The Lagos Arts and Book Festival (LABAF) has come and gone, occupying the spaces of the (now named) Freedom Park on Broad Street. The annual event organized by the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) took place between 15th and 17th November, and it featured a number of art-related activities from “Art Stampede” to “Book Trek”, “Jazz Nite”, “Writers’ Seminar”, “Musical Concert”, “Visual Art Exhibition”, among others.
I attended one day of the events on Saturday, which featured a colloquium/workship titled the Caine Prize for Nigerian Writing. It featured discussions by Caine Prize Winner Rotimi Babatunde and Caine Prize Nominee/Finalist Elnathan John. The session was moderated by James Baldwin lookalike Ogaga Ifowodo. Conversation ranged from the influence of foreign money in African literature prizes (with Elnathan taking the position that the source and stature of foreign prizes inadvertently condition the nature and content of African stories, and Rotimi arguing that the effect is negligent, or at best an equally important addition to the dialogue and the medium of storytelling). to the influence of the Caine Prize itself on today’s writing, especially its influence on breeding more fiction than poetry writers.
The Freedom Park where the events took place used to be a colonial minimum-security prison which housed famous inmates like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Herbert Macaulay, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, and Chief Anthony Enahoro at some point or the other. It also housed Esther Johnson, arguably its most (in)famous death-row inmate, sentenced to death in 1956 for the murder of her British husband who she stabbed with a pair of scissors in throes of a jealous passion. (More about her here). It has now been turned into a multi-purpose art venue with a serene environment for intellectual exchange. On Saturday however, it was a lively village of countless creative heads.
Guests at the Saturday event included writers and artists of various stripes, among whom were Victor Ehikhamenor, Ayodele Olofintuade, Pearl Osibu, Tade Ipadeola, Biyi Olasope, Toni Kan, Tolu Ogunlesi, Jumoke Verissimo, Molara Wood (author of the newly-released and critically acclaimed Indigo, a collection of short stories), Jahman Anikulapo (of CORA), Sylva Nze Ifedigbo among many others. There was music, drumming and dancing, and stage performances by a group of young children. There was also an exhibition of books and arts, with this blogger being able to buy a few – one of which was Teju Cole’s Everyday is for the Thief.