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Vol.3. No. 4. July - September 2010





Afam Akeh
Andy Willoughby
Claire Girvan
Christian Ward
Derek Adams
Esiaba Irobi
Hannah Lowe
Hunter Liguore
Ikechukwu Obialo Azuonye
Karunamay Sinha
Kate Horsley
Laura Solomon
Lookman Sanusi
Malcolm Bray
Mark Lewis
Moa-Aaricia Lindunger
N Quentin Woolf
Nina Romano
Nnorom Azuonye
Norbert O. Eze
Olu Oguibe
Pius Adesanmi
Robert Lee Frazier
Toyin Adepoju
Uche Nduka
Wayne Scheer
Zino Asalor


Each year the ulcers in my stomach blossom in rhythm with my rippling muscles. Each season the ulcers crack like the surface of the barren Earth and bleeding like a dead man’s neck. Each year my talents bleed. But in harvest season? Nothing!



By Norbert Oyibo Eze

The Romantic attitude to subjective reality as well as emphasis on individualism is extensively used by Esiaba Irobi to unequivocally dissect and illuminate the travails of the artist in his play, The other side of the Mask. In this tumultuous tragedy the artist grapples with his object of representation and the problem of recognition. His conception of himself and his art as excellent, deserving wonderful acclaim is negated by the existing subversive social morality, the hard facts of life. In spite of his dazzling academic records and tremendous toil in the farmland of creativity, the society turns the artist’s dreams into ‘vegetable ambition’, thus driving him to nihilism and suicide as means of transcending the vulgarity of the world of objective reality. In this great play, Irobi discloses his understanding of the fundamental human nature, even as he celebrates life of interiority.

The Other Side of the Mask recapitulates the travails of the great artist in a gruesome manner. In this play, Jamike, a first class sculptor and a university lecturer, is driven to atavism by years of denial of recognition by the organising committee of the national art competition, which views his works as “excellent specimens of decadent petty bourgeoisie art”, lacking “any trace of material dialectics”. In a fit of rage and frustration, Jamike kills Dr. Animalu the secretary of the organising committee, not only because of the subterfuge involved in their judgements, but for coming to sneer at his works in his studio. Eventually, the burden of un-fulfilment compels him to take his own life, just as the daughter of his mentor, Kayine, returns from Paris with the laurel he won in an international competition.

The play in focus
As the play opens, we find Jamike encountering distraction from the outside .The coming of his brother and Naval officer Kamuche with Elsie the supposedly abandoned fiancée of the artist, paints the picture of the humdrums of life impinging on the artist’s chosen life of solitude. Life of solitude is an escapist tendency which the Romanticist employs to avoid the objective world he cannot change. The Naval officer’s perception of himself as an important figure in the society constrains him to ignore Zhipora’s appeal to restrain himself from tampering with Jamike`s peak movement of creativity. Kamuche`s thunderous order to his orderly to destroy Jamike`s door by all means, is a way of devaluing the artist, and this is most unfortunate because as Zhipora’s tells us, Jamike’s concentration period which the naval officer abuses recklessly is:

when his feelings are most intense and his intellect more at ease. This is the moment in the day when his visions harden into distinct images. And he pummels them into shape like a blacksmith at his anvil (7).

The hammerings on Jamike’s door by the naval officer’s orderly diffuse the sculptor’s concentration, eternally dislodging his vision. Whatever reason Kamuche has for his unruly interruption, the damage done to Jamike’s creative spirit is irreparable because the vision of that moment may never crystallize again. The artistic loss can not be quantified. For the intellectual, especially the creative artist, silence is golden and is consciously cultivated because it affords him the opportunity to attain spiritual buoyancy necessary for an uncommon embrace with the goddess of sublime art. This is the reason the great artist eschews noise, unnecessary pleasantries and in fact prefers a life of solitude. Kamuche’s show of brazen force, and atavism demonstrates the degree in which militarianism pervades the psyche of the average Nigerian man of authority, and the extent to which the university lecturers are held in contempt by the establishment. All these indicate that the artist lacks a conducive atmosphere for his work. Jamike’s flight into his garden is, therefore, a way of running away from the humdrums of life.

Kamuche’s insistence on gaining access to Jamike’s house by force in the artist’s most treasured moment, incredibly betrays man’s selfishness. The naval officer’s discussion with Zhipora demonstrates that he respects the ethics of his profession, yet he decides to mock those of his brother, the artist. This is the reason Zhipora gazes at him and his atavistic behaviour with utter consternation. However, the naval officer’s act of impudence is Irobi’s undisguised illustration of his deep-seated hatred for the military as destructive elements and symbols of corruption. In fact, the playwright makes Kamuche indulge in acts of impunity like one bereft of the faculty of reason, in order to reveal the military as zombies who are wanting in contemplative life. As a despot, the naval officer’s guiding philosophy is to permanently destroy every perceived obstacle to his intention of wielding absolute power. As an image of friction and noise, Kamuche’s cacophonous exhibition of power demonstrates unabashedly, the military’s mindlessness in brutalizing normal sensibilities and their reckless abuse of fundamental human rights. But his “compelling need to assert self and authority … overshoots the bounds of civility and human dignity … and reduces the despot to an unsettling state, very incongruous, yet laughable as a result of the foibles of a psyche gone paranoid” (Ezeji, 24).

A major cause of agony that frequently wracks the mind of the artist as exemplified by the character, Jamike, is the need for recognition. Every great artist expects public acclamation of his greatness. The dialogue below shows that this is exactly the case for Jamike:

Kamuche: I hear he wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, “I am the next. I am the next”. Lady, you who minister onto him in his hour of need, what does he mean by “I am the next”.

Zhipora: (with zest) The next great artist! Like Michelangelo. Leonardo da  Vinci. Van Gogh. Pablo Picasso. Greatness! That is his favourite theme. He is always pondering over the magic, that mysterious phenomenon that makes a work of art endure the menace of time. He is a great mind. He will be the next.

Kamuche: I hear that even in the midnight hour, even when he is alone, he talks to himself.

Zhipora: Spiritedly!

Kamuche: Punching the air and slashing the wind… muttering wicked imprecations at some bearded sentinels…to give him his laurels (13-14).

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