Ese Emmanuel has been named the Artistic Director of the Ibom International Arts and Book Festival.

In a recent interview with  Festival Director, Inyene Adiaha Nsa, the writer reflects on her creative process and vision for Ibom International Arts and Book Festival.

Inyene Adiaha Nsa (I.A.N): Interesting times, Ese, congratulations. We are thankful to have you here. What does this new development feel like?

Ese Emmanuel (E.E): This feels like an important moment for me. In my work and life, I have always taken an interest in the narrative and political history of marginalized peoples. The opportunity to create work for and actively engage with—through visual art and literature—those whose stories, though abundant, are largely disregarded from the general record, is well appreciated. Arundhati Roy, whom I love, says “There is really no such thing as the voiceless, only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.” I agree with her completely. The work of listening feels especially urgent, and it is work I am happy to do.

I.A.N: Undoubtedly, as far as interview questions go, this might sound a little cliché but I must ask, who would you say Ese is?

E.E: I like to think of myself as: writer, cultural worker and curator, among other things. Currently, much of my interests revolve around the idea of making space for new, radically different ways of imagining the world and existing alongside one another.

I loved reading books as a child because even then, they gestured toward the existence of myriad other possibilities. The book object was, to me, a symbol of potentiality. Now, in tandem, my writing and work in the African cultural space are attempts to will into reality the alternative notions of being that are generative of healthier relations.

I am also quite intrigued by the concept of experimentation. I have a background in the sciences and always found the methods of observing, hypothesizing, experimenting and theorizing well aligned with my own creative impulses.

I.A.N: Who are your biggest artistic influences, if any, and how so?

E.E: As I mentioned earlier, Arundhati Roy is a writer whose work I deeply enjoy. The tendency of her writing towards lush lyricism (bordering on excess), disregard for linearity/order, and unabashed experimentation with language makes it very dear to me. Most importantly, her storytelling and commentary (in all their eloquence) serve to subvert the hegemonic narratives of racial capitalism and imperialism, center the othered, the marked, the marginalized, and document their experience with such tenderness that is hard to replicate. I am also greatly motivated by Saidiya Hartman’s careful approach to the difficult histories of “forgotten” Black women, merging research and analysis with fictional memory. Toni Morrison’s firm commitment to the necessary complexity of Black life is of lasting interest to me.

In daily practice, however, my greatest influences come from the community of artists, writers and thinkers with whom I work, play, and share curiosities.

I.A.N: As the new and first Artistic Director of Ibom International Arts and Book Festival, what is your vision for the Festival?

E.E: The primary objective of the Ibom International Arts and Book Festival is to provide a platform for underrepresented visual artists and writers in Nigeria and beyond. My vision for the festival feeds directly into that objective. Many artists feel isolated in their need to create. Many writers are without the fiscal and community resources to make work that reflects their perspective of the world. We know this to be true. It is no news. For this reason, my vision for the festival extends beyond representational politics, beyond tokenism, beyond the singular-literary-superstar-complex towards the need for community. I wish to see, in real-time, a space where writers, visual artists, and all who are interested can genuinely commune with one another in their shared love for the craft—regardless of experience, age, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality. I believe that the festival has the potential to be an ever-growing expanse of care, play and ease and revolutionary love in practice. No one should feel unknown, unloved, unwanted, or unheard.

I.A.N: What excites you the most about this new position and what gives you the chill?

E.E: Although I have significant experience organising cultural events, this is the first time my work extends to such magnitude. I find the scale of the festival exciting and a little scary. There are many visual artists and writers to interact (and potentially work) with. There are many logistical details to cater to. But one must have faith in their capacity for the work they feel compelled to do. As Whitman put it, I am large, I contain multitudes.

I.A.N: Finally, Ese, what should writers and artists expect in this year’s festival in Nigeria?

E.E: In the wake of so much difficulty, especially for writers and visual artists working in Nigeria,  one thing I am excited to announce is the promise of a good time.

Ese Emmanuel is a writer, cultural worker and curator, among other things. Their work prioritizes the radical imaginary: conscious acts of space-making for collaboration, play, care and rest. Ese was recently announced as a Rajat Neogy Editorial Fellow at A Long House. She is the first Artistic Director for Ibom International Arts and Book Festival.

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