18 May Excerpts from ‘Duke Asidere’s Sketches & Therapy’

Ogwuashi-Uku

July 24, 2004

Duke Asidere’s bags are packed. Everything he needs is in his Nissan Micra car. It’s a tiny, brown car, slightly beat-up but reliable. He gets in, turns on the ignition and begins his journey to Ogwuashi-Uku.

He’d just agreed to take a teaching position in the art department of Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwuashi-Uku. The art department was still fairly new. They had lecturers in textile and a few other subjects. They also had administrative staff. They didn’t have a visual arts lecturer though, and they needed one with a Master’s degree and some teaching experience if they were going to get accredited as a proper art department.

Asidere fit the bill. He had a Master’s degree from Ahmadu Bello University and had lectured in Auchi Polytechnic for five years between 1990 and 1995. They had approached him the year before at the Harmattan workshop in Agbarha-Otor to ask if he’d be interested in teaching at the art school. He wasn’t so sure, but he was willing to listen. He had visited the school, spoken with the administrative people about the job, and agreed to think about it.

His studio practice in Lagos was going well. Since leaving Auchi Polytechnic, he’d set up a studio in Lagos. He’d been working hard, exhibiting, growing. He had momentum. And he liked the idea of being independent, free to create art the way he wanted, and able to live and work on his own terms. Auchi had been a great experience, but the office politics had been an aggravation. Could he go back to that same sort of politics again? This time it would be more difficult, he knew. He was older and less tolerant; he wouldn’t be amongst fellow lecturers who were his friends. But still, he was from Delta state. This was his state. His duty. What was the point of criticizing politicians if one couldn’t help?

He agreed to take the job.

It was partly about his sense of service, but also about escape. Escape from life and all its difficulties. A crumbling relationship. A sense of disorientation. He’d lost his bearing and was gradually surrendering to despair. Change would be good. A chance to rummage through the clutter of his mind and maybe find answers to some of the vexing puzzles. A chance to find himself and heal his pain.

Most of the sketches in this book come from this period. They are, in a sense, therapy. The act of grappling with forms on paper, taming the lines made by his pencil, bending images to his will, pondering the empty roads of Asaba, commandeering a model to tell his story on paper, finding hidden meanings in landscapes and everyday events around him. The struggle calmed his mind, left him able to confront his situation. The more he solved the puzzles on paper, the better he could deal with the puzzles in his head.

Every sketch, every line was confrontation and resolution—two years of therapy.