and a motivational tool. While a young teenager, the voices are mature, and the pieces of advice are solid. The book reveals the intricacies of life: life truly is not a bed of roses. From this book, you will learn about compassion, kindness and humanity. You will know about people’s struggles and let empathy, not judgment, be your watchword. Through the pages of this book, you will learn, unlearn and relearn. This book will help you learn from people’s stories and avoid the mistakes they have made. Poignant Tales is a reminder to be grateful for the life you have. Idaniloju is a writer, a motivational author, and the princess of sermons.
Arts & Culture
BREAKING: Ace Actor Saint Obi Dies
A famous Nollywood actor Saint Obi is dead. Obi whose real name is Obinna Nwafor died about a week ago but the family chose not to announce his death for reasons yet to be ascertained.
It was learnt that the actor had battled an undisclosed ailment for sometime and was reported to have relocated to Jos, the Plateau State capital for further treatment of the ailment that had kept him in and out of the hospital for over two years.
It could not be confirmed why some of his colleagues have refused to speak about Obi’s death but it was gathered that the decision to keep sealed lips was informed by the family’s decision to keep his death away from the public for now.
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