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Balance of Stories

I asked the writers gathered in this section to choose a photograph and write a narrative based on it. How they defined “narrative” was up to them; they could borrow from any genre, including biography, history, memoir, and the news. I wanted to bring to fore the idea that a critic is, in the best sense, also a storyteller.

Fashionably Late

At the time the photograph was taken, no one could have imagined that the gentleman in the Safari suit on the right called Bola Ige—a Commissioner for Agriculture in the Western region, center of the political party called the Action Group before that, and later to become governor of Oyo State—would be assassinated in his home. His murderer has not been found.

The Smell of Bread Forms a Map of a Life

It is in moments like this, in cramped spaces, among unfamiliar bodies, that darkness again reminds us of the power it wielded over our earliest ancestors before mankind harnessed the movement of electrons.

A Solid Image, A Sunlit Path

In uncertain times, it helps if one can count on some solidity. A photograph I have looked at a few times in the last months comes to mind as an image of solidity, and also of invitation.

Who Shall I Say is Calling?

I’ve sometimes wondered how you arrived at your conviction. Did growing up in church steer you towards the path of prophecy? Or were you predestined for it and fate put you in a religious family?

Tall House

From the grounds of Kennington Park, Jebo could see the top eight floors of Shellington House cast against the late afternoon sun. It would take careful looking to pick out his room on the twelfth floor. He stared hard but with no luck. Except for the pair of balconies on either side of each floor, there were no clear demarcations between the flats. To stare was a task. Squinting didn’t help. He recalled Richard Serra’s phrase with unusual clarity: The act of seeing, and the concentration of seeing, takes effort.

Whom did he love?

In the entire collection, many of the photographed people look directly at Thomas (and his Nigerian assistants) with indifference, irritation, suspicion, disgust, humor, calm, and rarely joy. The existence of these photos represents a colonial gaze, anthropology’s birth defect. But despite what the object of the photographs represents, the expressions in them destabilize the right to scrutiny that the colonial gaze claims as a sole proprietor.

Landing in Bioko

Anyone who has flown over water toward another land can describe to you the immense, silent stasis of the sea. On an atlas everything appears to embody this stasis: the earth properly beaten into shape, nothing shifting, nothing bending. But for the first Biafrans to be airlifted to the island, everything has shifted and is bent.

beauty begrudged refuses to pose again

It started on a sunny day on a rooftop in Ebute Metta, after he impulsively went out to get a ten-foot-tall mirror. In front of it, he swayed from right to left, his arms outstretched, and posed; then he stood at attention, clamped both arms by the hips and posed; squatted and posed; pursed his lips and posed.

A Reimagination of the Bimbia Slave Port

I imagine a slave port to be a port: A harbor where ships load and unload humans, connected to a coast, to a river, to a large body of water. But this wobbly bus drives upward not to a seaport, but up and up a hill, with our bodies rocking.

Like a Mask Dancing

Last harvest, as young boys prepared for their initiations at the river, diving and swimming and enjoying the last days of boyish abandon, an agu iyi grabbed one of them from underwater. The beast brought the boy’s body to the surface, and his legs kicked as he hung on to life.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2022

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