BAIA BITS: Festac ’77

Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art

 

Forty-three years ago, in a month of electric January evenings at the National Theatre in Lagos, Nigeria, artists from around the world exhibited their paintings, drawings, crafts, and artwork with an international audience. The massive event, Festac ’77—otherwise known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, the first being held 11 years prior  in Dakar—brought together over 16,000 participants representing 56 African nations and other countries throughout the Diaspora from January 15 through February 12, 1977.

The month-long event, the largest of its kind at the time, celebrated African culture while showcasing African fine art, literature, music, dance, and drama.  A series of art exhibitions were held at several venues including the National Theatre, the Nigerian National Museum, and Tafawa Balewa Square, the latter providing a booth for each nation represented at the festival to exhibit their paintings, crafts, artwork, woven cloths, musical instruments, and books. These exhibits included the likes of Ekpo Eyo’s 2000 Years of Nigerian Art, and Africa and the Origin of Man.  Another showcased African architectural technology and incorporated illustrations, paintings, and variety of architectural models and themes.  Along with these endless exhibitions of visual art and culture, many artistic luminaries and musicians attended from around the globe including, among others, Miriam Makeba from South Africa, Mighty Sparrow from Trinidad and Tobago, Bembeya Jazz National from Guinea, Gilberto Gil from Brazil, and Stevie Wonder from the United States.   

During the first two weeks, over 700 writers, scholars and artists participated in a series of lectures focused on the plight of Africa’s developing nations, their ongoing lack of intellectual freedom, and the post-colonial neglect they face in the international realm. However, the more specific focus of this colloquium was the fostering and support of Black artists, their international imaging, and their access to international outlets.

The festival was widely regarded a major success. Not long after its last day, the Center for Black and African Arts and Civilization was formed, opening branches in Lagos and three other cities upon the institution of a Nigerian trust to manage the artifacts of the African countries and communities in attendance. In the United States, a photographic archive of the American contingent’s participation is maintained by Marilyn Nance, the official photographer for FESTAC 77’s North American Zone. 

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