LISTENING TO THE ARTISTS: A Review of Through the Eyes of a Needle: Art in a Time of Coronavirus

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TITLE: THROUGH THE EYES OF A NEEDLE: ART IN A TIME OF CORONAVIRUS
AUTHOR: DARLINGTON CHIBUEZE ANUONYE (Editor)
GENRE: NON-FICTION
NO. OF PAGES: 55
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2021
ISBN: NIL
PUBLISHER: PRAXIS
REVIEWER: NKET-AWAJI ALPHEAUS

Through the Eye of a Needle: Art in a Time of Coronavirus is a collection of twelve masterfully crafted essays from well conscious minds from Nigeria, Rwanda, America, Italy, South Africa and Australia. But, considering the contributory stance of An Art in Silence, which is the introduction to the book, I would say the collection has thirteen well-crafted essays, instead of twelve. Each essay gives coherence in structure and thematic preoccupation with the others. It was published by Praxis Magazine.

In these moments of silence mixed with obtrusive clamour, the clamour for economic unease, hardship, disappointment and silence caused by the untold lockdown (which makes earth, in some quarters of the world, a graveyard) artists speak, and their voices are loud. The artists, “caught, but not trapped in the fearsome web of the pandemic”, (as Darlington Chibueze says in the introduction), are (like) philosophers. They listen to the throbbing of the world, sieve hindsight from the past, insight from the moment, and foresight of what the world and humanity will look like after the storm.

So, we need to listen to the artists, for “they do not lament so inconsolably about their private loss; they rather transcend their own misfortune in their human attempt to console the grieving world, ultimately establishing kinship with the dead and the dying, proving, especially in this time of physical lockdown, that the warmth art offers can dispel loneliness and chase away fear”. But this is not the only reason why we should listen to the artists (howbeit a better part of the reasons).

Through the Eye of a Needle opens the sore of the world. In this collection one is face to face with the effect of the pandemic in a different part of the world; even in the lives of people in different places. Told with the insight of the artists, who are also victims of the pandemic, the essays offer us room into the hearts of the artists as well as those (the parts of the world which we never have the opportunity – except the ones carried by our local news – to know how it affects) in other parts of the earth. They are told with the amount of lucidity with which anyone would find them appealing and easy-to-go-with.

Through the Eye of a Needle: Art in a Time of Coronavirus

The introductory part voyages – between the rippling emotion of Darlington, who’s not an alibi like the rest of the artists, and those of the others which he collated – through the mind of the essayists both as humans and artists. You see, every artist is first a human, and an artist. This, if nothing else does, makes their stories (like the ones in this collection) relatable. They pour out their minds through the conspicuous emotion of a human, although theirs is more insightful, bringing the philosophical to bear on human condition, which they often more than not relate. In this aspect of the book, Darlington tries to highlight why it’s important for the artists to encapsulate the human condition, both in their private lives (like in Echezonachukwu Nduka’s Art as a Lifeline, Ukamaka Olisakwe’s Art as an Escape) and the public/universal (as in Jason Mykl Snyman’s What Kind of Animal, Oka Osahon’s The World Does not End Here, Chimezie Chika’s A View of Hope). And equally why it’s necessary to listen to the artists; why listening to the artists can give hope, restoration and ease the tangled emotions which we are battling, caused by the virus.

In Alain Jules Hirwa’s The Art of Small Places, we are taken back into ourselves and what it is that makes what and who we are. We are made to understand that the world starts from a place; and that being a citizen of the world equally means being a human fragment occupying a place smaller than the world, and that such a place matter. Alain Jules takes us back to ourselves, takes us back to our bodies. Like worshipping in a public space called “church” (of course the Bible makes us understand that where two or three gathered, the presence of God is there); a time like this gives us the conviction that there’s a smaller space where God also exists: our body. It’s a “revelation that the body is the true spiritual temple” (p. 6). Alain’s The Art of Small Places is a leeway into a part of our world which, occupied with the conspicuous vastness of this space called “world” which we inhabit, we often forget. And as such, it’s rewarding to listen to be able to retrace ourselves back into such space. It’s a revelation to what the pandemic with its accompanying lockdown reveals.

Echezonachukwu Nduka, in Art as a Lifeline, continues coherently with Alain’s insight, but with added tentacles of revelation. He reveals the importance of art in a time of crisis, such as we are faced with in this pandemic verge. Although his story is a narration of personal ordeal masterminded by the virus; he still ushers us into the world of reality which we are all parts of. He stresses how paramount art can be in offering us solace when the world seems to be busy with a menace it never prepared to face. In a time when everyone seems subdued within the confine of their homes, art (music in particular, according to Echezonachukwu) offers us a sort of easement and redemption. “It is common to hold onto the notion that the artist’s creative spirit dances in response to all shades of pain” (p. 11). In a time in which what seems to be giving us life has been forcefully halted by the virus, art becomes “a Lifeline”, an anchor with which we sustain our emotion and breath. But it’s interesting to also add that art here does not only imply music, rather any aesthetically creative gush that eases emotion. This includes both concrete and abstract art. Echezonachukwu urges us to hold fast to art, for, as he stresses Ben Okri; “art becomes most powerful in the face of death”. And the world is faced with emotional, psychological and social recession, which is a kind of death. There’s no specie of human on earth that wouldn’t want a Lifeline at this moment (of death, or gory news flying around). Thus, Echezonachukwu indulges us to cling to the art of sound in order – like the Russian soldier in his narrative who had to drop his rifle at the sight of an abandoned piano in a battle ground – to have a moment of relief. In Art as a Lifeline, we are conceived of as the “Russian soldier”, and thus need music, or a piece of art.

Furthermore, Nnamdi Oguike offers us a philosophical scape given by the virus. He beckons on us to listen closely with him as he conceives of the virus as A Great Leveller. His hindsight of the condition of human before the virus holds one spellbound. He lets us understand that humanity has been one desert where we exist separately, dispersed by religion, social stratification, economic condition, race, creed and continental mirage. “The world, as we have known it since we were born, has often emphasized our differences. Of course, we have differences. But, sadly, our differences have been exploited to pit us against one another” (p. 14). However, the virus came and compelled us to recognize our humanity; made us recognize that we are humans, faced with the same ravage, which needs our collective will power to overcome its menace. He does not stop here (which is why we should listen); he goes further to indulge us to hold on to this leverage. He urges us to see why it’s important for us to see ourselves as human fighting the same war (a war not only of this immediate virus, rather that of our collective humanity). Oguike offers us a hindsight, an insight and a foresight of human existence after the virus – which is why we must listen to his voice, for, as he ends, he “wants us to think”.

To further draw our attention to the concatenation of voices in Through the Eye of a Needle, Jennifer Chinenye Emelife, who I refer to as a rhetorician (however like the others), takes us through stunning rhetorics, which, I think, noosed in the melee of coming out of the virus, we might forget. Her essay titled: What’s To Become Of Us When It’s All Over? is a rhetoric of the foresight of life after the virus. Although presented in a privy, the essay is a navigation into the future after now; for, as Oka Osahon says, The World Does Not End Here. Sure, this too, like the Flu, Ebola and the rest, must go; and, like a sea on which a boat chugged, there will be a trail in all shades of our existence.



Nket-Awaji Alpheaus is a poet, critic and essayist. He is a student of the Ignatius Ajuru University, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Repostes of Lockdown Voices, Fifth Chinua Achebe Poetry/Essay anthology, Citadel of Words, Towards a Beautiful Becoming, How to Fall in Love, Best Poets of 2020, etc.

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