Wednesday, 30 December 2009

UGANDA | 1000 Acre Botanical Greenhouse


Uganda - Land of Milk and Honey

In the capital of Sudan, Khartoum the White Nile meets with the Blue Nile in dramatic fashion as the poets call it, “the longest kiss in history” but rather than searching for passion and conflict my curiosity took me further down the African map to the origins of Man. If all Mankind came from Africa, then surely we must have all originated from the source of the Nile? The source of the White Nile starts to rise in Lake Victoria near a village called Jinga or some call Ginga in Uganda. It is from these parts of the world that scientists have, for decades, been searching for cures for TB, asthma, HIV and blood related cancers. It is my understanding, that even today, Ugandan mothers take their newly born children down to the banks and plaster the mineral rich mud all over the bodies of their babies. This ritual is performed in order to protect the children from leprosy, tuberculosis and to boost the child’s immune system. The news of this ancient tradition soon found its way to the UK and as far back as the 1970’s research was conducted by British scientists who were intent on finding the secrets within the mud found on the banks of the Nile in Uganda. Six years ago I was informed of a clinical drug trial designed for patients with breast cancer known as the “Dirt Vaccine”. The microbiologist, Dr John Standford and his wife Cynthia worked amongst Ugandans afflicted with leprosy and tuberculosis and treated the patients with mycrobacterium vaccae, the rather elaborate Latin term for Ugandan mud. It has been well documented that mycrobacterium vaccae unlocks the body’s natural power to fight a wide range of diseases. The late David Pickering, an oncologist who worked in Maidstone, Kent used this vaccine on women with breast cancer with interesting results.


Could this Ugandan mud be the DNA of all Creation? Are the origins of Creation to be found on the banks of the Nile in Uganda? These were the thoughts that were racing around my head as I began my journey to the Ngoma workshop in the Western Region in the beautiful village of Kazo in 2008.

I arrived at Entebbe International Airport, famed for it’s spectacular Libyan hijacking in the Idi Amin regime in the mid 1970’s. The airport was clean and efficient, giving the inkling of a rather sophisticated country. Ben Bukenya, one of the Organizers, had generously arranged for a car to pick me up and drive me to the Capital and as I entered into the airport car park, Joseph instantly recognised me, as I was one of the few whites at the airport. He greeted me with such an enormous smile it was a genuine pleasure to be back on African soil.

Kampala was surprisingly hot for the rainy season and my first impression was of an extraordinary country. Huge black and white feathered Cranes perched carefully on the high white roadside lights as if to welcome visitors to the Capital. The smells were intoxicating as the countryside was crying out for rain. We arrived a little late at the Hotel Africa and we were greeted by some of the best emerging artists on and off the continent. Within minutes I was nervously introducing myself as the person who wrote the African Artists blog and was keen to photograph the various artists and find out more about their work.

Standing in front of the group was the rather impressive General of the Armed Forces, the Honourable General Elly Tumwine. He was dressed immaculately and wore a pair of trendy dark glasses, which covered up his damaged eye. Late I was told he had been injured in the war for Independence against the British. The General explained that he too was an artist and expressed how delighted he was to welcome us all to his beloved Uganda.

Honourable General Elly Tumwine

An overwhelming sense of relief passed over me in the reassuring knowledge that the head of the army was taking care of the group. I was thrilled to see such a variety of artists from all over the Continent present at the workshop, such exceptional artists as Stephen Garan’anga from Zimbabwe, Gordon Shamulenge from Zambia, the political cartoonist, Fred Halla from Tanzania and Innocent Nkurunziza from Rwanda. To my surprise Lilian Nabulime, the Ugandan sculptor, made a guest appearance and we greeted each other as old friends. I had previously met Lilian in 2004 in London and arranged for her to do an interview with BBC Africa Network. She spoke eloquently about her sculptural work with clear soaps. The soaps were shaped as both male and female reproductive organs and inside one could see the rusty nails and rotten seeds. This was a series of works expressing an interesting and intelligent artistic interpretation of the effects of HIV/Aids.

Dr Philip Kwesiga

The person I was most interested in meeting was Dr Philip Kwesiga, the famous ceramicist from Uganda. The Organizers had teamed us up and for the two-week duration of the workshop, we lived together at the glorious home of Mr and Mrs Katugunda, who were fantastic hosts.

Mr. Sam Mugisha Katugunda

Mr. Sam Mugisha Katugunda is a Preacher, Magistrate and Dairy Farmer all rolled into one. His love for the land and his cows was a wonderful sight to behold and his deep concerns for the future are being echoed all over the continent. Mrs Katugunda is a terrific cook and Philip and I slept on heavy stomachs every evening during our two-week stay.

The countryside in Western Uganda is the most fertile I have ever seen. One begins to realise just why the country is known as the land of milk and honey. I had left the UK with preconceptions that I was entering a country full of disease, political unrest and raging war. A country rife with HIV and Aids coupled with the Ebola virus and the plague but to my satisfaction I found the countryside rich in minerals and a veritable Eden. The school children and the grown ups all had a wonderfully healthy glow about them. I found a country that grew eight varieties of bananas, fabulous passion fruit, pineapples and numerous pumpkins and all the food grown in Uganda is grown without the need for artificial fertilizers. In fact the region produces more milk than the country can drink and even exports to neighbouring Tanzania and Sudan. The fresh air was such a powerful tonic I was flabbergasted that I felt so well.

The workshop was an interesting mix of talking to the different schools in Kazo and then encouraging the pupils to create artworks for their compounds; “Talking Compounds” was the title and the artists, alongside the pupils created visual aids for each school. The aim of the workshop was to create awareness of the importance of mosquito nets and the risk of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and Aids.

The parents that housed the group were extremely concerned that the artists would find their homes inadequate but the real success story of the workshop was those families that housed us. They were quietly astonished to find that we all fully appreciated their generous hospitality and enjoyed the time spent talking about Uganda and life in the countryside.

Personally, I enjoyed and gained so much from spending time with all the artists; Stephan Garan’anga with his interesting political views on Zimbabwe, my great drinking partners Gordon Shamulenge and Innocent Nkurunziza and especially, Dr Philip Kwesiga. Philip and I spoke at length about the way in which he painted and glazed his pots. The different firing techniques he had learnt in the UK and most importantly about the Ugandan mud or clay that he particularly enjoyed working with. I told Philip about the “Dirt Vaccine” and the exciting health implications that that had on the work he was producing, the novel idea that a ceramic pot could be an important instrument for healing. The conversation developed and we started to talk about the land. We spoke about the importance of herbs: about the importance of the knowledge passed down from generation to generation. This simple practice is slowly beginning to be eroded with the influx of modern medicines. We spoke about the importance of documenting these herbs and retaining this most precious resource and not just from Uganda but from all over Africa: we spoke about his son and about architecture: about Renzo Piano and his new architectural work at the Natural Science Museum in San Francisco: about the Eden Project down in Cornwall.

Natural Science Museum in San Francisco by Renzo Piano

The Eden Project in Cornwall

Could the land that is presently being farmed by dairy cows be also used as a greenhouse? Could Uganda pull up the land as Piano has done in San Francisco and build a 1,000-acre herb garden, housing all the known herbs from all over Africa? I made the suggestion that rather than giving the herbs a complex Latin name why not refer to the plants in their Africa native language and archive the collection on African terms.

As we spoke we were abruptly interrupted by a series of screams coming from a nearby bar. Vigorous shrieks for the favoured Manchester United over ‘the Gunners’ of Arsenal . Philip’s eyebrows raised and he said, “It is a disgrace that Ugandans are so passionately supportive of a football team that isn’t even on the same continent and more importantly comes from the very country that colonized us. There is a huge interest in football here, I just don’t understand why we don’t create our own Premiership League and buy up cheap young European players from places like Poland or Bulgaria?” We both smiled and continued our conversation.

We spoke about golden carp being farmed in China in amongst the paddy fields alongside the rice: we spoke about planting the Nim trees for Malaria and Steven’s Cure from East London, South Africa to treat those with TB, herbs from the Republic of Benin that can reduce inoperable cancerous lumps and we spoke about Nejib Belkhodja and Slah Smaoui about the botanical garden, which the two created in Tunisia at the Village of Ken.


If two men can create an entire village, just image what could be achieved with all the artists working collectively. Working to document, archive the knowledge from each Grandparent. The most important resource in Africa is not gold or diamonds, oil or timber but the knowledge passed down from each and everybody’s Grandparent. The majority of countries throughout the continent are fully aware of this rich currency but have for some reason allowed, as have we all, to fall victim to greed and modern day consumerism and Capitalism.

The new Independent Nations of Africa are in the ideal position to base their Nations currency on knowledge passed down from Grandparents rather than placing the Nations future on a western ideal of currency, which is based around items mined in Africa by Africans for westerners; based on unnecessary luxury items that are unattainable for the majority within Africa and frankly serve no purpose but to the minority that wears them. A country that has the courage to base it’s future on the importance of an ecological knowledge base rather than on the ridiculous notion that all that glitters is gold is a country that really is looking forward to a bright future.

© Joe Pollitt, 2009

South African Plants Fighting HIV/Aids

South African Plant 'Fights' Aids
Source: BBC Africa |
Not just a pretty plant

By Carolyn Dempster in Johannesburg

A South African indigenous medicinal plant may hold the key to the treatment of millions of poor people living with HIV and Aids, helping them relieve the symptoms of Aids.

For the first time in South Africa's medical history, the plant, Sutherlandia Frutescens, sub-species Microphylla, is to undergo clinical trials to assess its immune-boosting properties.

We are certainly not making the absurd claim that Sutherlandia is a cure-all or a cure for Aids

Dr Nigel Gericke

Phyto Nova. The Medical Research Council will conduct the trials early next year and results are expected within three to six months.

Anecdotal evidence is already mounting, suggesting that this plant can improve the quality of life of thousands of people both with HIV and full-blown Aids.

Sutherlandia Frutescens grows wild in the Western Cape and in the hills of Zululand.

Cancer bush

A particular variety of the plant has been used for centuries as a potent medicine by South Africa's indigenous San people who call it "Insisa" - the one that dispels darkness. They used it as an energy booster and a powerful anti-depressant.

Medicinal Traditional healers have been using it for decades

Zulu sangomas or traditional healers know it as "Unwele", the great medicine that was used to ward off the effects of the devastating 1918 influenza pandemic which claimed 20 million lives worldwide.

The Tswana people know it as "Mukakana" for its power in treating gonorrhoea and syphilis, while the Afrikaners call it the "Kankerbossie" or cancer bush, because of its properties in treating people suffering with internal cancers and wasting.

Molecular combination

A local company specialising in the development of indigenous plant medicines, Phyto Nova, first started researching the bio-chemical properties of Sutherlandia about three years ago.

Phyto Nova planted acres of the plant

A multi-disciplinary team headed by Dr Nigel Gericke, a botanist, medical doctor and indigenous plant specialist, found that Sutherlandia contained a powerful combination of molecules which have been identified and used in the treatment of patients with cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, schizophrenia and clinical depression and as an anti-retroviral agent.

Phyto Nova were so convinced that Sutherlandia could be used as a tonic for people infected with HIV and Aids, that they contracted farmers to plant acres of the bush, to prevent wild supplies being over-harvested. They have been manufacturing high quality Sutherlandia tablets, gel and powder.

Having determined that the product was safe when administered with a balanced food diet, the company distributed Sutherlandia to Aids patients.

Quality of life

"Anecdotally we are accumulating evidence that wasted patients with Aids, TB and cancer pick up weight, regain energy and appetite," says Dr Gericke.

"The claim we are making on the basis of this, is that we can significantly and dramatically improve the quality of life of many ill Aids patients... We are certainly not making the absurd claim that Sutherlandia is a cure-all or a cure for Aids."

Sutherlandia does not work properly just on a diet of porridge - you have to have vegetables

Virginia Rathele
Nurse and sangoma
Whatever comes of the clinical trial, word of the plant's properties is already spreading among South Africa's traditional healers.

At the same time as Phyto Nova was conducting its research, one of the country's most venerated traditional healers, Dr Credo Mutwa, 80, was using Sutherlandia to treat Aids patients.

"My aunt Minah, who is 103 years old, told me that we should use the great medicine against Aids," said Dr Mutwa. "I said to her: 'But aunt, the white people tell us there is no cure for this disease'.

"And my aunt said: 'For every disease there is a treatment. Try this medicine'. And I tried it."


"I have treated people who were told by the doctors at the hospital to 'go home and die' and they are still alive today, three years after they should have died. This plant is near-miraculous, I can say that with certainty," he says.

Tablets, powder and gel are already on sale

Testimony to the efficacy of the plant continues to mount.

Anne Hutchings, an ethno-botanist and lecturer at the University of Zululand has been using Sutherlandia, together with a range of other indigenous plant medicines, to treat Aids patients who attend the weekly Aids clinic at Ngwelezane Hospital.

She has 176 patients who all testify that Sutherlandia has helped them to live a fuller, healthier and more productive life.

No response

In the Northern Cape town of Kuruman, nurse and sangoma, Virginia Rathele is using Sutherlandia at her clinic to treat more than 300 Aids patients.

She says an integral part of the treatment is to tell patients to eat healthily. "Sutherlandia does not work properly just on a diet of porridge. You have to have vegetables," she said.

Rathele says that Sutherlandia only works with a balanced diet

One client, who weighed 26kg and was close to death in April this year, now weighs 45kg and is helping Ms Rathele run the clinic.

Patents cannot be taken out on plants which have well-documented folk use, which means that Sutherlandia should remain accessible to anyone.

At present, one month's supply of Phyto Nova tablets costs a little under $2.50 and two months' supply of the powder form of the medication can be bought for under 50 cents.

Phyto Nova has approached the South African Government in a bid to persuade them to grow the plant on a massive scale for use in public health treatment.

So far they have had no response.

For more information see:

Cancer Bush @
Sutherlandia| and

Secret Cures | The Umckaloabo Root

Stevens' Cure: a secret remedy
S W B Newsom, MD FRCPath
11 The Footpath, Coton, Cambridge CB3 7PX, UK

At the outset of the twentieth century the British Medical Association began a campaign against the sale of ‘patent medicines’. Some of these were innocuous tonics or cold cures such as Beecham's pills, but others claimed to cure the incurable including consumption and cancer. The BMA commissioned a chemist to analyse the medicines and cost the ingredients. His results were published in a BMJ series called ‘Secret remedies’. The first articles appeared in 1907, and were such a success that they were reprinted as a book of the same name (Figure 1) in 1909. In editorials the BMJ subsequently noted with annoyance that press reaction had been mixed. The Daily Telegraph and the Manchester Guardian had accepted advertisements, but the Express, Star, Graphic and News of the World had not (and had refused to review the book). A few weeks later the BMA recorded that, despite this ‘conspiracy of silence’, sales were mounting. Altogether 150 000 copies of the book were sold in the UK and the Empire. In 1910-1914 further analyses were published in the BMJ, and More Secret Remedies was published in 1912. The emphasis of the campaign changed and, together with the pharmacists, the BMA successfully lobbied the Government to investigate the matter: a Select Committee on Patent Medicines was set up the same year.

Figure 1
Secret Remedies (1909)

Singled out both in Secret Remedies and in the BMJ articles was ‘Stevens' Consumption Cure’, which was being advertised with a money-back offer: ‘I do not say consumption is curable, but I say if you are consumptive I will guarantee to cure you or return your money in full’. According to the manufacturer the formula was 80 grains of umckaloabo root with 13½ grains of chichitse per ounce prepared according to British Pharmacopoeia methods. According to the BMA's chemist,
‘The medicine was a clear red liquid and analysis showed it to contain in 100 fluid parts, 23.1 alcohol, 1.8 glycerine, and 4 parts solids; about 1 part of tannin and 0.2 part ash. The solid substance agreed in all respects with the solids of decoction of krameria, or a mixture of this decoction with a little kino. The formula thus seems to be: Rectified spirit of wine... 23.7 parts, glycerine 1.8 parts, decoction of krameria (1 in 3) to 100 parts. Or it may be made with a tincture of krameria... estimated cost for 2 fl oz—1½ d’. Krameria or rhatany root is an astringent still used in herbal and homeopathic remedies.


Stevens had an eventful life. Born in 1880, at age 17 he consulted his doctor in Birmingham with chest symptoms. ‘You're for it my lad’ said the doctor. ‘The only hope is to go to South Africa’. There he was treated by a native doctor called Mike Chichitse (Kijitse) with a brew of umckaloabo root (which made him vomit) and a herb that he later called chichitse. He made a marvellous recovery and returned home cured, but with the idea of using his knowledge to help others. Back in South Africa, for a short time he ran a motor cycle repair garage (burnt down) and started to develop his ‘cure’ sold locally as ‘Lungsava’ and then ‘Sacco’. He obtained quite a good income from their sale, but returned to England (with supplies of materials) bankrupt in 1907. He offered various explanations for this misfortune: he had given a lot of money and cures away; he had been blackmailed; he had been arrested and fined for providing alcohol to the local population.

By the time Secret Remedies was published Stevens was 29 and CH Stevens Co had been established in London, with the encouragement of several doctors who had been sent free samples of ‘Sacco’ from South Africa. In 1905 The Lancet was very scathing about the remedies: ‘We've heard all this before... we are just waiting for the material from. Mount Ararat left there by Noah’. Truth also gave him a bad review, but quickly changed it when challenged, although by 1908 the cure was on its ‘cautionary list’, saying ‘Stevens has acquired a number of testimonials from medical men, who must now regret their precipitate action.’ He advertised in the press an ‘absolute cure for the white plague’, and in 1908 the company accounts revealed takings of £4415, and £457 spent on basic materials from Dyer and Dyer in Cape Town. He wrote to the Brompton Hospital inviting them to inoculate him with the bacilli of tuberculosis, so he could prove his cure—the only stipulation being that they then administer the cure to their patients at his expense. The reply some months later was (not surprisingly) ‘your offer is of a nature we are unable to accept’.


The BMA kept a worried eye on Stevens and a BMJ editorial (27 August 1910) noted that, following a legal action, the widow of a deceased patient had succeeded in recovering £10 from him. They were pleased to record the judge's comments that the cure was ‘an intentional and well-considered fraud’, that the remedies had not the slightest value and that if Stevens had said it was extract of ‘high-cockalorum-jig-jig-jig’ it would have been equally informative.

The Select Committee interviewed 42 witnesses including the BMA secretary, Dr Alfred Cox, who was asked how many libel suits were pending as a result of publication of Secret Remedies. The answer was one—Stevens versus the BMA, which was fully recorded in the BMJ and also in The Times, in October 1912 and July 1914. Both sides used lawyers, and the trial was held in front of a jury. At the outset Stevens was asked why he had delayed the action so long, and replied that when Secret Remedies first appeared he had not regarded it as a threat, but later he found that every doctor had a copy on his desk, with a second to lend to patients. Reading the proceedings with hindsight it seems that Stevens had a good case, in that he could prove the BMA analysis was incorrect, and he produced both doctors and patients to support his claim for efficacy. Sacks of the root (and chichitse) were produced, to show it really existed and was not just ‘krameria’. Mr E Harrison, the BMA analyst, was asked to taste tinctures of krameria and Stevens cure, and had to admit they were different. He withdrew his description of Stevens as a swindler but maintained he was a ‘quack’. Finally the BMA implied that they never said the cure contained krameria but that it was ‘like krameria’, although a look at the actual analysis makes this a very fine point.

The BMA aimed to discredit Stevens. Why, they asked, had he no shares in the company? Answer: because his bankruptcy prevented him holding any. At this stage, The Times noted, Stevens broke down and wept, saying he had been blackmailed. How much had he repaid on his ‘bonds’? £60 he said, and following publication of Secret Remedies his income had fallen to £2900. While little medical evidence against the cure was presented, Stevens was accused of ‘trapping and lying to vulnerable people’. Stevens' bacteriologist was asked about the correspondence, which was said to number up to a hundred letters a day, making work for five ladies in an attic. Dr Aubrey Latham, a physician from Portland Place, stated for the BMA that there was no known cure for consumption but that 20% of cases recovered spontaneously.

In a final speech Stevens declared that the BMA analysis of his medicine was libellous; producing the sacks of roots, he told the jury they should be grateful he had not produced hundreds of satisfied patients as witnesses. The judge in summing-up reminded the jury of Stevens' News of the World advertisement (15 May 1910), which was misleading in that it looked like a request to participate in an official trial (free), and noted that there were two kinds of quack—the one who believes and the one who does not: it was for the jury to decide into which group Stevens fell. The trial had lasted from 24 to 31 October 1912. After an hour and three-quarters the jury returned to say that, however long they had, they would never agree on a verdict.
In 1913 there was little to report. The Select Committee had a final meeting in June and issued an account of its proceedings, and the BMJ reported on a relevant legal case—Latham versus Stevens. This concerned a Mr Hogson, who had been referred (by Stevens) to Latham for a check-up on his consumptive state. Latham sent Hogson's sputum to the bacteriologist to the Royal Household and duly issued him with a ‘clearance certificate’, without knowing that he had had the Stevens cure. Latham's letter was then reproduced in advertisements that appeared in three newspapers, though Stevens nowhere stated that Latham approved of his cure. The court therefore did not hold Stevens guilty, but he agreed to pay all legal costs. 1914 saw the BMA in the ascendant. The Select Committee Report (891 pages) vindicated Secret Remedies and urged the Government to introduce legislation. Two pages of recommendations included a list of diseases such as cancer and consumption for which remedies of this sort should be banned. Only The Times and the New Statesman mentioned the report. The BMJ noted that the press had an income of two million pounds a year from advertising patent medicines.


The second trial was held from 16 to 23 July 1914, and this time the jury took only 15 minutes to record a verdict in favour of the BMA. Stevens conducted his own case and the BMA had a much stronger argument. The gloves were off. The BMA declared that the ingredients of the product did not appear in the British Pharmacopoeia, and accused Stevens of taking money under false pretences. Professor Bulloch reported laboratory tests showing that Stevens' mixture did not kill tubercle bacteria in ten minutes as claimed—or even in 48 hours. Stevens called patients to testify, and another witness was a Dr Bennett, recently returned (so he said) from Liberia. Bennett said that umckaloabo, which Stevens had already called by its African name of ‘blood spitting’, grew in Liberia and was called ‘life everlasting’. When asked his role in Liberia he stated he was a ‘commissioner’, adding ‘I could hang you if you committed an offence’. ‘Was this a paid job?’ ‘Yes I was sometimes paid’. This testimony cannot have helped Stevens' case, and it later transpired that the witness was an imposter who had served three jail sentences; the real Dr Bennett was in Australia. The BMA also attacked Dr Lord, Stevens' bacteriologist, suggesting he had been paid 5 shillings a week to address envelopes when not writing slightly misleading documents which were sent out with the medicine bottles. Did Mr Stevens know Lord was now in a Church Army home for dipsomaniacs? Whatever the merits of his case Stevens was routed, and was ordered to pay costs for both sides.


An appeal next year for the case to be reopened was refused. Thus Secret Remedies had won—or so it seemed. War intervened. In 1920 a Bill implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee was prepared in the Lords. However, when a member inquired about the Bill's future, the answer came back... we hope in the next session. Afterwards, vested interests came into play (manufacturers, newspapers), including the Government itself. Duty on the sale of ‘secret medications’ was levied following the ‘Stamp Act’ of 1804 as amended in 1812; in 1908, forty-one million items were stamped, providing £334 141 in revenue (the public spent £3.2 million pounds on the remedies). The tax was doubled during the war, and thereafter Parliament spent more time discussing whether this imposition was fair than in debating the recommendations of the Select Committee. In 1926 the duty raised was £1.34 millions—‘a sum not to be despised in a time like the present’ said the Minister of Health.


Stevens served with distinction in the Royal Flying Corps during the war, ending up as a major. The cure presumably continued in production and the next significant event was publication of The Treatment of Tuberculosis with Umckaloabo (Stevens' Cure)2 by Dr Adrien Sechehaye from Geneva. Originally written in French it was translated into German, Rumanian and English. The English version (Figure 2) was published in 1930 and accounts for my interest, in that I purchased a copy in a Cumbrian bookshop, and on opening it found a letter from the publishers to the editor of the West Cumberland Times, requesting a review. The contents seemed a bit too medical for readers of that newspaper and I wondered what was behind it. Sechehaye, who disclaimed any meeting with Stevens, recounted the history of the cure, and then described how he had used it since 1920. The results in his first patient were so good he had shown her to a meeting of the Geneva Medical Society. Altogether he had treated 800 patients, and wrote in detail about 64. He concluded that, while not infallible, the cure was a definite advance in treatment of tuberculosis. In 1931 a companion book (Figure 3), Tuberculosis, its Treatment and Cure with the Help of Umckaloabo (Stevens)3 was published by ‘An English Physician’ (MRCS, LRCP, 1893) said to be the medical correspondent of a prominent British newspaper. Fifty-five case histories were presented in reasonable detail. All patients were now well, many certified free from tuberculosis; however, none of them had been treated by the author—merely assessed at a single visit. The text is much more readable than Sechehaye's, as might be expected from a journalist. Patients are identified by numbers from 385 to 8332, these presumably being the ‘Stevens’ numbers—in which case the book was probably written at his instigation. By this time production of the ‘cure’ in Wimbledon (Figure 4) was in full swing, employing 50 people occupying three houses, two on Worple Road and a third nearby. A package insert describes three formulations—a lozenge, an extract (with alcohol and glycerine) and capsules of pure ground root; chichitse was no longer listed.

Figure 2
Sechehaye (1930)

Figure 3
‘An English Physician’ (1931)

Figure 4
Correspondence from Wimbledon (1939)

The two books, with a later book and a pamphlet from Sechehaye, were published by B Fraser and Co, of Cottenham Park, London, but in many of the books and advertisements the publisher's address is blacked out. Was it changed? What else did Frasers publish? Internet searches of second-hand book sales reveal only these four. Many copies contain a red label stating where the medicine can be obtained. Sechehaye's book does not seem to have been reviewed in the West Cumberland Times, but my copy of the ‘English Physician’ came together with reprints of articles dated 1931-2 from The Lancaster Guardian, The Nottingham Journal, The Chemist and Druggist of Australia, and Health and Strength, all praising the cure; in one Major Stephens is described as having had a distinguished war career and being ‘well known on the turf’.


Despite opposition from the medical establishment, Stevens and his cure prospered, and he continued to fight for recognition. In The Doom of 150 000 People4 in 1931 the Minister of Health was castigated for allowing ‘condemnation without investigation’. Sir Waldron Smithers MP raised the question of umckaloabo in the Commons, and was told ‘there were insufficient grounds for investigating its value’. He was also on the Committee of Investigation on Treatments of Tuberculosis formed in 1935 following a visit of Sechehaye to London. The cure was mentioned during discussions on a private member's Bill on Medicines and Surgical Appliances (Advertisement) put to the House of Commons in 19365. Captain Elliston cited it as an example of the need for regulation, but had been shaken to receive 1350 letters from strong supporters of the remedy. He asked the secretary of the Joint Tuberculosis Council for a follow-up: of 604 individuals who had received the ‘cure’, 31 were untraceable, 137 had not been notified as having tuberculosis, 122 were working, 115 were ill, 62 were seriously ill and 77 were dead. The Bill did not get a second reading. Stevens was still selling in 1939 and in 1941 was again asking patients to lobby MPs against another threatened Government Bill. Since the cure was still being sold in 1953, this cannot have materialized—so, in the last analysis, he prevailed in his battle with Secret Remedies.

Did the cure work? Sechehaye observed in 1948 that, during the war when supplies were cut off, many patients relapsed6. One former patient whom I have personally encountered gives a very convincing story of being diagnosed after bronchoscopy in the late 1930s at the Hammersmith Hospital, of spending six months in the Colindale Chest Hospital languishing with fever and watching his friends die around him, but then taking the cure for two years (looked like dog biscuits), improving and now having an active and healthy old age; an X-ray taken in 1963 showed old scars of tuberculosis. This individual is critical of the Government's refusal to take up the repeated offers of a trial, and notes that several relevant Government documents (PRO, MH 55/1170, 1171) remain on the Official Secrets list despite being originally scheduled for disclosure in 2002. ‘Google’ currently lists 266 items under umckaloabo. Most relate to a cure for coughs and chest conditions on sale in Germany. The plant has been identified as a Pelargonium species, and modern biochemical analysis reveals coumarins and other chemicals with some antibacterial activity. A team under Dr P Taylor at the London University School of Pharmacy is investigating the antimicrobial activity; some definitely exists, although whether it includes mycobacteria remains to be seen. Sechehaye thought that the drug might be an immunostimulant. Many questions remain unanswered. What were the findings of the Committee of Investigation on Treatments of Tuberculosis? Why did the Minister of Health refuse to investigate? What is in the secret documents? Just how many patients did Stevens treat, and what was the outcome?


I am grateful to Prof J Hamilton Miller and Dr P Taylor for encouragement, and to Mr P Learney and Dr Thomas Dormandy for valuable data.
1. British Medical Association. Secret Remedies: What they Cost and What they Contain. London: BMA, 1909.
2. Sechehaye A. The Treatment of Tuberculosis with Umckaloabo (Stevens' Cure). London: B Fraser & Co, 1930.
3. ‘An English Physician’. Tuberculosis, Its Treatment and Cure with the Help of Umckaloabo (Stevens). London: B Fraser & Co, 1931.
4. Anon. The Doom of 150 000 People. London: Reason Publishing Company, 1931.
5. Medical and Surgical Appliances (Advertisement) Bill. Hansard 27 March 1936: 1563-1600.
6. Sechehaye A. Le traitement des affections tuberculoses par l'umcka. Geneva: R Cavadini, 1948.

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of
Royal Society of Medicine Press

South African Yam Under Threat

Unique yam under threat

Only two populations of this South African species are known in the wild.
“This is the most unique and unusual yam I have come across, and probably the most threatened”

Kew yam expert Dr Paul Wilkin

Botanist Linda Loffler monitoring Dioscorea strydomiana (Image: John Burrows)

One of Kew's most striking new recent discoveries is Dioscorea strydomiana - a critically endangered species from South Africa. There are only two populations of about 200 plants known in the wild. This species is regarded as a cancer cure in the region where it grows, and is consequently under threat from over-collection by medicinal plant collectors who cut pieces off the tubers. Dioscorea strydomiana does not look like a typical yam – it is shrub-like in appearance with a huge, slow-growing, lumpy wooden tuber above the ground measuring up to 1m in height and diameter. The tuber sprouts multiple shoots each spring.

For more information:

The Indepedent:

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Friday, 21 August 2009

Lothar Böttcher | A Man Of His Time

Through Lothar Böttcher’s work one is taken on one of the most exciting artistic adventures of all time in the search for the ultimate nature of physical reality, a hunt that in the past century has yielded such breakthroughs as Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, two theories that radically altered our perception of the universe and our place in it. The latest progression in this heroic pursuit is string theory, known as superstring or M-theory. This same thirst, exploration and fascination with time and space has been going on within artistic circles since 1915 and Kasimir Malevich, Suprematism and the Abstract Expressionist and Art Informel in the 1950-60’s. Today the artists looking are these puzzling issues are artists such as the late Sol LeWitt, Abderrazak Sahli and Julie Mehretu, Sarah Sze, Marie Thibeault and deconstructive architects such as David Adjaye and Zaha Hadid. Working on parallel lines Lothar’s glass artworks boldly navigates between the lines of science and art; looking through the artist’s transparent work one is drawn to the illusion of the alternate space created; once again in search of this elusive notion of the light between.

The artist works primarily with glass, which lends itself to a reaction of immense intrigue and glee when scrutinized. There is a special mystical quality to his work as the audience is left with renewed vision, questioning not only the art but the world around them. Just as Galileo caused delight 400 years ago so the viewer is again in for an artistic extravaganza, to look not at the glass but at the space that lies beyond. In his earlier works with prisms the fundamental theories of science are incorporated throughout. The viewer perceives the contiguous space from a distorted angle which is ever changing due to his or her movement.

The most recent sculptural glassworks Lothar has created are lenses that act as a portal, which challenges the observer’s perception of space and time. Appropriately, Lothar’s lenses are based around the Galileo telescope, which was coincidently invented in 1609; in a time when the world believed that the earth was at the centre of the universe, known as the geocentric view devised by Claudius Ptolemys in the 2nd Century AD, rather than the sun, which is known as the heliocentric. It was Galileo who controversially supported the Nicolaus Copernicus notion of heliocentrism with his most famous work, ‘Dialogue Concerning The Two Chief World Systems’. Today Galileo is regarded as the father of modern science.

The artist toys with his audience playing on the insecurities of all individuals and the paranoia of being watched and centre stage. Lothar’s work would certainly be at home in the CCTV City of London. When the viewer lurches closer and piers through the multifaceted lens they become the viewed, and the viewed becomes the subject matter and that becomes the art. The viewer becomes the viewed and spectators see the distorted person, their facial features in constant motion, incessantly changing behind the lens. The audience delights in the experience and the charm of seeing something that was not there a moment ago and the artist has successfully changed the canvas for a fraction of a second. A constant conversation is taking place with the glass as the transmitting device.

Every movement changes the way the spectator perceives the sculpture – whether it is the viewer or the viewed again. The artist has intentionally attributed the work to Galileo’s kinematics and the world in perpetual motion and in a constant state of change. The work echoes the world itself and cosmos beyond working towards a world where everything is seen differently by different people and in doing so celebrating the importance of individuality and personal perspective and perception. The artist works with these weighty philosophical notes and as he does so the concept of the world looks different and work begins to question the way we see the world around us. The work is inclusive and participatory, which links skilfully with the thinkers of our time; connecting with scientists, writers and philosophers like Michael Albert and fellow anarchists Noam Chomsky who are sharing similar thoughts of Participatory Economics or Parecon, life after Capitalism and also ideas spoken about from Chris Ofili and his interview about the Last Supper in the 'Upper Room', created alongside David Adjaye. We could easily refer to this kind of art as Participatory art. Through Lothar’s work we see an artist pushing the envelop ever closer to the notion of artistic enlightenment.

© Joe Pollitt, 2009

Friday, 7 August 2009



Naomi Sims | First Black Supermodel | Dead at 61

Source: |

Mon. 08/03/09

>> The title of "first black supermodel" has been handed out to Beverly Johnson, the first African American woman to score the cover of Vogue, or Donyale Luna, who Vogue named model of the year in 1966, but Naomi Sims, who died of cancer Saturday, at 61, held her own right to the title.

Halston referred to her as "the first [black supermodel]" in 1974: "She was the great ambassador for all black people. She broke down all the social barriers.” When modeling agencies turned her down in the late '60s, she went straight to photographers, finally convincing Gosta Peterson to capture her for the cover of The New York Times Magazine's Fashions of the Times supplement in 1967; the image is now appearing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Model as Muse" exhibit. Sims sent out the image to ad agencies, and within a year, she was earning $1,000 and had a national AT&T TV commercial campaign wearing Bill Blass.

She paved the way for the likes of Pat Cleveland, Beverly Johnson, gave up modeling after five years in favor of pursuing what became a multimillion dollar beauty empire, and thought of her race as an advantage: "It’s ‘in’ to use me, and maybe some people do it when they don’t really like me. But even if they are prejudiced, they have to be tactful if they want a good picture.”

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Author: Maya Angelou

Monday, 3 August 2009

Abderrazak Sahli 1940-2009

My first meeting with Abderrazak Sahli was in 2007, and I was initially fascinated with his ideas and playful work with shapes and colour. Throughout his artistic life Sahli was inspired by abstraction and he deconstructed his artwork in a similar vein to an American Pop artist. Stripped to the bare essentials the work of any artist boils down to three specific fundamental elements; shape, colour and light. His work is the link between some of the most important art movements of the last century, American Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism and Russian Suprematism. Sahli is originally from Arabic North Africa but spent his life living between France and Tunisia.

Sahli’s artistic life started in the 1960’s and the consistency, continuity and thoroughness of his works are astounding. Inspired by his mentor and friend Nejib Belkhodja, Sahli adopted many ideas from the recognised Tunis School of Art of 60's, founded by Belkhodja, which looked at architecture, constructivism and the development of aesthetics through art. The image below is from his later works, “The Artist Door”, and effectively capitalises on the bright North African sunlight. 'Skyhooks' are needed when looking at his work as the light pours in from different directions and through the multi-layers he has created new and exciting shapes from standard shapes, mixed with layers of other standard shapes to create brand new shapes. Sahli has manage to tackle the age old question of the elusive light between - his work is wonderfully simple yet sophisticated and certainly philosophical. The standardization of all things – the accepted shape and the rejected unacceptable shapes colliding to create new unacceptably acceptable shapes, the work is a paradox and a guide to a wave of thoughts that are rarely uttered; the artist’s pursuit and perpetual quest to push the boundaries of art puts Abderrazak Sahli in the company of Modern Masters of Turner, Paul Klee, Mondrain, Kasimir Malevich and Nejib Belkhodja.

Sadly Abderrazak died earlier this year but was and still is considered one of the best artists from North Africa and his work is interwoven with numerous glorious ideas. His final works are amongst his best and they come alive wholly when filled with light, like the soul of mankind, light is the essential ingredient needed for life itself; like all things, without light the work becomes a two-dimensional object, lifeless and flat. Given space between the layers creates conversations that have enough time to be forgiveable. Space and time seen through the use of light makes everything believable and alive. Abderrazak created an innovation within art through his unique use of light, the source of which all artists strives to achieve. Observations and opinions change as the shape and colours change, what was unacceptable will inevitably become acceptable and even to the point of becoming the recognisable standard. All that is needed to create this phenomenon is light, space and time. Abderrazak strived for the unacceptable and waited for the world to wake up to the ideas of the unacceptable transformation into the general acceptance. This quintessentially is how the world works. The best art pushes the boundaries asking the viewer to consider what is seen and sheds light on the truth that abnormality will eventually become an acceptable normality given enough time and space. This colourful transparent “Artist Door” plays with the traditional screens in the Arabic world. The suggestion of sex is one of the major features within the work; as the screens are normally used for women to undress behind to entice men to see them at a glance, glimpses of naked flesh and the lustful joy of anticipation. His work can be read in copious ways and he leaves behind a body of work that is not only beautiful and intriguing but more importantly it is thorough and thought provoking.

© Joe Pollitt, 2009

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Contemporary Nigerian Art | 1950 - Present

Artist: Bruce Onobrakpeya
Title: Okoroko
Material: Lino Engraving
Size: 12 x 17 cm
Date: 1975

Art, Artists and Art Criticism
Situational Report in Nigeria from 1950 – 2004


This article is focused on some issues concerning contemporary art and its practitioners and art critics as it relates to Nigeria from 1950 to date. In any way the article may not be able to discuss in minute detail due to space constraint. At the same time the theoretical framework of the paper will be historical and also analytical in order to be able to state the author’s views on some issues raised here.

The history of contemporary art in Nigeria cannot be complete without referring to the instrumental figures who through their solo efforts brought Nigerian modern art into the world art history. The history started with Aina Onabolu 1881-1963 as a leading figure who did not only start the art of drawing and painting but also fought single handedly to put art in the school curriculum in 1927. Onabolu consciously went into art of figure drawing and painting to prove and disabuse the minds of the then Europeans who thought no African can dabble into the art of figure drawing and painting. With the help of some European art teachers such as Kenneth Murray who came in 1927, H.E Duckwork and Dennis Duerden who later joined, they later discovered of other talented indigenous artists who did not only continue from Onabolu, they equally made their distinct landmark in the propagation of visual art. Such notable artists include Akinola Lasekan 1921-1972, Justus Akeredolu1915-, Ben Enwonwu 1921 – 1994, Etsu Ngbodaga and others.

These notable Nigerian academically trained, or partially trained or self trained artists started what was later christened Natural Synthesis by the “Zarianist”. For example, Enwonwu’s paintings and sculptures reflect naturalistic and stylized forms which he called “African Style”. As it is argued, Enwonwu’s spirit of synthesis later became the compass upon which the Zarianists members of Zaria Art Society based their popular theory of “Natural Synthesis”. Ademuleya,2003.

The events starting from 1950 have been very topical and have also dictated the trends in contemporary Art in Nigeria. Also events since then have been properly classified by some scholars who wrote on contemporary Nigerian art. These scholars include Dele Jegede 1983, Adepegba 1995, Akatakpo, 1995 Kunle Filani 1998.

Late 1950s and early 1960s witnessed in Nigeria art history the beginning of radical revolution in visual art. The periods consciously witnessed the change of art style from ancient traditions and also jettisoning of western – style realistic approach to execution of artwork. The new consciousness ushered in what was referred to by Filani as “New African” concept which simply means an admixture of traditions and modernism, the philosophy which was later developed as “Natural Synthesis”. This philosophy in the first formal Art School in Nigeria. That is, the college of Art, Science and Technology, Zaria which was later renamed Ahmadu Bello University ABU Zaria. The key actors of this great African philosophy in visual art, who started as students and later spread into various art schools after their graduation are Yusuf Grillo, Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, Emmanuel Odita, Jimoh Akolo, Solomon Wangboje and a host of others. They formed what was known as Zaria Art Society. .

The artists mentioned above influencee other followers and students who have some common and unique characteristics which reflect in their individual works. For decades they dictated the trends in Nigerian contemporary art. Their ideologies according to Filani were carried to other formal schools or workshops to create vibrant artistic revolution Filani 1998:35. Some of these pioneer artists are still in contention in the country.

Another generation of Artists who were later discovered after the 1950s and 1960s progenitors are 1970s graduates of mostly the Zaria Art School. Among them are Shina Yusuf – painter now dead, Joshua Akande – painter, Nelson Cole – painter now dead, Dele Jegede – painter, cartoonist and critic, David Dale – painter and mosacist, Kolade Oshinowo – painter and Gani Odutokun- painter now dead. Their works have been described as characterized by elongation of forms, with elegant northern architecture, and human figures while some depict northern grassland in their landscapes. Most of these artists’ works are in the collection of National Gallery of Modern Art. It is worth mentioning that artist like Late Professor Adepegba 1941 – 2002 who graduated in 1971 with 1st class degree in sculpture consciously went into art history and criticism. He made his mark as one of the distinguished, outstanding and foremost Africanist Art Historians/Critic the Continent has ever produced.
Most contemporary Nigerian artists are classified along the school in which they graduated from. There are also cases of few artists having other distinct styles or deviating from the usual school styles. Of large number of contemporary artists in the practice today are the 1980s graduates of various formal art schools in Nigeria. The term “school” is also used to describe the philosophy, styles, themes and forms that are peculiarly distinguishing of these schools. The schools that have distinguished themselves with some unique characteristics include Zaria School, Yaba School, Nsukka School, Ife School and Auchi School

The distinguishing characteristics of each school will be briefly mentioned as well as some of their outstanding products or artists. The name of the school represents the location of each art school or may some time bear the name of the founder.

Some Agents of Contemporary Art in Nigeria

Zaria Art School

The works of the school are characterized by elongation of forms, with elegant northern architecture and human figures. Their landscapes, most times reflect the grassland and savannah vegetation of the North. Other later graduates of the Zaria School who have made their marks from 1950s till date as artists, teachers and historians include Prof. Yomi Adetoro, Dr. Tunde Akinwumi, Jerry Buhari, Jacob Jari, Tonie Okpe, Rukeme Noserime, Nse-Abasi Inyang, Tunde Balogun, Tunde Oniyide, Tony Emordi, Victoria Ukpera, Chinwe Abara, Abraham Uyobusere, Akeem Balogun, Wunmi Busuyi, Betty Bassey, Duke Asidere, Emmanuel Irokanumo, Ade Odun, Taiwo Oyejide and Abiola Idowu among others. Their contributions have been in the sustenance of the art tempo which the pioneers started through their constant practice. While some of the listed artists are household names among the art historians, critic, collectors and the art audience, some talents are just emerging.

Yaba School

The Yaba School employs realistic art form that are done in narrative, and descriptive style mostly done in accurate photo-graphic-realism. The initial notable artists who graduated in the 50s and 60s and went for higher studies in Europe include Agbo Folarin, Isiaka Osunde, and Abayomi Barber. The later artists of the School, who were taught by the former graduates of the Zaria School, belong to the 1980s generation. These include Mike Omoighe, Biodun Olaku, Phemi Adeniran, Lara Ige, Felix Osieme, Edosa Oguigo , Joe Amenechi, Ato Arinze, Sam Ebohan among others.

Nsukka School

The calligraphic nature of ‘Uli’ art body painting/decoration influenced the products’, works. The philosophy of application of Uli art form as espoused by Uche Okeke and later supported by Chuka Amefuna, Chike Aniakor and El-Anasui was to intensify the search for Igbo–identity, thereby using the Uli linear forms to depict radical socio-political and cultural subject matters. Their linearity of drawing and modeling according to Filani, became the hall mark of Nsukka’s contribution to modern Nigerian art. The graduates are conceptually rich and fecund in imagination thereby making their themes to penetrate into the social situations of the people. Filani, 1998:36. Notable of late 1970s and 1980s artists of the school include Tayo Adenaike, Olu Oguibe, Ndidi Dike, Chijioke Onuora, Ernest Okoli etc. Of 1990s graduates are Chika Okeke, Krydz Ikwuemesi, Ozioma Onuzulike among others.

Ife School

The school is noted with intellectualization of its works with vigorous emphasis on theoretical content in art form. Noted with cultural inspiration drawn from the Ife location, the school explores a rather diversity of creative exploration in the use of local materials, symbols and images which later developed into the exploration of Yoruba traditional symbols, motifs, structure and concepts termed Ona by some of the 1980s graduates. The lecturers of the Ife School who are not graduates of the school include Babatunde Lawal, J.R.O Ojo, Abiodun Rowland, Ige Ibigbami, Agbo Folarin and PSO Aremu among others.

The late 1970s and 1980s graduate artists of the school who have made their marks in art practice, writing and teaching include Moyo Ogundipe, Nkiru Uwechi-Nzegwu, Moyo Okediji, Don Akatakpo, Sherinat Fafunwa-Ndibe, Kunle Filani, Idowu Otun, CSA Akran, Osi-Audu, Tola Wewe, Eben Sheba among others. The emerging 1990s graduates of the school include Segun Ajiboye, Stephen Folaranmi, Mufu Onifade, Ademola Ogunajo, among others. These artists exhibit often and some also participate in the yearly exhibition of the school graduates tagged “The Best of Ife” which started in 1993.

Auchi School and Its Artists

Auchi Art School is noted with expressionistic naturalism. The use of vibrant and sweet colours are attributed to the graduates of the school. Some of the outstanding artists of the school who have made their impact on the audience and collectors include Ben Osaghae, Sam Ovraiti, Olu Ajayi, Pita Ohiweri, Edwin Debebs, Alex Nwokolo, Toni Oshiame and Olu Amoda metal sculptor among others.

The Informal Schools and Their Artists

These are art locations where artists are informally trained without following rigid rules of formal art syllabus. The training is acquired through apprenticeship system or workshop experience. Within the informal school, some of them do not obey the rules of accurate proportion, and perspective. Mbari Mbayo–Osogbo and Ori-Olokun-Ife schools explored the workshop system. Notable artists that emerged from the Osogbo School include Twin Seven Seven, Jimoh Buraimoh, Muraina Oyelami, Tijani Mayakiri, Rufus Ogundele, Ademola Onibonokuta, Asiru Olatunde, Nike Davies. Their contributions to art history in Nigeria is their deviation from the known western–style realistic form. These artists’ forms are original, spontaneous and naively created with utter disregard for the depth, space or any expected relationship of motif. Their themes are most times derived from folktales, myths and religious stories. The characteristics of which was classified as “Naive Vision encouraged and fossilized” Adepegba, 1995. They hardly follow the cannon of verisimilitude which is common with Western Art. Ori Olokun workshop is seen as an extension of the Osogbo but the style of execution tilts greatly towards naturalism. Prominent artists of Ori-Olokun experiment include Wale Olajide, Rufus Orisayomi, Fela Odaranile, Adeniji Adeyemi, and Ademola Williams. Other important informal school is “Abayomi Barber School” which started in 1973 by Abayomi Barber . Although the founder was formally trained, the trainees of the school are informally trained. There is no curriculum to operate as in formal art school and no specific entry requirements. Emphasis was always placed on importance of drawing as the basis of it all, also the need to see correctly, measure accurately and observe very keenly, the rules that are borrowed from formal school system. Its prominent artists include Muri Adejimi, Olu Spencer, Busari Agbolade, Toyin Alade, Kent Ideh, Bunmi Lasaki, and Bayo Akinwole among others. Their works are widely collected in Nigeria and abroad and have also been documented by researchers in art history Azeez 2002. Many of them have been in active practice from 1980s till date.

Aka Group

Aka Group based in Enugu and Nsukka in the Eastern part of Nigeria, formed in 1989 as a circle of exhibiting artists. It has close affinity to Nsukka School. As reported by Filani, the Aka group and Uli artists are philosophically inclined in thematic choice with clairvoyance in social vision Filani,1998:41. The founding members of Aka include Obiora Udechukwu, Tayo Adenaike, El-Anatsui, Nsikak Essien, Samson Uchendu and Chris Echeta among others.

Eye Society

The Eye society is based in Zaria Ahmadu Bello University. It was formed in 1992. The membership comprises mainly some artist staff of the Department of Fine Arts of the University who also graduated from the Department. Some of the founding members include Gani Odutokun died in 1994, Jerry Buhari, Jacob Jari, Matt Ehizele and Tonie Okpe. The group’s contributions have been in the areas of propagation of visual arts as an instrument of development of the society, publishing of journal called “The Eye”, mounting of exhibitions, organizing workshops conferences and symposia etc.

Uli Movement

It is Nsukka-based. The membership is for an artist who believes in the philosophy of Uli Art as a stylistic expression using its linear and spiral motifs in terms of forms and using themes that have socio-cultural content and advantage. The members of the movement who are both Igbo and non-Igbo include Obiora Udechukwu, Tayo Adenaike, Chris Afuba, Chris Echeta, El-Anasui the famous and prolific Ghana born artist, working in Nsukka University. Chijoke Onuwa, Chika Okeke, Olu Oguibe, Victor Ecoma, Ndidi Dike, Krydz Ikwuemesi, Ozioma Onuzulike and others.

Ona Movement

This was formed in 1990 by the five graduates of “Ife Art School”. The five pioneering founding members include Kunle Filani, Moyo Okediji, Tola Wewe, Bolaji Campbell and Tunde Nasiru. The movement explores the decorative motifs, ornaments, patterns and design peculiar to the rich artistic culture of the Yoruba Filani 1998. One advantage of Ona approach to artistic expression according to Filani is the rich visual grammar it affords the artist to employ, resulting to melody of tones, forms and structure and also enriching the aesthetic sensibilities of the viewers Filani 1997. Some of the other exponents of Ona philosophy as an art include Don Akatakpo, C.S.A Akran, Ojo Bankole, Akin Onipede, Ademola Azeez, Sehinde Ademuleya, Rasheed Amodu, Mufu Onifade ,Kunle Adeyemi and others. One of the major contributions of Ona movement to contemporary art is its enriching the visual aesthetic and appreciation of Art.

Pan-African Circle of Artists PACA

It is an artists’ organisation formed in 1995. Its focus is to provide fora or avenues for African artists within and outside the Continent. It also works “at engineering an indigenous voice for the propagation of African Art”. Ikwuemesi, 2000. Its founding members include Krydz Ikwuemesi, Ayo Adewumi, Nnaemeka Egwuibe, Jerry Buhari etc. One other contribution to art history in Nigeria and African continent is its regular publications that border on African and global issues. Its headquarters is located in Enugu, Nigeria.

Culture and Creative Art Forum CCAF

This organisation was formed in July, 2001. Its objectives among others include intervening and promoting the creative and artistic education of Africans through cultural means in order to encourage their economic and creative independence. It is also to maintain and sustain the rich cultural heritage of Africa and her people. Its headquarters is located in Lagos, Nigeria. Its founding members include Dr. Kunle Filani, Ademola Azeez, Dr Ademuleya Sehinde, Akin Onipede, Mike Omoighe, and Austin Emifoniye. It has organised two National Conferences with the themes “Culture and Creativity” in 2002 and Contemporary Challenges in Nigerian Arts” in 2003 . CCAF has published two major books.

Artist: Victor Ekpuk
Title: Market Day
Material: Ink on Paper [edition of 5]
Size: 152 x 114 cm
Date: 2005

Artistic Trends in Nigeria

The artistic trends in the country are still being dictated most times by the mode of training and styles adopted by each school discussed earlier. The artistic trends are as varied as number of art schools formal and informal movements we have. For instance, some artists of formal school orientation still engage in naturalistic art form with the synthesis of tradition and modernity to express their concepts. One other current artistic trend that is prevalent among the workshop trained artists especially of Osogbo and Ife Ori-Olokun is the depiction of their forms in the traditional culture, folklore and myths in a figurative and narrative way. Another artistic trend is the expressionistic expression that is prevalent among the Auchi School graduates.

Exponents of Ulism those who adopt Uli art forms of expression mostly graduates of Nsukka School and Onaists those who adopt Ona art form and concept as found in Yoruba decorative pattern, design and ornament to express their messages also constitute a strong trend in contemporary Nigerian art. The “surrealist-naturalists” of the Abayomi Barber School is equally an artistic trend. The common thing to most of these artists is their thematic expression depicting socio-religious beliefs, socio-economic conditions and social lives of the people.

The Front-liners of the Artistic Scene

The frontliners of the artistic scenes today in Nigeria include established artists pf 1950s those referred to as “Zarianists”, such as Bruce Onobrakpeya, Yussuf Grillo, established artists of the 1970s, 1980s of formal school and some of the 1990s. The graduates of Informal School system discussed earlier are still in active practice and these are Osogbo and Ori-Olokun artists, and products of Abayomi Barber School the surrealists. Most of these artists’ works are still being collected and exhibited. They are classified as front liners because they exhibit from time to time and not only that, some of them exhibit yearly in solo exhibitions.

Representing 1950s graduates is Bruce Onobrakpeya who exhibits regularly with new works produced in the exhibiting year on display. Of the 1970s graduates is Kolade Oshinowo who apart from exhibiting regularly, also showcases new works. He is arguably the most prolific artist of his generation. Notable among the 1980s graduates who are front liners are Kunle Filani, Tola Wewe Ife School, Mike Omoighe, Olu Amoda, Abiodun Olaku Yaba School, Ndidi Dike female painter Nsukka School, Ben Osaghae, Olu Ajayi, Sam Ovraiti, Alex Nwokolo Auchi School, Duke Asidere Zaria School, Muri Adejimi and Olu Spencer, Informal school. Most of them have been listed in “Who is who” in Nigerian Art. The remarkable thing about these artists’ works is that each artist style of painting or sculpting or modeling is very unique and experimental and their artistic developmental stages can easily be traced by critics.

Art Writing and Criticism

Very few writers are engaged in critical writing on art. Among the few are visual artists and artist academic intellectuals. Their writings can be categorized into articles in art journals, newspaper art reviews , and reviews in exhibition brochures Critics of the 1970s include Ayo Ajayi, Ben Enwonwu, Cyprian Ewensi, Okpu Eze, Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko and Obiora Udechukwu late70s. Art journalists/writers/critics of the 1980s include Ben Tomoloju, Tam Fiofori, Elsy Obasi, Taiwo Ogundipe and Toyin Akinosho, Jahman Anikulapo, Shola Balogun, Lanre Idowu, Wale Aina and Gbile Oshadipe and Dili Ezughan among others. Oloidi, 1996. The academic intellectuals who went into art writing and criticism from the early 1980s-1990s include Adepegba, C.O., Dele Jegede, Ola Oloidi, Olu Oguibe, Sylvester Ogbechie, Kunle Filani, Mike Omoighe, Chika Okeke and Krydz Ikwuemesi.

The art writers/critics who stand at the front line of the artistic scene today include Kunle Filani , Toyin Akinosho, and Jahman Anikulapo,and Krydz Ikwuemesi Their writings are remarkable due to the issues their critical writings generate. These issues range from art policy, art administration, status of the artists in Nigeria and Africa, art practice and theory to collection and appreciation of art among other topical issues. There are also up coming and promising art critics not mentioned here. The front liners listed here have contributed a lot of reviews in exhibition brochures, newspaper articles and reviews, academic art journals and even comments on socio-cultural issues in the country. Some have even curated national exhibitions. The limitation of their writings especially on artists’ works is their inaccessibility to the stages and processes involved in artists’ works before the final exhibition.

National Collection of Contemporary Art

There are collections of contemporary works by both government’s culture institutions and private collectors. The institution charged with the national collection of contemporary art is the National Gallery of Art NGA. It has the largest collection of artists’ works among the other culture institutions created. Its collection was first documented in 1981 in a publication titled “The Nucleus”. There are also private galleries and collectors who have in their keeps works of prominent contemporary artists. Among the private galleries in Lagos are Signature gallery, Treasure House, Nimbus gallery, Mydrim gallery, Galleria Romania, Nike Okundaye gallery, Quintessence and others. Private collectors are few Nigerians and foreigners mostly Europeans and Americans who have in their collections works of most artists mentioned in this article. Of special note among the Nigerian collectors, is Engineer Yemisi Shyllon, an avid art collector who arguably has the largest private collections of contemporary artists’ works both Nigerian and non-Nigerian artists.

Artist: Niyi Olagungu
Title: Untitled (Installation view)
Material: Wood palettes & leather balls
Size: 900 x 750 cm
Date: 2009


It is the view of this writer that art and culture matters such as status of the artist, consistent implementation of art policy, administration of art and artists, production and practice of art, criticism and writing on art have not been given the adequate attention they deserve by the Government. There are many problems confronting contemporary art and artists in Nigeria some of which the artists themselves have attempted to solve but due to financial constraint and lack of political powers, those problems are still there. As individual artists and writers, they have tried to draw attention to some of the topical issues either through their art works or writings. There are a lot of benefits Nigerian Government can derive from artists and other culture activists if they are genuinely involved in the administration and implementation of art and culture matters that directly affect artists and citizens at large. Nigeria as the most populous Black African nation in the world can utilize the capabilities and potentials of her artists and culture activists if the artists are also allowed to put their ideas and skills into fruition as stated in the Cultural Policy for Nigeria. Nigerian artists are looking forward to a day when an established and a seasoned visual artist/administrator would be appointed to head for example, “The National Gallery of Art”. One believes that if this is done critical discourses of issues on art and culture could be widened and more articulated. On a final note, this article does not pretend to discuss and raise all issues on contemporary art and artists due to space constraint. The issues and artists cannot be exhausted in just one article.

Adepegba, C.O. 1995: Nigerian Art: Its Traditions and Modern Tendencies, Jodad Publishers, Ibadan. p.96
Azeez, W.A. 2002: “The Works and Artists of Abayomi Barber School in the Development of Contemporary Nigerian Art” PhD Proposal submitted to the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan
Filani, E. O. 1998: “Form and Content as a Basis for the Classification of Contemporary Nigerian Art” in USO: Journal of Art, National Gallery of Art, Lagos, pp. 33 – 44.
Filani, E.O. 2001: “Trends in Contemporary Yoruba Art: A Delineation by History and Styles” in A Discursive Bazaar : Writing on African art, culture and literature Ikwuemesi, K. C. and Adewumi, A.Eds.. PACA, Enugu Pp.127-140
Filani, E.O. 2003: “Zaria Art Society and the Imperative of Historical Articulation” in Triumph of a Vision: an Anthology on Uche Okeke and Modern Art in Nigeria, Ikwuemesi, K. C. Ed.Pp.133-143
Ikwuemesi, K.C. 2000: “Preface” in Crossroads: Africa in the Twilight, Aniakor,C.C and Ikwuemesi K.C. Eds., National Gallery of Art, Nigeria. p. v
Oloidi, Ola 1996: “Art Criticism in Nigeria, 1920-1996: the Development of Professionalism in the Media and the Academy”, in Art Criticism in Africa, Deepwell Katy Ed. P.p. 41-47
Osa Egonwa 2001: “The Evolution of the Concept of Natural Synthesis” in Uso-Nigeria Journal of Art Vol. 3 1 & 2 pp 52-60 as cited by Ademuleya, B.A. 2003: in “Synthesis: Between Onabolu, Enwonwu and the Zarianists” in Triumph of a Vision: an Anthology on Uche Okeke and Modern Art in Nigeria, Ikwuemesi, K. C. Ed. Pp. 145-153

Friday, 24 July 2009

Contemporary Visual Art from Ghana

Here is an article written by one of the most imaginative, talented artists; originally from Ghana, George Afedzi Hughes.

Contemporary Visual Art from Ghana
by George Afedzi Hughes
Image by George Afedzi Hughes

An Overview

Museums and galleries all over the world regard traditional African art of high aesthetic value. A reputation ignited by the overwhelming influence African art had on modernist European artists at the beginning of the twentieth century. This impact and positive status of traditional African art has over decades resulted in laudable exhibitions, acquisition and documentation of such antiques. Nevertheless, not much favourable interest and documentation is offered most contemporary art of Africa. It is being criticized for being universal and failing to meet the stereotypical African art tradition. This is also the case for contemporary art in Ghana.

Contemporary Art in Ghana

The idea of grouping Ghanaian artists is an anomaly because of its complexity. The artistic climate of Ghana is made up of a variety of styles. This stylistic pluralism may be due to several factors and influences such as ethnicity, religion, education, westernization, globalization and aesthetic preferences of the individual artist under consideration. The complex social structure of the Ghanaian society is due in part to the fact that there are about 79 languages spoken in a country whose population is about 19 million in the year 2000. The Ghanaian cultural melting pot is compounded by the fact that several religions are being practiced. It is within this social fabric that most Ghanaian artists coexist and evolve their aesthetic ideas.

Stylistic groupings create problems such as marginalization, especially when such divisions reference the hierarchy of what is, and what is not art - a barrier that pushes some artists to the periphery and favors a few others.

The intent, purpose and dynamics of ongoing African art has changed to become much more eclectic because of the continent`s experience with proselytism, slavery, and colonialism. Art of any historic era is a direct reflection of the circumstantial ambience past and present within that very setting. Culture is dynamic and susceptible to influence and change. Current art created in Africa is a fabric of the cosmopolitan melting pot, a protean of its past, a reality of its present and a determinant of its future. To this effect, therefore contemporary Ghanaian visual art is a direct offspring of the poly-traumatic African chronicle.

From a general perspective, one may be tempted to categorize Ghanaian visual artists into groups due to which generation they belong to, or the stylistic similarities and differences, within their work. I am much more interested in looking at the Ghanaian art scene from a panoramic viewpoint of the various artistic modes of expression. I am also compelled to concentrate only on those fine artists who have gone beyond formative years, attained a personal stylistic consistency, allowed progressive experimentation, and have been working. This is by no means a complete representation of all the Professional visual artists working in Ghana today.

General Characteristics

Contemporary Ghanaian visual artists are usually unaffiliated to any artistic movements. They are open to a tremendous exploration of indigenous and universal ideas, formal or informal, and are poised to exhibit their works to both local and international audience. In addition some of these independent fine artists create work that shows evidence of experimentation, of research, and an openness that seeks to break the barriers of cultural stagnation through the combination of emotional and intellectual acuity. Ghanaian artists receive art training from varied sources. Some are self-taught and the majority of them receive formal training in Ghana and abroad. They either receive tertiary education at the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, training from private institutions such as Ghanatta or Ankle School of Art, both located in Accra apprenticeship from private sign writing workshops, or are self-taught. There are evidently aesthetic differences in the works of artists who receive training at academic institutions and those who go through apprenticeship at sign writing workshops. These differences are not necessarily qualitative but rather stylistic alternatives made by the artists as a result of the opportunities and circumstances they encounter, a conclusion that may displease two schools of thought - firstly, those who believe that College education absolutely yields art of the highest caliber, and secondly those who deride formal training as adulteration and derivative of Western ideas, hence inauthentic. I am compelled to state that artists whose works are often described derogatory as naïve, folk, derivative, grotesque, universal, or academic, and therefore inauthentic may actually be making tremendous inroads and breaking the barriers of the status quo beyond reason, and tradition. After all what do artists need, but an irresistible amount of tenacity beyond hurdles. Influence, either conscious or subliminal is a powerful experience that grips thirsty minds. The concept of borrowing aesthetic ideas from other cultures has been instrumental in the development of art in various societies. Roman artists borrowed ideas from Greek art. European cubists` fascination with and adaptation of the treatment of form in traditional African sculpture is credible and commendable. It is with the same curiosity and empathy that some contemporary Ghanaian visual artists embrace African and Western art forms.

Symbolism and Tradition

A distinguishable group of Ghanaian independent artists are those who are conceptually inspired by African symbols and traditional forms such as adinkra motifs, traditional stools, sculptures, and also ideas about African identity. Oku Ampofo and Vincent Kofi are earlier Ghanaian sculptors who borrowed extensively from traditional African concepts of stylization, emphasis, distortion and symbolism. Public commissions of relief panel murals and busts and monuments of Saka Acquaye, resonate the traditional African practice of the artist`s duty to State. Owusu Ankomah uses in his prints and paintings colossal male figures superimposed on ideograms and symbols. Through an acute reductive system of visual selection Ankomah attains profundity with suspended shapes that defy gravity and attain a metaphysical significance. Martin Dartey, greatly influenced by traditional African art, uses his knowledge in African history as leverage to deliver sociopolitical themes in his paintings.


Artists under this group create work by perceiving and interpreting forms, structures and activities within their immediate environment. The human figure, groups and crowd scenes become the central themes with the figurative artists. Generally the figures, draped in traditional costumes, are in action and either idealized, stylized and/or abstracted. These artists do work that celebrates the everyday realities of Ghanaians such as scenes at the congested open markets, crowded beaches, dancers, musicians, horse riders, lorry stations, bustling beaches and all the paraphernalia that comes with crowd scenes. The pioneer of figuration in Ghana who worked before and around the 1950s and 60s was the late Kofi Antobam. Antobam`s work features natural proportions of humans in complex compositions with content set on royalty, and scenes from the everyday lives of Ghanaians. Since independence forty-five years ago, great transformations in the Art of Ghana have taken place. Several artists have developed alongside one another, with mutual, overlapping influence and juxtaposed parallelisms. Veteran artists within the figurative group are sculptors like Oku Ampofo, Saka Acquaye, Vincent Kofi. and painters like Ablade Glover, Ato Delaquis and Amon Kotei. Color orchestration appears in the work of Amon Kotei through the use of the female model going through her daily chores. Whereas Ablade Glover`s impasto surfaces metaphorically exhume the elegance within the female form, Ato Delaquis creates detailed, color-modulated panoramic scenes of Ashanti warriors and vehicular scenes. Abstracted and condensed color fields act as a delicate veil in Wiz Kudowor`s pointillist figuration of idealized forms. Robert Aryeetey uses subtle colors and creative lines to evoke figures poetically. Evidently there is the rarity of politically fuelled work being done in Ghana. However Kofi Setordji defies the clichés within the everyday festive subject matter and engages the viewer with his succinct socio-politically charged themes. In addition Godfried Donkor`s bold and graphic references to Slavery, the Diaspora, and the plight of minorities encroaches on an avoided content. Donkor is based in London and works in digital and painting media.


The transcendental artists create work that eludes direct representation because these works are symbolically encased within intangible percepts and constructs. In other words what you see on the surface is color and form yet underneath is immense meaning that can only be hinted at either by the title or in dialogue with the artist. The transcendental artists distance their selves from direct communication of meaning and rely deeply on the subliminal, masking and camouflage. In essence the quality of their work is gold foiled in dust. An exponent of this group of Ghanaian artists is Atta Kwami who through his paintings and installations makes intellectual references to familiar Ghanaian local structures such as kiosks, stalls, and suburbs. Kwami creates the transformation of the familiar and often ignored subject matter into an elevated aesthetic, through concise color and shapes. Nanart J.D. Agyeman interprets Ghanaian proverbs in detailed and colorful linear shapes at once mystical and visually organic.

Vocational Designers

In the last two decades some creative Vocational designers such as carpenters, seamstresses, tailors, and hairdressers have attracted the attention of Western historians. A notable achiever within this group of designers is Samuel Kane Kwei and his custom- made coffins that replicate in sculpture recognizable forms such as cars and boats. Caroline Monda Dartey, wife of the Painter Martin Dartey designs African beads and bags from an intellectual perspective. Hopefully her example will inspire female artists in Ghana to pursue professional careers in art.

This recognition of Ghanaian artisans and designers as fine artists has widened the parameters of what is art, and poses the question - who determines the fine art of a people, and upon what qualitative criteria is the measure of fine art based upon? The most crucial question to pose however at this juncture is whether the functional intent of the designers disqualifies them as fine artists? It is however reasonable to state that if most fine artists, who create art for its intrinsic value are seeking recognition in the mainstream, so too some may argue designers would not disallow the respect of galleries, and museums, should the opportunity arise. If the idea of art as a universal language still holds, then it is not harmful to allow all art to be tested and to undergo study and scrutiny, within relative knowledge, empathy and expertise of connoisseurs without recourse to suspicion. The above may seem almost impossible because of the magnitude of art produced by humans all over the world. The closest one can get to this ideal of an open exposure will still require a clear distinction of quality in terms of differences between excellence and mediocrity, between formative and mature and between kitsch and the classic.

Works of art emerge from diverse sources with varied intent and therefore it is wiser to keep an open mind, slow to judgement. If art can thrive on convergent and divergent ideas, of influence and tradition, of the rejection of conventions, and by borrowing from unprecedented sources across board, then the idea of a pure art devoid of influence does not exist and cannot be used as a measure to qualify the authentic in art. Thanks to primitivism, postmodernism, modernism, tradition and academism. Above all thanks to the freedom of expression. This is not a blind wholesale concert that allows every piper to horn along. Rather it is an epiphany of reality that within various times and settings there happens to be multiple alternatives and applications of various qualities of Art. Within these diverse settings is the bitter hierarchy of what is acceptable and unacceptable, a phenomena instituted by those in authority, by society, by institutions, by trends, factions, artists and finally by posterity. In the end Art is the victor.


George Afedzi Hughes is a painter and a poet. He was born in Ghana and works and lives in the U.S. Hughes has taught at Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo. He has worked an assistant professor at the Art Faculty of the University of Oklahoma and presently is the assistant professor at NYC University in Buffalo, NY. An active exhibitor, Hughes regularly shows his work in England, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Ghana. His paintings are mostly executed in mixed media: acrylics, oils, spray paint, polyurethane enamels, fabric paint, oil pastels and found objects.