‘…The dialogue between the African Diaspora and the continent should continue to be stimulated’
Raquel Lima was in Nigeria for just 10 days, but her itinerary in Ibadan. and particularly Lagos was as though she’d lived in the city all her life. Curiosity, an admixture of her scholarly and artistic pursuit, led her to some of the city’s artistic contours that many locals may only have heard about. In this interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Lima’s 10-day stay in Nigeria is relived in memoirist accuracy
You were in Ibadan for a conference. What was it about and what was your point of intervention? What is the intersection between your intervention at the conference and your area of scholarship? How does one advance the other?
I was at the University of Ibadan as part of the conference titled ‘Decolonial Remains: Scrutinizing African Studies in Africa and the Unfinished Business of Decolonization,’ organized by the Institute of African Studies between July 16 and 20, 2022. My intervention served to gather observations and critiques for the PhD thesis I am currently developing in São Tomé and Príncipe, in the scope of the Program Post-Colonialisms and Global Citizenship at the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra in Portugal.
I presented a communication entitled ‘Violence, Memory and Orature – Tafua as a Decolonial Remain’, approaching Tafua, a cultural manifestation with music and dance, that portrays the daily lives of the enslaved ancestors of a specific community in São Tomé, and descendants from Angola.
So, I raised some questions about how we can learn from Tafua’s preservation and limitations and from the immaterial heritage that people carry in their bodies, in order to complement or contradict the written archives of that community and territory. The idea is to understand how orature, violence, and memory draw historical continuities of colonialism, as well as forms of resistance that allow us to create our narratives, produce our post-memories, expand our archives and reshape our history, as ways to deal with the unfinished business of decolonization.
This participation in Ibadan was of immense importance because I received observations and critiques from African scholars focused on decolonial studies, like me, but with different experiences and backgrounds. And overall, I feel that the dialogue between the African Diaspora and the African continent should continue to be stimulated, in the academic context and also in wider networks against neocolonialism.
From Ibadan to Lagos, you stayed in Nigeria for 10 days. What was your impression before coming to Nigeria?
Unfortunately, before the trip the widespread opinions painted Nigeria as a dangerous place, associated with kidnappings, abductions, ethnic conflicts and terrorist attacks. But I’m aware of how dangerous this narrative that generalizes very specific contexts to perpetuate a negative view of certain countries can be.
I also knew that Nigeria is a culturally rich country, and I had several artistic, literary, spiritual, and militant references that I valued and wanted to deepen. So, my impression before going to Nigeria was a mix of a certain anxiety of the unknown and a profound gratitude for having the opportunity.
And thereafter, how did Nigeria happen to you?
My stay completely exceeded my expectations. I’m impressed with the pace and growth of the cities; I love the artistic and cultural dynamism, I over-enjoyed the taste of food, and how spicy it could be. I’m happy with the commitment and professionalism of the conference organization, in such a politically troubled period in academia – the teachers’ strike that has lasted for about five months. Above all, I’m very grateful for the generosity of the people who welcomed me, how they took me to nice places, suggested me routes, booked me safe hotels in interesting areas of Lagos, and guaranteed, unequivocally, that I was always safe and well accompanied, ensuring I felt at home and had the best of my trip. I believe I made some Nigerian friends for life.
You attended a few cultural spaces. What were your impressions?
I was very happy to visit the New Culture School for Arts and Design, launched in 1995 by Demas Nwoko in Ibadan, and got to know his impressive architectural work, as well as his approach to various arts (fine arts, theatre, music, film, photography, design, writing and more) and how he envisioned them in this space.
It was a pleasure to meet the work of four young Nigerian photographers, students of Nlele Institute, during the final stage of Wolfgang Tillman’s exhibition ‘Fragile’ at ArtTwentyOne Gallery in Lagos: Neec Nonso, Lolade Lawal, Chidinma Nnorom and Kayode Oluwa. Their choices to address issues such as vulnerability, banality, everyday life, ancestry, and intimacy are very authentic and courageous.
Jazzhole Lagos has become, for me, a must-visit place in Nigeria, and one I want to return to at a later date with more time to dive into books and records. I recommend it to all lovers of vinyl, good jazz, good live music, good books, and good cakes (I had the best cake ever from Mrs. Tundun Tejuosho!).
The Kalakuta Museum, Fela Kuti’s last home in Lagos, was a place that made me very emotional, especially because of the way it preserves, on four floors, memories, controversies, archives, his grave, his untouched room that cannot be photographed, his political project, images of his family and the powerful women who influenced him, and the palm wine on the panoramic terrace, with a great view of the city.
I was sorry I didn’t get to see a live concert at The New Afrika Shrine, but just visiting the place and understanding better the relationship between Afrobeat legacy, the artistic memory and community projects of Fela Kuti, the struggles for human rights and the way police brutality operated in that context, was more than enough. I believe it was no accident that the only time I was searched by police in Nigeria was on my way out of the Shrine.
At Freedom Park, I was also very shocked by the brutally small cell structure of what was, in colonial times, Broad Street Prison, where political activists who fought for Nigeria’s independence were imprisoned. But being able to eat, listen to music and dance in that place, now maintained as a memorial and leisure park for fairs and festivals, was very liberating.
It was also very rewarding to visit the Nike Art Gallery, considered to be the largest art gallery in West Africa, and to be able to talk and drink tea with its creator Nike Okundaye, a woman of charming lightness and with an inspiring vision of the country’s cultural heritage.
Finally, I don’t want to fail to mention the Lekki Conservation Center for the adventure it provided me, so close to the rich flora and fauna of the Lekki peninsula.
Are you open to collaborations with Nigerian artists? What will it entail?
Of course, and I believe there are already at least four collaborations to work in with Nigerian artists I met during this first trip! But yes, besides my academic work, I am also a poet, performer and art educator, and I have presented my poetic work as a spoken word artist or workshop facilitator in Europe, South America and Africa over the last fifteen years. It would be a pleasure to exchange and collaborate with Nigerian artists, for sure. All they have to do is contact me.
What’s the cultural situation in Sao Tome and how can Nigerian artists be involved and vice versa?
In São Tomé, I am part of NUEPE, a collective that organizes the annual festival of negritude and I think that this platform could be a way to bring artists from both countries together. I’m also part of a poetry group called Ilha dos Poetas Vivos (Island of the Living Poets), and we just presented our first performance at the Biennial of Arts São Tomé. Besides these examples, there are many other artistic activities, programming spaces, and interested audiences in São Tomé. I also believe that in dialogue with the Nigerian Embassy in São Tomé, we can reflect on cultural encounters between the two countries, because we share a very important common history, during Nigeria’s civil war when many Nigerians travelled to São Tomé, and there is still a significant population here today, and several historical remains.
You used to organise a festival in Portugal, then stopped to pursue a PhD programme. Do you intend to go back to the festival? What was the focus of the festival?
I don’t plan to go back to the festival PortugalSLAM, which is an international platform for poetry and performance, that remains active.
How can African artists tap into such festivals in Portugal?
Nowadays, I’m a member of the União Negra das Artes (Black Union for the Arts) pt, and our main objectives are the promotion, elevation and strengthening of Black representativeness in the Portuguese artistic field, as well as the recognition and valorization of the immaterial heritage of the Black population, in articulation with artists, social movements, public and private entities. I think we may envision future collaborations between Nigeria and Portugal in this context, because we may suggest exchanges, share contacts and draw collaborations with African artists.
You are a writer. What do you write about? Are there English translations of your works? How can they be accessed?
That is a very difficult question: “what do I write about?” I prefer to leave it open to interpretations and I rather answer “why do I write”. I write because I need some space and some privacy, and to have the possibility of reorganizing ideas and emotions in a personal and honest way. I never just write for myself, I write because I believe poetry can touch people in a very particular way, creating a different kind of dialogue, one that is not based on academic norms or on activist codes, for instance. For me, poetry creates the possibility for love, love as a movement.
I do have some poems published in English, I share below the links for a European platform and a South African magazine:
Would you like to return to Nigeria again? What would be your focus?
I would love to return to Nigeria, and I have already promised some friends in Lagos, to visit the places I missed, namely Balogun Market, the Centre for Contemporary Art, Yaba, the festivals Eyo, Felabration and Lagos International Poetry Festival, and neighbourhoods such as Race Course Square and Oshodi, the first for its historical memories, and the second for its praised liveliness.
I’m also looking forward to more academic collaborations with the Universities of Ibadan and Lagos, and besides the academic and artistic focus, I am also interested in networks of political activism that touch on aspects such as pan-Africanism, anti-racism, decolonial agendas and Afro-diasporic movements, as I am part of collectives and associations of this kind in Portugal and São Tomé e Príncipe; I believe we can learn a lot with each other.
Finally, I would like to know more about the Yoruba culture and the ancestral rituals for orixás (orishas) in Oyo state, something I only knew in Brazil, but being in Nigeria I felt like I was accessing spiritual roots that I respect so much, and that are now one hour distant.
- Instagram: @raquel_palmira
- academic work: https://www.ces.uc.pt/en/ces/pessoas/doutorandas-os/raquel-lima
- book: https://www.boca.pt/product/ingenuidade-inocencia-ignorancia
- YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/RAKELITALIMA
- video ‘RASURA’: https://erase.artdel.net/rasura/
September, 2022 – Congresso Mundo de Mulheres (Maputo, Mozambique)
September 2022 – ‘Literature Talk: Poets from Black Europe’ (Brussels, Belgium)
October 2022 – Loophole of Retreat: Venice (Venice, Italy)