– Blyth McManus
Publications highlighting art works produced by Nigerian college students in the 1960s aren’t necessarily what one would expect in to find in the research collection of a Robinson professor in GMU’s International Affairs department, but GMU’s Special Collections & Archives recently acquired exactly that. Within Dr. John N. Paden’s generous donation of nearly 90 linear feet of material were two rare student art publications which provide insight into a very specific time and place in art history.
In the 1970s, Dr. Paden was a professor at Ahmadu Bello University in northern Nigeria. The University was founded in 1961 and began admitting students in 1962. Dr. Paden’s work there was an important component of his larger work in Nigeria.
The publications provide a snapshot of the struggles Nigeria underwent shortly after securing its independence from England in 1960. Years of political and social turmoil followed its move into autonomy. Civil war broke out in 1965. The strong responses of some of Ahmadu Bello University’s students to the growing turbulence are candidly expressed through the visual arts and the written word in a publication produced by the Fine Art Department. Entitled “egghead,” the premiere issue was published in 1963. A second issue followed in 1964. The Smithsonian’s Collections website notes the existence of three issues in total, with the third listed as undated. In addition to poetry and short stories, “egghead” features textile designs, three dimensional work, and paintings.
In the inaugural June 1963 edition, two pieces stood out to me as particularly representative of the moment. First, an article by Josephine Osayimwase entitled “’Adire’ Cloth” discusses the traditional Yoruban cloth dyeing technique called “adire.” Osayimwase also discusses a later, altered form of adire, known as “eleko.” Formal evaluation of the patterns coupled with examination of techniques used to create the designs suggests a connection between traditional Yoruban artisanal production and some textile work being done in the US in the 1960s as tie-dye entered the visual lexicon of American craft. To learn more about adire textiles, visit the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum here. Hints of tie-dye fashions to come are visible in the 1960s patterns shown. The suggestion that traditional Yoruban textile work exerted global influence in that era is supported by scholarly research. One source states that by 1976, the export of Nigerian textiles was essentially a “cash crop.”
Painters also contribute to the publication. Julie, by John Ogo, shows a woman gazing into the distance beyond the viewer’s left shoulder. Her hand rests protectively on her belly, implying pregnancy. The expression on the subject’s face and the strength of her gaze seem to indicate to the viewer that she and her unborn child are part of a new Nigeria that is focused on the future.
This publication is important because they show the students’ unfiltered responses to dramatic cultural upheaval. The creative production of these students provides a snapshot into what a generation of Nigerian people was experiencing at that time.
Resources: To learn more about the role that student publications played within the greater system of education in Africa, refer to:
- Lindfors, Bernth. “Popular Literature for an African Elite,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, September 1974. JSTOR – http://www.jstor.org/stable/159945.
- Joseph, Marietta B. “West African Indigo Cloth” contains information about textile production and indigo work specifically. JSTOR – http://www.jstor.org/stable/333544695.
Visit the finding aid for the John N. Paden papers to learn more about Dr. Paden’s collection as well as others available for research.
 Joseph, Marietta B. “West African Indigo Cloth.” African Arts, Vol. 11, No. 2., pp. 34-37, 95.
UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center: 1978. 95.