Celebrating the spirit of FESTAC ‘77
Documentary photographer, Tam Fiofori, who covered the opening ceremony of FESTAC ’77, relives the occasion and highlights benefits of the landmark event which 40th anniversary the Centre for Black African Arts and Civilization just concluded
ON September 6, the Centre for Black African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) began a four-day celebration of the 40th anniversary of the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, otherwise known as FESTAC’77.
Fittingly, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the chief host of FESTAC ’77 ¬¬– as the then military head of state – was chair of the opening ceremony, held at the University of Lagos Sports Centre. Gratifying, too, the ex-president was honoured alongside carver of the FESTAC ’77 mask, Joseph Agbonifo Alufa, and musicians Sir Victor Uwaifo, and King Sunny Ade, who performed at the opening 40 years ago.
Back in 1977, one of those who witnessed the landmark event that saw Africa’s 56 nations and Blacks from the Diaspora temporarily relocate to Lagos was filmmaker and documentary photographer, Tam Fiofori.
A veteran in the truest sense of the word and mentor to several young ones, Fiofori, fondly called Uncle Tam, has striking photographs from the festival’s opening ceremony on January 15, 1977. One of the standout images is that of the heaving ocean of guests at that colourfully spectacular opening.
Can you recall how you came about this iconic image, one asked the elderly photographer during a chat midweek.
His response, in his usual no frills style, was: “My iconic image of FESTAC ’77 which I have titled ‘The Spirit of FESTAC ’77,’ is a photograph of the mammoth crowd inside the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, that came to watch the opening ceremony of FESTAC ’77 on 15th January 1977. There were contingents of the 56 African countries and nations from the Diaspora that participated in the opening ceremony march-past. Since there were 160,000 participants in this greatest-ever display of African and Black culture, the grand opening ceremony attracted huge crowds. I was therefore drawn by the sheer energy of the occasion to take this special photograph which depicts a sea of people in a frame full of faces. For me, this photograph signifies unity, the tolerance and togetherness of multitudes of various people bonding as a community and nation to appreciate and celebrate FESTAC ’77.”
He added that the photograph that was also exhibited at the second edition of ArtX held at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, last weekend, was one of several that would appear in a book soonest.
“I have photographs of how Lagos was well beautified by buntings, banners and totems of the official FESTAC symbol, as well as the flags of all the participating nations. Also photographs of participating nations during the march-past.
However, only The Spirit of FESTAC ’77’, was exhibited at ArtX and, thanks to Bloom Art, this image was used in the official newsletter of ArtX and people such as Minister Lai Mohammed, art lovers and TV crews appreciated it during the exhibition.
“I am planning to publish ‘MY FESTAC ‘77’, a book of my photographs and essays just like I did of my coverage of Oba Erediauwa’s coronation in Benin City in 1979.”
Asked his take on the 40th anniversary, if Nigeria benefitted from hosting FESTAC ’77 and if these had been properly harnessed, he said: “It is commendable that CBAC had a week-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of FESTAC ’77 and, especially honouring President Olusegun Obasanjo for the great role he played in making FESTAC ’77 possible. However, CBAC should have collaborated with NTA to show events from FESTAC ’77 right from the beginning of 2017 to educate Nigerians and sensitise them about the anniversary.
“Nigeria has benefitted a lot from hosting FESTAC ’77. Very sadly, these benefits have not been properly harnessed. Nigeria, as leader of the Black world, made a very symbolic cultural statement by proudly showcasing the best of African and Black culture and creative intellectual capacity to the entire world; making black people all over the world very proud to be black. FESTAC ’77 successfully challenged the wrong concept that white culture is the superior and dominant culture in the world.”
Uncle Tam is among those who believe that archival materials from the event could have been better preserved. He stated: “We could do much better in preserving archival materials from FESTAC ’77. The space in CBAC is too small, rather obscure and generally not too open and friendly towards sightseers and researchers. Kudos must be given to Obasanjo’s Presidential Library in Abeokuta where memorabilia from FESTAC ’77 are properly presented in style and dignity.”
Curiously, 40 years after Nigeria hosted the second edition, the third has not happened. What does this say about Africa as a whole?
“No African country today has the economic power or even the cultural will to host a 3rd World Black Arts and Culture Festival after FESTAC ’77. This reality, for me, demonstrates the unquantifiable leadership role Nigeria has played in projecting and promoting Black Arts and Culture in the world, he said”