Caine Prize 2020 & Africa Writes. Q&A: “[I]nvite our audiences to meditate on joy and re-center our humanity”: Ifeanyi Awachie’s Words on the Times

AiW note: In the first of Africa Writes’ online events this year, Ifeanyi Awachie, London-based Igbo curator and writer, will be in conversation with the 2020 AKO Caine Prize shortlisted writers this evening, Monday 20th July at 19.00 BST (20.00 CAT). 

The event aims to explore the writings and imagination of the five writers: Erica Sugo Anyadike, Chikodili Emelumadu, Jowhor Ile, Rémy Ngamije, and Irenosen Okojie. Please follow this link to register: bit.ly/AW2020AKOCainePrize.

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Image courtesy of Caine Prize.

Africa Writes PnP LogoWe’ve been reading through and reviewing the shortlisted stories through the month in our annual Caine series (a series which emerged from a “blogathon” organised back in 2013), and we’re also missing Africa Writes’ in-person Festival in London, with both events usually held at the beginning of July – so we were delighted to have the opportunity to speak to Awachie with her Words on the Times today, in the run up both to tonight’s conversation and the award announcement on the 27th July, which this year premieres with a specially commissioned film by renowned two-time Raindance Best British short film nominee Joseph Adensunloye.

Words on the Times is an AiW Q&A series, offered over recent weeks and months to explore the creativity and resilience with which writers and artists across Africa and in the diaspora are responding to current moment and the challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic. We will also be offering Words on the Times from the shortlisted writers as the announcement of the winner draws nearer – watch this space!

This Q&A with Awachie also continues an AiW conversation first begun in 2016, when AiW’s Rebecca Jones first chatted to Awachie about Africa Salon, a contemporary African arts and cultures festival founded in 2015 when Awachie was a student at Yale, bringing African conversations, arts and “cool” to the University.

Ifeanyi Awachie is passionate about creating positive, progressive African representation through storytelling and curation. She curated Africa Salon, has worked as a journalist and spoken word poet, and is the author of the nonfiction work Summer in Igboland.  Awachie is currently Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA).

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Words on the Times… Ifeanyi Awachie

Africa in Words: Could you tell us a bit about your own work and the ways that the pandemic has altered your plans?

Ifeanyi Awachie: I am Chief Curator of AFRICA SALON UK, a global contemporary African arts festival, and Assistant Curator at the ICA, London. Right before the lockdown period started, I was opening a programme I curated with my friend and collaborator Nydia A. Swaby, called Five Volumes for Toni Morrison, at the ICA. We had been planning the programme since even before Toni Morrison’s death in August 2019, and a lot of care, love, and effort had been put into preparing to execute it. Unfortunately, just as we began to open the weekend of events, several of our participants had to cancel due to travel bans, illness, or the desire to self-isolate. Our audience numbers were greatly reduced and we were disappointed not to have the programme we envisioned, but heartened by the atmosphere that was created despite the pandemic, which was one of warmth, togetherness (however brief), and a shared love and respect for Toni Morrison.

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AiW: In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?

IW: With AFRICA SALON, the lockdown has actually given me the rare opportunity to focus on creating experiences of the festival through social media. I began early in the lockdown period to create a series of Instagram posts that I called “salons at home: multi-sensory experiences designed for the quarantined African arts enthusiast.” These were posts that grouped three works from different artistic disciplines that all explored a similar theme. I wanted to draw people’s attention to interesting work that they could be experiencing in quarantine, works I love, and also give them the chance to immerse themselves in a certain idea, mood, or vibe through a sensory experience of a curated selection of works. I ran the salons-at-home for a number of weeks – until the current Black Lives Matter moment started, at which point I was inspired by London-based curatorial collective Languid Hands to write a statement about AFRICA SALON’s stance on the current period of intensified anti-Black violence and heightened awareness about endemic anti-Blackness. With the AS statement, I wanted to draw attention to the global dimensions of anti-Black violence and invite our audiences to meditate on joy and re-center our humanity. Currently, I’m planning a virtual festival that will take place on our channels later this July. This period has been challenging for a number of reasons but one strong upside has been the opportunity it’s given all of us, especially us as curators, to reimagine how we gather and take advantage of the new modes of curation, sociality, and community that are emerging in this moment via social media.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart-lifting in this time?

IW: I’ve found the support of my community, particularly my family, friends, fellow Black people, and Black women and feminists, to be the most heartwarming thing. From regular check-ins from loved ones to friends sending links to incredible digital programmes, to long, impromptu catch-ups that I wouldn’t normally have time for, to time and space shared with my best friend and flatmate, I’ve felt really connected throughout this period, and that has been invaluable. I’m really lucky, and loved.

AiW: How can Africa in Words’ communities support you?

IW: They can tune in the Caine Prize conversation and bring thoughtful questions, as well as into the work AFRICA SALON is doing – follow us on Instagram and interact with the salons at home, which are still available to view, and where we continue to recommend contemporary African art to watch, read, listen to, and view, via our stories. And of course, join us for our virtual festival (details soon to be announced on our Instagram).

 

You can follow Ifeanyi on Twitter @ifeanyiawachie And check out her website: ifeanyiawachie.com

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For more Words on the Times series, with writers, AiW Guest reviewers, curators, publishers, and editors, check out the blog category here.

You can read our previous years’ shortlist reviews and coverage of the Caine Prize from AiW here as well as our coverage of the Anthologies

The first review in the 2020 series, Zahra Banday’s of Irenosen Okojie’s ‘Grace Jones’, is here; the second, when Ellen Addis discusses Rémy Ngamije’s ‘The Neighbourhood Watch,’ can be found here; and the third by Joanna Woods, of Chikodili Emelumadu’s ‘What to do When Your Child Brings Home a Mami Wata’, is here

We’ll cover all of the stories by the end of the week – including Jowhor Ile’s ‘Fisherman’s Stew’ tomorrow and Erica Sugo Anyadike’s ‘How to Marry an African President’ on Friday, and we’ll keep you updated on the winner.

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CaineAKO2020

Ifeanyi Awachie, London-based Igbo curator and writer, will be in conversation with the 2020 AKO Caine Prize shortlisted writers this evening, Monday 20th July at 19.00 BST (20.00 CAT).

The event aims to explore the writings and imagination of the five writers: Erica Sugo Anyadike, Chikodili Emelumadu, Jowhor Ile, Rémy Ngamije, and Irenosen Okojie.

Please follow this link to register: bit.ly/AW2020AKOCainePrize.

#AfricaWrites2020 @africawritesuk @CainePrize

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Categories: Caine Prize, Fests, Fairs, Salons, Upcoming Events, Words on the Times, Writers

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