The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire both prior to and post the workshop experience.
Prior to the workshop they were asked the following questions:
1. How did you hear about WiAiA Lagos?
The SPARCK team was pleased to find that each of the participants had heard about the workshop from a different source: SPARCK’s facebook page; through a friend who is part of an online writing group; through Sokari Ekine’s Blacklooks webblog; and through Qudus Onikeku’s facebook page.
2. Why did you decide to apply? What appealed to you (the workshop, the online publication project or other)?
It was clear that apart from a general wish to improve writing skills, what most attracted the participants was the focus on creative writing about social issues and finding the tools, voice and confidence to adequately write about art (as a general proposition, not something specifically taught as part of journalism or language degrees).
3. What do you hope to get out of this experience?
Encounters and exchange were the two key words here: the opportunity to engage with artists directly; to hear how they feel about being represented or under-represented in the media; to learn more about their art form itself; and to build long-lasting relationships (network) with people (artists, experts, peers) who will shape one’s own writing.
4. What are your expectations regarding this workshop?
Pretty unanimously, these were two aspects: (1) enriching interactions/ networking and (2) building on the craft, developing better writing skills, finding new ways of thinking about writing and writing about art.
5. What is your interest in contemporary African performance practice?
Apart from an expressed general interest, responses also pointed to art as communication tool, art’s role in interrogating the present experience, fusions or intersections between contemporary and traditional expression, and the influence of contemporary artistic production on society.
6. What would you say are the key challenges in how contemporary African Art practice is written about today?
A range of different issues were touched on here: (1) There is limited space provided for African writing on contemporary art practice (and this is often dominated by an elite culture) or, in other words, mainstream media tend to give more space to TV, pop culture and very little to thought-provoking original work; (2) Within Africa the world of art is not sufficiently recognised; (3) There is a lack of understanding of the issues in a larger context (i.e. the political and socio-economic context in which works are produced); (4) There is a lack of and a need for more African writers (not only academic but also writers who can provide anecdotal evidence in terms of process and context in which artworks are created); (5) There is a general lack of exposure and a sense that there is no audience for creative writing bout experimental contemporary practice; (6) There is a serious lack of high quality training opportunities for writers.
7. What would you say is needed/ missing in writing about contemporary African Art practice today?
(1) It needs more appreciation and publicity; (2) It needs to find a balance between the beauty, the practicality and the business of art; (3) There is little history of Africans writing about contemporary African practice/ There are few seasoned writers on these subjects; (4) Creativity is missing from what is currently pure reportage and journalistic prose; (5) There is a need for space to share and read the works – both for artists among each other, as well as for the public, a space where people can read about works from across the continent, ideally on the internet, as this is an ideal platform where both texts and visuals can be combined to complement each other; (6) Africans need to take ownership of writing about their own creative practice.
8. How would you describe your own practice as a writer (in terms of style, focus, what you are trying to achieve in your writing)?
The responses to this question are difficult to summarise (and maybe not crucial in the context of this report). Understandably, the answers varied quite a bit, depending on the individual
After the workshop the following questions were asked:
1. Did you get out of this experience what you had hoped?
All four participants unanimously confirmed having got more out of the experience than expected, having gained positive and inspiring insights, ideas and structure for their future writing and, maybe more importantly, having treasured the exchanges and connections made during the workshop.
2. What, as a writer, did you get out of this experience?
Several responses underscored the fact that the role of audiences, both of the performance and texts (the readership) was put into a new light. All agreed that their understanding of the concept of a “review” had been broadened by the workshop experience to encompass much more creative approaches than they had previously considered. Key points made were: (1) The opportunity and responsibility of the writer to challenge notions about Nigeria and Africa more broadly was embraced; (2) Much was learned about the importance and influence of language use and structure in communicating either preconceived or new alternative notions; (3) New “writing comrades” were gained, people to help motivate one’s own practice and provide feedback; (4) Practical tools to assist the writing process, overcome writer’s block and improve on the actual writing quality were acquired.
3. Has this workshop experience changed your interest in contemporary African performance practice and artistic practice more generally? If yes, in what way?
A resounding yes from all four participants. Their own notions of African performance art were challenged and adjusted, understanding of the performer and his/her challenges were acknowledged. Generally, the sense was that the scope/ understanding of non-Euro-or-Western-centric work had increased dramatically.
4. How would you describe the key challenges in how contemporary African Art practice is written about, now that you have completed the WiAiA Lagos workshop?
It seems that the workshop experience has shifted the general analysis of challenges in writing about contemporary African practice from external factors towards a more self-reflective point of view (regarding one’s own writing and the work of African writers more generally). Perceived challenges included: (1) The fact that writers are content with publishing uninformed, disconnected commentary and/or lazy uninvolved reviews; (2) Preconceived notions of audiences that have little interest in or background necessary to digest critical and creative writing about contemporary practice. There was a strong feeling that a key challenge was for writers to interrogate such practices as a wider societal issue and to incorporate this consideration in their texts. They respondents also underscored the need to bridge the distance between themselves and the art world through much more dialogue.
5. Has this workshop provided a better understanding/skills that will allow you to write about contemporary African (performance) practice in a way that allows you to address more directly/confidently/thoughtfully some of these challenges? Please explain.
According to the responses, the four writers have changed/ intend to change their approach to writing by considering audience more carefully and writing with a specific audience in mind. There was reference to personally engaging with the arts in a more involved and active manner, seeking conversation and to generally be more confident and daring in publishing commentary (positive and negative) from a more informed point of view.
6. How has this experience changed/improved/challenged your own practice as a writer (in terms of style, focus, what you are trying to achieve in your writing)?
Here, the key communality appears to be confidence to explore more creative writing, or to explore writing outside of the present comfort zones, and to take more responsibility as a writer to frame one’s work in a larger societal context.
7. How do you see your ongoing engagement with the WiAiA process?
All four expressed a keen interest in continuing to write about contemporary African performance. Some even made concrete suggestions for future projects.
8. What you were happiest with: What parts of the workshop do you feel worked particularly well?
Two key things were mentioned here: (1) The opportunity to see a range of performances and meet and discuss with different artists; (2) the intense and challenging review sessions of texts produced during the workshop and of different writing exercises given to the participants. One participant also mentioned “the welfare of attendees was well taken care of”.
9. Suggestions for future WiAiA workshops: how do you think certain aspects of the process could be improved on?
In two words: More time.
10. Constructive criticism about WiAiA Lagos: were there aspects that didn’t work in the workshop and why?
In three words: More writing exercises.
11. Do you think the WiAiA model is a useful/interesting/promising one and, if so, do you feel it should expand into other areas of writing practice? If so, what areas/ directions would you recommend that the WiAiA team investigate?
Only one participant really dealt with this question. It is quoted here in full: “It is very promising and needs to expand to other areas. It is like a cocoon or a safe space that writers need to explore their voices. It would be good to present this project to delegates at the Highway Africa media and journalism conference [held] annually at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. You should also approach universities particularly about assisting students to think differently about Africa and how they write about it. We need more of this because there is still too much writing that is dull and clichéd when it comes to Africa. This is a debate with tangible outcomes – via the writing – and that makes WiAiA very valuable. Please keep up the great work!”