Last year, a group of creatives who formed the team for Borders Within I travelled across Nigeria for 46 days, documenting all their experiences in words and images with an aim to map diversity across regions and ethnic formations in Nigeria.

This year, the team comprising Borders Within II are again embarking on another remarkable trip across the country via another route; an attempt to complete the important work begun in 2016.

In an exclusive interview with Ventures Africa, Kechi Nomu who is one of the writers involved in this project, tells us about some of her experiences so far and how this will impact her work as an artist. She also shares her essay titled I move my body like all the other bodies I watch.

Ventures Africa (VA): Why did you join Borders Within II?

Kechi Nomu (KN): I wanted to put myself in a space where I could do the kind of writing that I had always admired and because I followed the trip with keen interest last year, I thought this year’s open call was a great opportunity.

VA: What does being a part of Borders Within II mean to you?

KN: It means I get to be part of something that is radical in the ways that it disrupts the conventional and is whimsical as well. I get to travel around Nigeria. I get to tell stories about moving my body through spaces I ordinarily would not take my body into. I get to share these spaces with people who care about the conversations Invisible Borders creates room for.

VA: How does this compare to what you often work on or do as an artist or writer?

KN: For me, constant and deliberate movement, and the expectation to produce work has an interesting effect on the kind of writing that is possible. The urgency is different. Everything becomes charged. There is an abundance of material and the anxiety of what matters. The writing comes from a tension between this abundance and anxiety.

VA:  In your opinion, what are some of the highlights of the trip so far?

KN: Just having this space for conversation and ideas has been the biggest thing for me.

VA: What are some of the new things you’ve learned or experiences you’ve gained from the trip thus far?

KN: If there is anything I have understood more, it is that bodies carry what they know in ways that are more profound than we are willing to acknowledge. The act of seeing and choosing silence about what is seen or hearing and choosing silence or selective truth, does things to our bodies that can be more visible than we are willing to let on collectively.

VA: How will this experience impact your work as an artist or a writer?

KN: For about four weeks I have been part of a moving residency with writers and photographers and film makers. We have had conversations with people we have met on the road and with ourselves. These conversations have enlarged my way of seeing.

VA: How has the trip influenced or changed your interaction across the visible and invisible borders you confront as a Nigerian?

KN: This is a difficult thing to sum up. I do look forward to the ways that these experiences show up in my life and writing going forward.

I move my body like all the other bodies I watch

I see things I have never seen before. The formations of a laterite rock between Birnin-Kebbi and Tambuwal impress me until the scene passes. I forget the lost moment. When I find the man on a donkey, I memorise the motion of the man and his donkey because it is suddenly important to memorise this motion. Transience demands that memory make itself the collector of everything. Perhaps this is foolish; a yearning for the places our bodies pass through and all the lives we will never know fully.

On the way to Sokoto, when we drive past a bridge where the water has dried up to reveal the sand below, a woman walking past, hawking something covered in a calabash, watches my attempt to make an Instagram story of a dried up river with bemusement.

I watch a school boy walk alone down a path beyond the road. My eyes register what I think of as the loneliness of his body reenacting this journey he has to make daily. I register other things on the road. A river visible behind the isolated houses along the road. A Free Al Zakzaky protest documented on a wall along the road to Sokoto. A wall art, possibly made on the demand of a shop owner. On one side of the wall, Gaskiya Breadwritten in bold primary colours. On the other side, the painting of a shapely woman. This nonexistent woman, in this passing scene, the woman of the unknown artist’s dreams.

My body registers the heat of Sokoto in questions. I want to know how the bodies I see here have learnt to submit to what seems to me an unbearable life. Someone mentions how close we are to the border between Niger Republic and Sokoto; the edge of the Sahara. We decide that we might go there.

I move my body like all the other bodies I watch. When I stand with the group at a leather district and watch a man beat patches of leather with a white knob-shaped stone until the leather shines, I see how his hands have mastered this motion. Again, in the sunny quadrangle of Alh. Shehu Mai Rini Nasara Dyeing Colouring, I listen to the men explain the process of dyeing and see how this place – dye blackened floors, stained and re-stained walls – bears the mark of reenactments.

How many repetitions before a body learns capitulation?

The essay was originally published here

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