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Watering Jelili

by Whitney Richardson

Below you will find Jelili Atiku’s synopsis of his upcoming performance for Rapid Pulse 2015 followed by a brief Question & Answer between Whitney Richardson, arts writer, and Jelili, providing insight into the motivations behind his pieces, perspectives on humanity’s relationship with nature and the story of a plantless town.

May 23, 2015

Dear Whitney,

performance by jelili atikuThanks for your mail. As you are aware, I am a multimedia artist with political concerns for human rights and justice. I am a Nigerian based in Lagos. As a principle, I strive through my art to help viewers understand the world and expand their understanding and experiences, so that they can activate and renew their lives and environments. It is in line with this that I am proposing to enact the performance tiled, “Earth With Trees and Water I Am,” from a body of work I call, “Alaaragbo“.

The performance will take place in the street and the gallery space and involve participation from the public who will be informed (through a letter) prior to the performance to bring water in containers. The audience will pour water on my head in the performance. Consisting of simple actions, the performance will include walking on soil; spread on the floor in circular form and a deconstructed body with plants.

“Alaaragbo was conceived as artistic (performance) project, exploring contemporary human conditions in relationship to ecological issues. Creating dialogue with reference to these conditions by using body and space, I look into the past to investigate the different contextual genealogies and realities of humanity’s relationship with the plant world.

June 5, 2015

Whitney: Can you explain your relationship to the earth?

Jelili: My relationship to the earth can be understood as a form of collaboration between the substance of my life and humanity. As you are aware, no life can survive without the earth. Therefore, my life, as well as other forms of life, depend largely on the existence of the earth.

Whitney: How do you interact with plants? Do you have a favorite tree? Do you take care of any plants you consider your own? What kinds of plants are you most familiar with?

Jelili: It is pertinent I share the story of my pains here. I was born in Ejigbo, a small farm town in Lagos, Nigeria. Growing up as a child in this village gave me ample experience about the essence of plants and human existence. The serene environment I lived in made me happy and healthy. In the 70s, the village gradually expanded and plants gradually disappeared- replaced by concrete walls and metal gates. The atmosphere became noisy and polluted by gas emissions from motor and power generator engines. Pollution and injustice to the earth became the order of the day. This provides the context for two of my performances: “Quest for Gaia”, and “Who Knows Who Cares”, both in 2010.

I presently do not have a personal cordial relationship with plants except knowing that they nourish my life. I have developed a culture of conversation with plants, as I see them as gods.who knows who cares 2009

I do not have any favorite tree or have any that I consider mine. As I mentioned earlier, there are virtually none in the community I live now. Pathetic you would say! I have not really studied the names of plants or trees, ignorant of the words for nature. I have known few plants that I have been fond of since my childhood, they are (in Yoruba): Ewedu, Ewegbure, Ewe Obi, Ewe don, Ewe Awin,Ila, Agbado, Ewe-Ogede…

Whitney: Do you think anything has gotten in the way of this relationship between humans and plants? Humans and nature? If so, what has? If not, why do you think I might ask this question?

Jelili: Yes, humans’ relationship to natural life has been influenced largely by ego and the industrial revolution. Although, as rightly submitted by Alexander Spirkin (in his book, Dialectical Materialism), “Man is constantly aware of the influence of nature in the form of the air he breathes, the water he drinks, the food he eats, and the flow of energy and information.” However, humans have, under the pretext of advancement, projected numerous toxic actions into this plane, such as production of synthetic goods and dependency on gas, that violate and manipulate the laws of nature.

Whitney: What human rights and justice issues are on your mind now? What voices would you like to be heard? What has inspired you in your life to take initiatives in confronting these issues?

Jelili: Issues of environmental degradation and injustice have been occupying my mind in recent times. The change of my community, Ejigbo, from an environmental friendly village to an environmentally polluted city has played a prominent role in focusing my attention toward environmental issues. I would like to visit your garden [Neighbor’s Garden in Logan Square] when I am in Chicago and connect to plants and trees there.Quest for Gaia 2010

Jelili Atiku is a Nigerian multimedia artist with political concerns for human rights and justice. Through drawing, installation sculpture, photography, video and performance (live art); he strives to help viewers understand the world and expanding their understanding and experiences, so that they can activate and renew their lives and environments. For over decade, Jelili has put his art at service of the prevailing concerns of our times; especially those issues that threatening our collective existence and the sustenance of our universe. The contents of these concerns ranging from psychosocial and emotional effects of the traumatic events such violence, war, poverty, corruption, climate change, etc., that associated with our warring world have dominate his artistic forms. Born on Friday 27th September, 1968 in Ejigbo (Lagos), Nigeria, Jelili was trained at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria and University of Lagos, Nigeria – Where he was awarded Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) and Master of Arts (Visual Arts) respectively. He is presently the artistic Director of AFiRIperFOMA – a collective of performance artists in Africa; and Chief Coordinator of Advocate for Human Rights Through Art (AHRA). Jelili has travelled widely and participated in numerous performances/exhibitions/talks in Lagos (Nigeria), Vancouver BC and Victoria BC (Canada), Austin (USA) Gunpo (South Korea), Tokyo (Japan), Paris (France), Berlin (Germany), Madrid (Spain); Malmo, Copenhagen (Denmark), Jarna and Stockholm (Sweden); London, Wales, Manchester, Scarborough, York (United Kingdom); Casablanca and Marrakech (Morocco), Accra (Ghana), Harare (Zimbabwe), Limbe and Yaoundé (Cameroun), Kampala (Uganda), etc.

Links to the videos documentation of Jelili Atiku’s performance:

photos courtesy of the artist
Whitney Richardson is an artist, teacher, activist and writer, based in Chicago. She currently reports for New City: Art. Her work supports civic engagement, poetic living and mutual aid. She directs Whatever Lab (formerly known as the Kite Collective), promoting environmental awareness and engagement through sensory arts programming. She has a BA in International Studies: Human Rights and a certificate in Sustainable Urban Design.
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