The Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), the Lagos-based cultural advocacy group is once more showing why it is the most important thing that has happened to cultural discourse in Nigeria since the early 1990s. Apart from its Art Stampede -- its marquee quarterly platform for debate on issues crucial to contemporary Nigerian arts and culture -- the Book Festival is in many ways restoring the Nigerian book reading/production culture laid waste by the terrible Structural Adjustment Program imposed by the IMF/World Bank in the 1980s. But that is not all.
This November, CORA attempts to do something that had not been done in Nigeria since the end of the Civil (Biafran) War in 1970: the theme of the festival's colloquium is "Constructing a Nation: Stories Out of Biafra." Why is this unusual? Unprecedented? Well, it turns out that since the end of that terrible war, discussions about Biafra, however refined or rarefied, however direct or tangential have not happened. Such have not been allowed to take place, because, the nation would prefer that the memory of that war be buried deep in the heart of time rather than exorcised. A war without memorials. A war that, like incest, we try to pretend it never happened. In the early 1990s, work by Biafran artists that had traveled in Europe during the war, came back to Nigeria but could not be shown, because of anxieties in some official quarters.
And despite that many authors have broached the subject of Biafra in their fictional and biographical work, serious engagement with this important body of literature has not happened, until now. So it is with great anticipation that I await the Festival colloquium, November 9-11. This is to say to my colleagues at CORA: Keep the Dream!