Event: 6th African Popular Cultures Workshop – Biafra 50 years on – University of Sussex, 17th May 2017

The School of English and the Sussex Africa Centre invite you to the

​6th African Popular Cultures Workshop at the University of Sussex, ‘Biafra 50 years on’

Wednesday 17th May, 3.00pm – 6.30pm, Arts C, Room C333

2017 APCW poster redesign 4.pptx

Workshop Programme

3.00pm – 3.40pm: Matthew Lecznar, University of Sussex

‘Reading (and listening) between the lines: Biafra and the arts of the Nsukka group​’

This paper considers the artistic legacies of the Nigeria-Biafra war through an examination of the creative work of the Nsukka group. The Nsukka group is a loose collection of artists with connections to the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which is located in the area of the country that seceded from Nigeria in 1967 under the banner of Biafra. The school became a thriving centre for  the arts during the decades following the end of the conflict in 1970, and is renowned both for its utilisation of the uli art practice (traditionally performed by Igbo women) and for working in a variety of visual, textual and mixed media. Exploring the ways that the history, memory, and iconography of Biafra have figured in these multimedia endeavours, and in the broader trajectories of members of the Nsukka group, I argue that these artists have given shape to and mediated between the many losses, contradictions and silences engendered by the war in their work.

3.40pm – 4.20pm: Oliver Coates, University of Cambridge

‘Nnamdi Azikiwe and Biafra: between activism, literature, and philosophy​’

This paper will consider Nnamdi Azikiwe’s engagements with Biafra both in terms of his poetry and his diplomatic activities both for Biafra and the Federal government. Drawing on Azikiwe’s poetry volume ‘Civil War Soliloquies,’ as well as his pamphlets and later interviews, the paper will chart Azikiwe’s allegiances during the war, and his post-war efforts to subsume these into his political persona. Comparing these writings since 1966 with Azikiwe’s earlier works such as Renascent Africa and his poetry collection ‘Meditations,’ this paper will show how Azikiwe attempted to connect his political legacy with a diffuse and resonant idea of African culture and spirituality. In doing so, it will defend Azikiwe’s later writing as an early draft of the Civil War’s history, as well as an attempt to re-read his Africa-centred philosophies of the 1930s and 1940s in relation to a radically transformed landscape of post-colonial disappointment.

4.20pm – 4.35pm: Refreshment Break  ​

4.35pm – 5.15pm: Tiziana Morosetti, University of Oxford

‘Triggering Thriller(s): Eddie Iroh’s Forty-Eight Guns for the General

Forty-Eight Guns for the General (1976) has an important place in the corpus of novels that emerged in the decade following the Nigerian Civil War. Defined as a ‘detective novel’ by Chidi Amuta and perhaps more correctly identified as a thriller by Theodora Ezeigbo, Eddie Iroh’s account of a group of white mercenaries in Biafra is at once an heir to the popular literature of Onitsha, and an early example of Nigerian thriller. Both aspects will be discussed in this paper, the main interest of which, however, is in (re)locating Forty-Eight Guns for the General within the production of second-generation authors, stressing its political preoccupations, as well as the ‘serious’ intent behind this apparently action-driven story. I will argue that two narratives of conflict overlap in this book: one that articulates the Biafran experience while the other discusses wider cultural clashes by juxtaposing a white minority to a black majority (to the detriment of the latter). Biafra becomes, in this perspective, a metaphor for Nigeria/Africa, and the novel itself a commentary not only on the Civil War, but also on the neo-colonialism that continues to plague the continent. Forty-Eight Guns for the General will therefore be read as a novel that builds on local sources to foster a new popular genre, as well as as one that is in clear dialogue with mainstream Nigerian literature, responding to both local and national issues.

5.15pm – 5.55pm: Sola Adeyemi, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘Of Roses and Bullets: Re-reading Reality and Illusion in Post Biafra Literature’

The geographical area of Biafra was famous for the Onitsha Market Literature in the 1950-1960s. However, with the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970), there was a shift in the focus of the literature from romance and politics, to injustice and the portrayal of anguish. Many of the literatures were still written by known and familiar writers, such as Cyprian Ekwensi and Chinua Achebe, but there were some new writers – Eddie Iroh, Elechi Amadi, John Iwuh and Ogonna Agu – whose anger created new cultural metaphors for the appraisal of the effect of the war. This presentation is on the work of younger writers who grew up with the war and who draw materials from the politics and the angst of the war to re-present a new post-Biafra/n cultural context.

6.00pm – 6.30pm: Panel discussion chaired by John Masterson, University of Sussex

For more information about the African Popular Cultures Workshop, contact Matthew Lecznar at m.lecznar@sussex.ac.uk

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  1. UK: African popular cultures workshop - African Politics and Policy

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