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Biafran Mediations: Artistic Legacies of the Nigeria-Biafra War

Matthew Justin Lecznar


PhD Thesis, University of Sussex, United Kingdom, June 2019

This thesis explores artistic legacies of the Nigeria-Biafra war. Since the end of the internecine conflict, a diverse range of artists working in and across a variety of forms have creatively mediated the struggle and its aftermath. Despite this cultural outpouring, the history of Biafra remains highly contested in Nigeria, and it is not extensively commemorated or taught in the country. The scholarship around the conflict's legacies has also been restrictive, focusing predominantly on literary responses and enforcing the idea that Biafra represents a traumatic void in Nigeria's cultural history. This thesis counters these tendencies by tracing the creative experiments and subversive politics that have defined Biafra's multimedia artistic heritage. I argue that the war's artistic mediation has reimagined it as a space where such complex issues can be articulated and reappraised. In the introduction, I lay out the project's historical and theoretical parameters, framing key debates around Biafra's legacies and exploring the mediations of artists such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ben Enwonwu. The first chapter compares three creative responses to the conflict – a photographic narrative by Peter Obe, a play by Catherine Acholonu and a novel by Ken Saro-Wiwa – arguing that these diverse narratives 'formfool' Biafra, breaking the political and aesthetic frames that have delimited the war's reception. In the second chapter, I consider the mixed media practices of members of the Nsukka group, drawing connections between their experiences of exile and their multimedia navigations of the conflict. The third chapter addresses the queer dynamic that runs through the writings of Chinelo Okparanta and Ogali A. Ogali and the photographs of Rotimi Fani-Kayode, which I argue offer subversive visions of the war's significance. The conclusion explores the speculative potential of Biafra, affirming that processes of obscure speculation and mythic mediation have been central in promulgating its artistic legacies.

Full Text:


Biafran War Database.
Editor: Azuka Nzegwu.

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