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,Yinka Elujoba 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 My Life is a Consistency of Echoes
Ventures Africa (VA): Why did you join Borders Within II?
Yinka Elujoba (YE): I joined Borders Within II firstly as an administrator and secondly as a writer. I’d already previously participated in the first part of the trip in 2016 so it was compelling for me to try and finish what I started.
VA: What does being a part of Borders Within II mean to you?
YE: Being a part of Borders Within II means that I can get to corroborate my speculations about ideas I’m primarily interested in as regards Nigeria or debunk them.
VA: How does this compare to what you often work on or do as an artist or writer?
YE: I have of course always been interested in images and writing critically about them. However this project allows me to use the incredibly important factor of the road as a central figure in my work.
VA: In your opinion, what are some of the highlights of the trip so far?
YE: Highlights of the trip for me are basically conversations with strangers whose lives enter mine even if only for a minute.
VA: What are some of the new things you’ve learned or experiences you’ve gained from the trip thus far?
YE: I have learned that Nigerians converge and diverge more than they imagine.
VA: How will this experience impact your work as an artist or a writer?
YE: The road will become an incredible but undeniable metaphor in 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?
YE: It had allowed me allow the truth of others into my own truth.
My Life is a Consistency of Echoes
I met a boy in Ilorin who spoke of time in a way that startled me.
Sulaiman—a dark, muscular boy with brown teeth. He preferred to be known as ‘Slice’. He spoke of how a pendulum clock had fallen on his right eye when he was a baby, shattering the ball and permanently closing the eyelid. He spoke of how, over the years, the eye waters and hurts, so that all his life he has had to take drugs to ease the pain. He also spoke of how after secondary school he chose to work in a mechanic’s shop fixing motorcycles. He brushes the years aside with his hands when he speaks of his secondary school, refusing to dignify it with a time frame. Instead, he chooses to speak of his work as a mechanic.
‘Four years have passed,’ he said. ‘I want to spend another four years.’
What converges in repetition?
I tasked myself, tirelessly, to find a reason to do another trans-Nigerian road-trip. What becomes new to the eye on second looking? I turned to a familiar line of thinking: in writing about images I have found patience to be my most reliable ally. A photograph is of course an interminable instant, born to unravel itself. The observer’s task is to continue looking. I began to consider the road as a long, interminable image.
Or, the road as a metaphor for seeing.
On a mountain in Ibadan, I met a woman whose fingers spoke prophecies. For 15 years she had been on the mountain, praying. She spoke of how the Lord called her. She spoke of how, at first, she refused and he punished her—her business of retailing farm produce crumbled. She spoke of how the Lord forced her to leave her husband’s house. She spoke of how, during the years she secured a space on the mountain and later built a wooden structure on it. She spoke of how her eyes were accustomed to the mountain, already trained to separate strangers from wanderers. Her voice was hoarse—years of repeated intercessions to God on the behalf of others. She spoke of how her days were the same, of how she’d pray for people and they’d give her money in return.
How does a life exercise itself in reiteration?
I tried hard to see, but my eyes were clouded. Everywhere I turned, everything looked familiar—I had been to Ibadan so many times that the familiarity blinded me. The familiar was noisy, an endless echo.
Jesus, in speaking of seeing, said, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” I lift off again with Sulaiman as thinking partner, finding convergence between his eye and the words of Jesus. The eye Jesus speaks of here is as metaphorical as Sulaiman’s is literal. Forced to see with only one eye, what becomes different? Jesus also said: “But if thine be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.”
I submitted myself as a lightless body.
I think of the clouds around my eyes in retrospect: a man bumping into familiar surfaces, plagiarizing himself. On Bower’s Tower, N. made images of me walking into walls. Later that night in Ibadan, I sat with writers, discussing the city’s long literary history. They spoke of Ibadan’s continued sublimity. They spoke of history, of Ibadan’s many firsts—the University, the Cocoa Building, the Liberty Stadium. They spoke of Ibadan as a literary Mecca, how Ibadan’s air was a compelling recipe for any writer. Behind us, another group of writers were laughing heavily, with smoke from cigarettes forming a cloud above their heads. But nothing changed, except that what I knew coalesced.
The essay was originally published here.