The ability to imagine is the first, most important quality that anyone must possess if they are to make an impact in the world. This is the prerequisite for true greatness; to be able to envision beyond what you see physically, with the intention to reinvent the world you live in for the betterment of humanity. This is the one thing all creatives, pioneers, game changers, inventors, innovators have in common; their capacity to conceive new and previously un-thought of ideas and concepts and see the possibility of their application in the real world. Go through a list of everyone who has ever made a difference or impact in this world and you will see this: they first imagined the impossible so they did the impossible.
I have always said that Nigeria is a country plagued by a lack of imagination. When I say this, the argument is always that environment limits imagination, meaning that the way the Nigerian system is structured and operates limits our ability and even desire to think big because, ‘the country is hard and everyone is just trying to survive’. I disagree. There are examples all over the world of people who lived in the most difficult circumstances yet they produced things so great and so far removed from their environments simply because they imagined it.
I have worked in the art, creative and tech spaces in Nigeria for a number of years and I am always amazed at the level of talent, creativity and imagination that exists in this country. I am talking about talent and ingenuity bordering on the insane! The problem is I don’t see this reflected anywhere in our society. For instance, our whole mainstream entertainment, creative and art industries run on borrowed, plagiarized or downright stolen ideas. The first, truly big budget movie in Nigeria, The Wedding party, was a shameless, almost complete plagiarism of an American movie (Jumping the Broom) but that was what was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most prestigious film festivals where movie makers take only best and brightest work. We can do so much better is what I thought when I saw that movie. When it comes to homegrown content, we mostly have two options, mediocre or copied. I have always thought it sad that Nigerians have to go out of the country to be able to truly do good work. But something happened one month ago that gave me hope.
On February 23rd, artist Olaloye Bunmi put up some of his exquisite work and tweeted, “starting a hashtag to celebrate and appreciate Nigerian creatives”. The hashtag went viral in five days and started what I describe as the most exciting, most productive thing that has ever happened on social media in Nigeria. Because of that tweet, Nigerian creatives came out of the shadows and began putting up some spectacular, outstanding samples of their work. “We have people who can do this in this country?!” is what I kept shouting as I spent hours going through the posts. I only stopped when my data finished. From storyboard artists and 3D animators to hyper-realistic painters and virtual reality developers, the staggering abundance of Nigerian creativity and artistic/creative genius came on full display.
That hashtag was intended to expose Nigerian creatives to the world and for the purpose of changing perceptions and stereotypes about the Nigerian youth but I believe that it can do so much more. This could be the beginning of a much needed cohesive art and creative community in Nigeria. I am talking about a strong, national and international community of artists who will put Nigeria on the map with regards to design and innovation. It can become a movement, a force that reinvents our whole approach to creating art and entertainment and to thinking as a whole. Think of the role of art in influencing behavior, in economic development, in developing and preserving culture. This # could be the start of a thriving, structured creative community, not just a fad or a trend that ebbs off but something that could influence our whole media, tech and entertainment spaces and in fact our whole society for good.
One thing that really excites me about this movement (yeah, we’re calling it that now) is the originality and resourcefulness in the creations and the excellence and attention to detail in their execution. I mean, this is the direct answer to our problems of borrowed and copied ideas. Some of the contributors to that hashtag are taking modern mediums and infusing their culture and traditions and making them relevant and applicable in today’s world, the results of which are some pretty awesome, wildly original ideas. I am of the opinion that this is one of the quickest ways that Nigeria will move up from being an importer of content to an exporter of content, if we use what we have; we can draw from our over 250 cultures and traditions as we prepare to take over the world. Think about it, every Nigerian from Nigeria who has made a name for themselves in the arts drew from their culture. From Chinua Achebe to more recently Laolu Shebanjo who took something from his local culture and made it modern and relevant or Williams Chechet and his we are the north series. Now, they are artists of international repute. We underestimate the power that our culture and traditions can have on the global audience. This is our super power and we are refusing to use it, instead we are doing copy-copy.
Not only this. This idea could set off a chain reaction in other spaces- politics, tech, education- where young, forward-thinking innovative Nigerians who have fresh and great ideas could come together in one place and not only show but also share their ideas and connect with each other with the intent to revitalise their shared space for the good of the country. Let this be the catalyst that launches Nigeria into an era of sustained, original, ingenious, world-class imagination and ideas. Let this be the movement that refines our taste buds and moves us into constantly demanding excellence from ourselves and from our society.