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Anwal Abdulai Sakiwa is the first visual artist to be admitted for the six weeks programme at the Ebedi International Writers Residency, Iseyin. In this interview with Adewale Oshodi, he speaks on how he is using
pictorial books to tell the stories of Nigeria’s past heroes. Excerpts:
How did you get to know about the Ebedi Writers Residency programme?
I got to know about the residency through somebody who had been here. With his experience here, I developed interest and I applied and I was lucky I got selected.
How was the experience like when you were there?
It was really a great experience. It gave me time to concentrate on my work; I paint mostly, and when I was there, I was able to do some paintings. Let me say that I would not have achieved what I achieved if I had not gone for the residency, because I had enough time to concentrate on my paintings at Ebedi.
Do you paint only?
I paint; I also have a book of pictorial images which tells a story. It is like a comic. We must not forget that children of nowadays no longer read, but they prefer reading comics, and I felt we can actually engage them; pass information across to them through this medium, and I have been doing this for a while now. I could remember one day, a student was passing in front of my studio in Minna, and he saw a painting, and he was looking at it for a long time, so that drew my attention, and I went to him and asked him if he knew the person in the painting, but he didn’t know, whereas it was Sir Ahmadu Bello’s painting. A lot of the younger generation do not know the contribution of our national heroes to the development of the country; we will be lost without our history, so I am using the pictorial book to tell their stories, and the students will learn more through this. I want to bring back the culture of comic writing in Nigeria.
How is the environment at the residency?
The environment is quiet, and this is what one needs to work. Noise deters productivity. So it is also because of this that I was able to do a lot more than I would have done if I was in my normal environment.
Part of your assignment at Ebedi was to teach the students; how did this go?
I was able to take them through the basic aspect of arts, and they really liked it. Unfortunately, when I was coming for the programme, I thought the residency was at Ibadan, but when I got to Iseyin, I discovered that I couldn’t get most of the painting materials to teach them; I, however, did not allow this to deter me. We must not forget also that six weeks is really not enough to do anything, but if you ask what I was able to impact in the students, then I would say I was able to arouse their interests in painting, and I know some of them will go on to be great artists.
What is your experience with the other writers?
They are great people, and I can say I learnt a lot from them. I have also read their books; they are definitely good writers. We talk on a lot of issues, from literary issues, to politics. I really loved my interaction with them and learnt a lot from them.
What is your idea about the Ebedi literary concept?
It’s really a great literary concept. I must commend the founder, Dr Wale Okediran, for the good work he is doing. I have also been thinking of how we can emulate this in the North. However, we couldn’t find anything on the history of Iseyin. This is a beautiful town, surrounded by hills, and I know it must have a beautiful history as well; one of the writers was even saying he could write something about the town, but not knowing the history would make it a bit difficult. I hope a book on the history of the town can be included in the library. I also hope there can be a bus that will take writers on tour of the town. Although we go out, this is, however, not near a guided tour.