Category Archives: Photography

The Sun, the Moon, and a cardboard box

The sun and the moon and me (c) CM

So today there was a partial eclipse. I hadn’t heard about it until I went to lunch with a friend, and in her car, she had armed herself with a box with a piece of white paper pasted on one side and a hole cut in the other, over which she had taped aluminum foil and pricked with a pin. This was her eclipse viewing device, she told me. I had heard about people making these things to view eclipses before. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to the trouble. But around 2pm, as I sat on my couch reading the Sunday Trust, I looked outside and noticed that the light was long and harsh and strange, so I called her and asked if she was watching the eclipse through her box. Was it happening now? She told me I still had time, as the peak of the eclipse was supposed to happen at 2:40pm, so I went and found an old regulator box and made the same device.

It was not that dramatic as I was expecting. I had thought I might see some sort of photographic image coming through the pin–hole onto the white paper. Yes, people, there is a reason I’m not in the sciences. Instead, it was just a new moon shaped sliver of light, which showed the shape of the moon as it passed in front of the sun. I was too afraid to look up at the sun itself. Next time I’ll have to prepare myself ahead of time with properly treated goggles.

I showed the neighbours, and wandered about looking at it from different angles.

I had some poetic thoughts about it all, but in between going back inside to keep working on my current chapter and staying up too late before deciding to post, the eclipse poetry will have to wait for the next eclipse. In the meantime, here are a few of the photos I took of the sliver of light in my box. Note: there is nothing fancy or dramatic about these photos. I did not risk pointing my camera lens or my eyes towards the light. It’s just a recording of my delightful, dorky afternoon wandering around with a box with a hole taped over with tin foil and paper.

Look for the sun, look for the moon, they are there in the light, in the shadow, in the cardboard box.

Eclipse viewing device (c) CM

the sun, the moon, the box, and me.

The sun, the moon, and an evil forest (c) CM

The sun disappears behind the moon and the trees. (c) CM

The sun, the moon, me and a cardboard box (c) CM

Light (c) CM

Light (c) CM

Congratulations to Kannywood actress Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello on their wedding, 9 July 2011

booklet distributed at dinner for Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello's wedding

First of all, another apology for such a long delay in updating this blog, which had to do 1) with my internet server going on a near 2-3 week near-shut-down, 2) travel to Lagos to present at a “Nollywood in Africa, Africa in Nollywood” conference hosted by Pan-African University, 3) the electricity going out in my neighborhood for 1 week and 1 day (in which case, the battery and inverter I celebrated in my last post, has it’s limitations. There has to be a certain amount of electricity for the thing to charge). 4) A nasty case of food poisoning, which put me out of operation for at least two good days.

So, I am only just now posting this piece of Kannywood news, namely, the wedding of Hausa film actress Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello on 9 July 2011. I attended two of the wedding events, an “Arabian Night” on 7 July, which I arrived scandalously late to even by “African-time” standards only about 15 minutes before the bride took off, partially because I was out shopping for the appropriate “Arabian” attire. 2) The dinner on 8 July, which I arrived on time for and got lots of photos.

So, congratulations to Sakna and Musa. A few photos below:

Sakna sings to her new husband Musa at the wedding dinner. (c) Carmen McCain

Money sprayed for Sakna, as Musa looks on (c) Carmen McCain

The beautiful bride, Sakna Gadaza (c) Carmen McCain

Camera phones were out in full force and Sakna's friend Kannywood actress Zainab Idris pulled out her best dance moves for the occasion (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood actress and comedienne Saratu Gidado was a great dinner companion. (c) Carmen McCain

Kannywood actors Umar Gombe and Fati Bararoji trade thoughts before the event begins. (c) Carmen McCain

Hausa novelist and film producer Hajiya Balaraba Ramat Yakubu and a friend at the Arabian Night celebration for Sakna Gadaza and Musa Bello's wedding. (c) Carmen McCain

Baballe Hayatu has a quiet moment before the beginning of the event. (c) Carmen McCain

I have more photos not yet uploaded to flickr that I may add as I have internet time, so stay tuned for more pics.

Sharon Stone in Abuja, Nollywood in New York

I am very much behind in posting photos of my columns here. I’m hoping to catch up in the next few days. I had hoped to get this up before Zina Saro-Wiwa’s “Sharon Stone in Abuja” gallery show at Location 1 in New York ended on 22 January 2011, but I obviously didn’t…. Here is my column, “Sharon Stone in Abuja, Nollywood in New York,” published in the Weekly Trust on 11 December 2010.

To read the article in its original version, click on the photo below. It will take you to a large photo on Flickr that you should be able to read comfortably. Enjoy.

Nigeria’s educated elite have a fraught relationship with Nollywood. Nigeria’s film industry may be identified by UNESCO as the second largest film industry in the world but talk to many Nigerians abroad, and they find the films embarrassing in their departure from Hollywood aesthetic norms or the theory-driven ideology of much European and African cinema. Recently while I was back in New York on a quick visit, several Nigerian artists at a dinner party told me they “hated” the films, finding them “unrealistic and excessive.” I’ve received similar feedback in emails responding to this column, one reader remarking that Kannywood films “are poor in artistic quality and lack originality.”

Yet, for every Nollywood snob you come across, there are dozens of avid fans who may laugh a little at the melodrama and the low budget quality of the films, but who love them all the same. What is it in these films that draws an audience of millions? This is one of the questions asked in the art exhibition “Sharon Stone in Abuja,” named after the 2003 Nigerian movie of the same name, on display from November 5, 2010 to January 22, 2011, at the New York gallery, Location 1. Notes on the exhibit, which is co-curated by Nigerian filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa, point to the “power and energy in these films, […]  Through our visual narratives, we hope to reveal the psychodrama of Nigerian life beneath Nollywood’s breathless and voluble hyperbole, […] and to explore the power in the home grown amateur aesthetics that Nollywood presents.”  The gallery features the work of Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo, American portraitist Mickalene Thomas, South African photographer Pieter Hugo, Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu, and three experimental film installations by Zina Saro-Wiwa.

During my brief New York trip, I walked into the gallery forty-five minutes before closing time, so what I write here will be more a first impression than a studied review. The exhibit invites a self-conscious reflection on the creation of Nollywood art, audience, and fame. One of my favourite pieces is a large strikingly intimate portrait, by James Esiebo, of Nollywood stars Aki and Pawpaw, displayed in the corridor across from a wall inscribed with the names of thousands of Nollywood films. At the end of a corridor, the gallery opens up into parlour space created to set off Mickalene Thomas’s portraits of Nigerian actresses. On pedestals are “video sculptures,” looping Saro-Wiwa’s twenty minute segments of Nigerian actresses staring into the camera while crying.

The parlour space was carefully arranged into a kind of anthropological display of how Nigerian audiences watch films, using couches and chairs that could be found in many Nigerian homes, end tables piled with stacks of vcds. The only bizaare note in the room were the zebra-striped and leopard print throw pillows, reminding the visitor that this was not a home in Nigeria but a gallery in New York, where animal print is often the easiest visual shorthand for Africa. Nollywood may be the creation of Nigerians, the set up of the parlour implies, but it is received and reinterpreted by audiences all over the world.

These ideas of representation, authenticity, and appropriation are particularly evident in several of South African photographer Pieter Hugo’s photographs, taken from his Nollywood series, that hang on the wall opposite the parlour. I dislike Hugo’s work. The photographs in this show, the most striking one of which shows a woman dressed in lace sitting beside a man in monster makeup, take elements of Nollywood horror films out of context and flatten them into the blank stares of a freak show. While technically quite beautifully composed and lit, his photographs remind me of early 19th century exhibitions of the “Hottentot Venus,” in which a naked Khoi woman with large buttocks was put on display for the “scientific examination” and titillation of European audiences. They also remind me of the portrayal of Nigerians as savage gangsters in Neill Blomkamp’s film District 9. As with the Congo in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, Nollywood becomes the not-so-blank slate onto which these artists project their own psychological hang-ups. Nigeria through a South African lens reveals more South African stereotype of Nigeria than anything else. This is not Nollywood, or Nigeria, but perhaps it is what an outside audience wants to see.

Zina Saro-Wiwa’s short films Phyllis and The Deliverance of Comfort, which for me were the heart of the exhibition, had a similarity to Hugo’s work in their artistic appropriation of Nollywood. But there is an affection and intimacy to them, I also felt in Andrew Esiebo’s portraits of Nollywood stars, that was lacking in Hugo’s photographs. Saro-Wiwa’s art films, likely to be watched and appreciated by a much smaller audience than those who watch the Nollywood films to which she pays homage, make a profound intervention into intellectual discussions of Nigerian film. Of the two short films, I was most struck by Phyllis, a surreal portrayal of a day in the life of Phyllis, a woman who watches Nollywood films all day long in an apartment filled with Christian calenders and Nollywood posters, marking time by changing into multicoloured European wigs. Whenever she removes a wig to replace it with another, her eyes roll back into her head, indicating spiritual possession. The techno heartbeat soundtrack played in these moments reminded me of similar sounds indicating spiritual presence in Cameroonian filmmaker Jean Pierre Bekolo’s science fiction film Les Saignantes, which won the Silver Yennenga  Stallion award at the 2007 FESPACO film festival. In Les Saignantes, the director’s voiceover, asking self conscious questions about filmmaking in postcolonial Africa, structures into sections a bizaare tale of two Cameroonian prostitutes and their use of spiritual powers to appropriate the body of a powerful government official. Both Les Saignantes and Phyllis interact with the popular imagination of spiritual power, linking it to ideas on the communicative power of film.

In Saro-Wiwa’s film, Phyllis, who has seen herself appear on screen, goes out into the streets of Lagos, hawking her multicoloured wigs on a tray. She lures another woman into her possession cult when the woman strokes the hair of the wig and then tries it on. Phyllis grips the woman in a vise as the initiate’s eyes roll back into her head, and then releases her to wander off dreamy-eyed. At the end Phyllis returns to her apartment, changing her wig again, and sits under a clock of a white Jesus with outstretched arms. She laughs while crying tears of blood.

There’s too much to untangle here in a short review. But in the visual metaphors of wigs and reoccurring motifs of Christian paraphernalia, Saro-Wiwa seems to be making a critique similar to those who complain of cultural imperialism in Nollywood’s unthoughtful adoption of Western standards of beauty and who question the Christian solutions so often proffered in the films. What are we being possessed by? Saro-Wiwa asks. One reading of the film could be that both Christianity and movies are the “opiate of the masses.” Yet Saro-Wiwa’s critique is far more sophisticated than most, affectionately acknowledging its own creative inspiration as dependent on Nollywood. As with Bekolo’s film, for Saro-Wiwa, ritual becomes metaphoric for possibilities in film that, while at times quite harmful, seem to offer particular power to women.

It is just this sort of thoughtful engagement that is needed in intellectual discussions of the world’s second largest film industry. Nevertheless, the exhibition may be flawed by its over-reliance on a Western audience. I would be interested in seeing the same exhibition brought to Lagos and Abuja and hearing what a non-expatriate Nigerian audience would make of its tropes of alienation and self-representation.

UPDATE 15 March 2011:

I just came across another great review of Pieter Hugo’s photographs here at Isaac Anyaogu’s blog Nollyverse.

Political ironies…

I am still trying to process all that has been happening in Jos… Arizona… and elsewhere, and I will do a Jos-related post soon, but in the meantime….

I’m sure that when the “One Nigeria Coalition” paid God knows how much for a nearly one page ad on the front page of Leadership yesterday they did not realize the deep painful irony that would result…..

It does not seem to have hurt him tonight….

And for a little political hyperbole. Here are some more posters for Jonathan as I saw them sometime last year in Abuja.  I suppose the Messaih is a good stand in for the Messiah….

And in other well-thought political placement….

The Quranic verse translated into Hausa in front of this political poster says, “He who does not pity others, will not receive pity.”

Happy Islamic New Year 1432!!!


An old woman prepares to pray (c) Carmen McCain

Happy New Year to all of my Muslim friends in commemorating the 1432nd year since the Prophet’s Hijra. Allah ya ba da zaman lafiya.

Welcoming us in (c) Carmen McCain

Photos from Karamar Sallah, Eid el-Fitr 2010, Kano, Nigeria: Hauwan Nasarawa

Last Sunday morning, September 12, I was walking to the main road on my way to church, when some of my neighbors drove by and asked me if I’d like to go to the Hauwan Nasarawa with them, the parade in which the Emir of Kano and the Hausa aristocracy parades through the Nasarawa area of Kano during Eid el-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan fast.  I accepted, and I think God forgave me for skipping church (!).

Here are a few of the photos I took. You can view the entire flickr album here. My photos are licensed under a creative commons license, which allows them to be used by anyone as long as it is not for profit and I am given photo credit. If you use any of my photos, please let me know. Also, if you want to use any of them for publication in a for-profit publication, please contact me first.

(c) Carmen McCain

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looking on (c) Carmen McCain

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Kannywood actor Mudassir Haladu and friend out to watch the parade (c) Carmen McCain

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Kannywood’s Jameel Ibrahim (c)Carmen McCain

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Photos of Peace Rally in Jos

Youth from Kanem say “We Love Peace” (c) CM

I was hoping to post a longer article on the Young Ambassador’s Peace Rally that took place in Jos on 1 July, but I’m in the middle of a hundred different things, trying to write a conference paper and also hoping to write another blog post on the most recent arrests ordered by Rabo Abdulkarim, head of Kano State Censorship Board, who is himself avoiding arrest in Kaduna (For a quick summary of what is going on see Ibrahim Sheme’s opinion piece in today’s Leadership.)  So for now I will just post a link to my photos of the event on Flickr. The Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith were hoping to have a bigger rally but because they had a hard time finding funding, they changed their plan and had representatives of different communities from all over the state come instead. (Note, all of the photos here are copyright to me.)

Programme for the Jos Peace Rally, 1 July 2010 (c) CM

The organizers of the programme Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith foundation describe their “journey so far in the event programme:

YACPIF registered 23 Young Ambassadors before the Jos crisis within the Jos City around the Assemblies of God Church and Central Mosque in Kwararafa, Jos. The Muslim Young Peace Ambassadors protected the church from being burnt by some Muslims during the crises.

YACPI Foundation holds the belief that there can never be any meaningful Development in a community where there is war and injustice. Jos  is a city in desperate need of peace. YACPI Foundation has chosen Jos city amongst other cities in the Northern part of Nigeria to kick start her project. From here we will move to other places like Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Borno, etc, cities that have a history of religious strife in Nigeria.

To carry out these initiatives we carefully identify youths most interested in promoting peace. Our desire is to work with them to channel the message of peace aimed at stopping religious and ethnic wars, promote peace building, and other challenges confronting our young people today in Nigeria. Very soon we hope we can organize a football tournament between youths of different people groups in Jos, first and then later Plateau State. Sports sometimes can be a powerful balm when there are festering wounds.

Peace Rallies held to date from March 22nd, Kwararafa, Bukuru, Dadin Kowa, Nasarawa/Congo Russian, Rayfield, Riyom Local Government, Tudun Wada and Zaria Road.

Today we are witnessing a State-wide peace rally. The journey for peace on the Plateau has begun in earnest. By God’s grace we will reach our destination

The programme included short speeches from the founder of the Young Ambassadors Rev. Yakubu Pam (who made a point of saying that the rally had not received financial support from the government), trustee Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State, Women’s Representative Ngo Naomi Jugu, among others, as well as youth leaders from Miyati Allah, JNI, CAN, SUG, Plateau Youth Council, and representatives from the Yoruba, Igbo, and South South communities. The best part of the event was seeing young people passionate about promoting peace and fellowship in the state parade past with their placards.

But, I was thinking as I sat there, that I hope that in the future YACPI can partner with Nigerian musicians to bring together more youth, perhaps with no speeches by politicians and elders–just youth, just the next generation, who can commit to change. As one of the speakers noted, it is the youth who inherit the bad decisions of their elders.

The Police Band played for the event, and the BBC Berom cultural troupe performed very danceable traditional music at the Peace Rally, but I thought it was telling that everyone (including the cultural troupe) started dancing when contemporary Naija Jams started piping through the sound system.  There have been so many artists and musicians who are from or who have spent large amounts of time in Jos: M.I., Jesse Jagz, 2Face Idibia, Jeremiah Gyang, P-Square, Ice Prince Zamani, Ali Nuhu, Abbas Sadiq, DJ Yaks,etc, etc, etc. A recent article from Nigerian Entertainment Today describes how artists condemned the crisis, saying they were “keen to be of help and rally colleagues to ‘do something positive’.” It would be fantastic if this group could reproduce the kind of peace concert that took place in Port Harcourt last year, rallying the youth of Jos for peace with their music. And, indeed, one of the objectives of YACPI is “to solicit the support of Local and International Artists to license a positive song for our compilation CD that will inspire listeners to end war, crime, and violence in our country, communities and schools.” One would hope, we could have more songs like Eldee’s “One Day” and Sound Sultan’s “Let There Be Light,” which includes a very poignant tribute to “to the lost souls in Jos.”

Here are the photos I took of the rally on July 1. For those who were there and would like to download photos, click on the “All sizes” icon directly above the photo you would like to download and select either small, medium, large, or original, and you will be able to download it onto your computer or a disk. You are free to use these photos in other publications, as long as proper attribution is given to me and you send me a link to the article. Thanks.

A Representative of ACTS sells “My Brother’s Keeper” by Ruth Beattie (c) CM

A Representative of ACTS (African Christian Textbooks) sells at cost copies of Ruth Beattie’s book, My Brother’s Keeper: Stories of Grace from the Jos Plateau. Ruth Beattie is from Northern Ireland and brings insights growing up during times of conflict to her descriptions of Muslims and Christians helping those of different faiths during the Jos crisis.

Youth of Jos North march for peace

Youth of Jos North march for peace (c) CM

Jos North looked like it had the largest delegation there.

Yan Zaman Lafiya: “Those who live at Peace” (c) CM

Yan Zaman Lafiya

Pankshin Ngas for Peace (c) CM

Youth march for peace in Jos (c) CM

The Youth of Shendam say “Give Peace a Chance” (c) CM

Youth March for Peace in Jos (c) CM

Youth March for Peace in Jos (c) CM

Peace Advocates from University of Jos, including students from the Niger Delta (c) CM

Peace 4Ever say the youth of Jos North (c) CM

Senator Ahmed Mohammad Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State, is a guest speaker (c) CM

Rev. Yakubu Pam, founder of Young Ambassadors for Community, Peace, and Interfaith organization, looks on. (c) CM

People interact after the main events of the Peace Rally (c) CM

Youth hang out in the bleachers after the peace rally (c) CM

Magaji Sule, Young Ambassador for Peace and youth leader in Bukuru (c) CM

Magaji Sule, the leader of Muslim youth in Bukuru, helped avert a crisis between rival groups in March 2010.

Young People for Peace in Plateau State (c) CM

Young people gather for peace in Jos (c) CM

Young people gather for peace in Jos (c) CM

Soldiers want peace too. (c) CM

Police want peace too. (c) CM

Ruth Beattie, author of My Brother’s Keeper: Stories of Grace from the Jos Plateau. (c) CM

Ruth Beattie, an “indigene” of Northern Ireland grew up during, what she calls in her book, “the troubles” of Northern Ireland, the sectarian crisis between Protestants and Catholics. With this perspective, she approaches the crises in Jos 2008, which she experienced, with particular sensitivity, telling true stories about both Muslims and Christians, who helped neighbors and strangers of different faiths from their own, during the crisis.

Goro Seller: the next generation (c) CM

Boy with pure water. (c) CM

These children are the next generation. May they see peace.