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, Kenechukwu Nwatu who is one of the photographers involved in this project, tells us about some of his experiences so far and how this will impact his work as an artist. He also shares his essay titled Just Like Home
Ventures Africa (VA): Why did you join Borders Within II?
Kenechukwu Nwatu (KN): I joined Borders Within because I saw a grand opportunity to finally tell my Nigerian story in a more introspective and unbiased way than has been done over the years.
VA: What does being a part of Borders Within II mean to you?
KN: Being part of Borders Within means to me that I am doing something by creating these conversations about the diversities existing in Nigeria even with the language barriers I get to encounter. I believe it’s a courageous journey and I wouldn’t think twice about doing this over and over again.
VA: How does this compare to what you often work on or do as an artist or writer?
KN: As an artist, I have been telling my personal story but Borders Within II has provided the platform for me to engage in the stories of others. Since I’ve been able to engage myself successfully, it’s not been difficult engaging others.
VA: In your opinion, what are some of the highlights of the trip so far?
KN: My main highlight was connecting with a woman I met without us both understanding the languages we spoke. It made me understand that humanity comes first before all the borders we set between ourselves and others.
VA: What are some of the new things you’ve learned or experiences you’ve gained from the trip thus far?
KN: It’s coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really have the right to tell the stories of others but should be grateful and make the best of it when the privilege is granted. I came to this realization after a short conversation with a prophet at Ilorin.
VA: How will this experience impact your work as an artist or a writer?
KN: This experience is a huge milestone for me because I don’t approach stories as I used. I’m able to investigate better and create more progressive bodies of work that go beyond the obvious into introducing relevant elements to the society.
VA: How has the trip influenced or changed your interaction across the visible and invisible borders you confront as a Nigerian?
KN: This trip is a big turn around for me because I have been able to acquire people skills I never had, I also open up more than usual. This lets me experience whatever that comes to me without any cultural or religious bias.
Just Like Home
As a kid, I was always fascinated by hills and mountains, any natural element that can give me a birds eye-view of the landscape around me. I began to climb the Enugu Milken hills as a teenager, I was curious about what was up there. Besides the panoramic view from the hilltop, the amount of spiritual places all scattered around at the top also took me by surprise. Could this be because they think they’ll be closer to God that way? Who knows.
There’s a poem about Ibadan which loosely describes the city as being surrounded by seven hills. This reminds me of my home city, Enugu, which translates as On top of a hill or as some say, The City on a hill.
There’s a lot that makes me feel at home here, start with the mentality of the people which is so warm and welcoming. The people of Ibadan seem eager to connect with visitors, they hardly are apprehensive when approached, even with the huge camera hanging on my neck. They just want to be identified with. The same goes for the people back at Enugu. It feels like home here in Ibadan, I can relate a lot of visual memories from home.
Visiting the hilltop of Ori-Oke Agala presented exactly the same scenario to me, almost felt like I went through a portal and found myself at home. The panoramic view of the city of Ibadan and of course, spiritual prayer houses, the similarities are too vivid for me to ignore. I proceeded to speak to a prophetess I found on one of the prayer grounds, she didn’t understand the English I spoke and I didn’t understand her Yoruba but I could tell we had connected because she kept smiling at me. Innocent, Tope and Kemi helped me out with translations as I had a discussion and made portraits of her. Such a beautiful soul she is.
She wasn’t able to answer my question of why she prays for people on the hill besides her saying that God called her to go up there and set up a place of worship for him. I guess I’ll never know why but I’m glad I can have a similar experience and scenario of home if I decided to live in Ibadan.
Two different cities, two different regions, two different cultures, 544 kilometres apart, no borders whatsoever, just a true feeling of the Nigerianess I’m after.
The essay was originally published here.