Q&A: SVA Student Emmanuel Iduma on Art and Africa’s ‘Invisible Borders’

October 7, 2014

Emmanuel Iduma’s journey to MFA Art Criticism and Writing has been paved with thousands of miles of experience. Iduma200In 2011, he and a small consortium of artists made a 12,000-kilometer road trip from Lagos, Nigeria to Ethiopia as part of the Invisible Borders project, which aims to tell stories about Africa by Africans through artistic exchange. The following year, Iduma travelled with the group from Lagos to Gabon. This year’s trek is taking him from Lagos to Sarajevo. Now, after a hiatus in New York for his studies, he’s preparing to re-join his cohorts for the final leg of their trans-continental journey.

But first, he’ll share his insights—and some of the work produced by the group during their time on the road—with the SVA community. The presentation (free and open to the public) takes place Thursday, October 9 at 6:30pm at MFA Art Criticism and Writing, 132 West 21st Street, 6th floor. SVA Close-Up recently caught up with Iduma via email to learn more about his far-flung experiences.

How did you become involved with Invisible Borders?
In 2011 when I was writing my bar exams, I applied to participate in the road trip from Lagos to Addis Ababa and I was selected. Two months after I became a lawyer I was on the road. It was insane and exciting.

roadtrip425The organization, according to its website, “works with artists and individuals in contributing to the patching of numerous gaps and misconceptions posed by frontiers within the 54 countries of Africa.” What are some of those gaps and misconceptions, and how can art help?
It’s strange that even today people refer to Africa as if it is a country. As African artists, we can’t be tired of presenting the diversities on the continent. For us at Invisible Borders, there’s the possibility that we can experiment with a new logic for showcasing the everyday space through photography, film and literature.

What are some of the themes you explored during these epic journeys?
Each time I’ve participated, I’ve tried to understand how it is possible to be a stranger or visitor and yet be intimate with a place. The idea of an “intimate stranger” has remained of great interest to me, and surprisingly I found that it could be expanded to fit other themes like border crossing, migration, movement, art production, community and exchange.

Africa425What insights did you come away with? Surprises?
I was surprised that I could write almost endlessly for weeks. Also, I think if I wanted to, I could draw a map that showed the variations in culture for each country we travelled through. These variations are so subtle in some cases, and pronounced in others. It’s something I’m still figuring out—what makes people different, and where are the similarities.

What led you to pursue the MFA in Art Criticism and Writing, and what do you hope your SVA experience will bring to the Nigerian creative community?
When my book (Farad) was published, people said I was doing something different with fiction. For a while I felt uncertain about what they meant, until I realized I was drawn to fiction in a different way from some of my friends. I’ve always been interested in novels that take on ideas in a bold and defiant way.

In a sense, I came to SVA to develop my own archeology of knowledge, beginning with visual art, then culture, then everything else. I knew I would do a lot of writing and reading, which was the luxury I had wanted for a long time.

Through the leadership of [MFA Art Criticism and Writing Chair] David Levi Strauss, I’m learning a lot about how images function, and how to write about art with clarity and urgency. I believe Nigerian art needs writers who do not pretend to be specialists, but who understand what’s at stake in visual culture. I hope I can be one of those writers.

Images from top down: Profile photo of Emmanuel Iduma by Jide Odukoya; Iduma giving a talk, and Iduma and his cohorts in Malaga, Spain, both photos courtesy of Invisible Borders Trans-African Project.

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