Art that Matters -Sanya Osha

Most of the art, writing and other major forms of creativity being produced today are simply worthless. These forms merely cater to the imperatives of capital or else uncontrollable impulses to create something, anything as long as some worthless shit is being  concocted.

It is edifying to experience art that troubles the powers that be, be they cultural, political or economic, that upsets people, makes them cry, laugh, vomit and shit, if possible, all at the same time. Or at least, let the artist be bold, fearless, ever willing to hold out his/her balls/boobs on the chopping block, then it would all be worth it.

Who wants to be able to dither over some inconsequential trash, over small talk, unhealthy snacks on hot, dreary afternoons in the name of civility?

The birth of nations and national artistic heroes when they coincide is simply magnificent. The artist, full of fire and self-importance dreams of collective good and greatness.

Wole Soyinka at the dawn of the Nigerian Civil War ventures on his own into dangerous Biafran territory to avert the national inferno that eventually engulfed his country. When he returns to the federal side, he is promptly arrested and incarcerated. He spends over two years in prison during which he pens his famous prison memoir, The Man Died.

Christopher Okigbo, Nigeria’s greatest poet, takes up arms for Biafra and is felled by bullets in 1967. Since then, his slim collection of verse, Labyrinths, has haunted all those unfortunate and covetous enough to be afflicted by some muse be it love, poetry or wine. Okigbo’s greatness appears and fades like a celestial flickering of mists.

Even the soulful Chinua Achebe was compelled to carry out the ignominious task of serving as Biafra’s roving ambassador just like a common toothpaste salesman only that this time, he was peddling the mantra of secession.

Three seminal figures of modern Nigerian letters who are at crucial moments united by friendship but subsequently divided by mere politics; one seeking compromise, the other choosing war and yet another begging to differ staunchly without recourse to arms.

More recently, Ken Saro-Wiwa peddled a mixed assortment of causes relating to economic and political justice and environmental sanity as the inhabitants of Ogoni land were being poisoned by grief, squalor and despondency. He had hoped to lift his fellow Ogoni compatriots out of encroaching misery so that the dulling brightness of the land might gather strength to match the resplendent gleam of his indomitable smile. Of course, he and eight other compatriots were hanged by Nigeria’s most heinous military dictator, General Sani Abacha, on November 10, 1995. For just a moment, the pen proved mightier than the sword. In that singular act of thoughtless destruction, the powers that be created a martyr, and the artist, in spite of inestimable loss, became once again relevant.

When art, even as a poor and often appalling imitation of life longs for blood, for crushed balls and mutilated boobs with the same fierceness and determination of Marquis de Sade’s vision, or is imbued by the bottomless melancholia of Jean Genet’s muse, when it makes the espousal of cultural and political risk its sole duty, when it fervently distances itself from the dominant cult of cool, then it matters again, re-establishes the tussle and conversation between life and death, and ultimately, between what truly matters and what doesn’t.

Sanya Osha, an award winning writer and scholar resides in Pretoria, South Africa.

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