A conversation with Bayo Akomolafe about the everyday spiritual

After a spiritual upbringing in Nigeria’s capital city of Lagos, Bayo Akomolafe founded a network of artists, activists and academics dedicated to using art and ritual to reframe the world’s interlocking social and environmental crises.

The everyday spiritual is also about appreciating that humans are merely one element in a much wider orchestra of life.

Looking back, Bayo understands that he was yearning for was something beyond the promise of heaven. “I felt that the practice of turning our heads towards the heavens with the hopes of living better lives here on Earth was producing something that I wasn’t exactly excited about,” he says. “It produced snotty, righteous individuals who are so sure of their spots in the book of life but with no regard, ironically, for the people that the book invites them to embrace.” On a more personal level was the growing conviction that although an immaculate universe in the sky no longer seemed believable, he was unwilling to accept nihilism as an alternative. “Maybe [my father] was like that rusty and eminent ship I used to stop and stare at when we went to the Beach Bar in Lagos,” he writes to his daughter. “Neither tethered to safe havens nor cast away in roving emptiness.”

Rather than coming up with ‘solutions’, The Emergence Network is a response to the felt need for ‘alternative’ modes of engaging with the crises we now face in the age of the Anthropocene.

The everyday spiritual is also about appreciating that humans are merely one element in a much wider orchestra of life. To illustrate his point Bayo uses the example of a scientific discovery he recently read about on a flight home to India from a UNESCO conference in France. Scientists had discovered that 25 billion tonnes of biomass buried deep at the bottom of the ocean. “There’s a whole world down there, an ecology of species and bacteria, thousand-year-old subterranean worlds that we are just learning to think about,” he says with a grin. “These kinds of discoveries destroy our conception of life and longevity.”

The assumption that to be indigenous is to somehow to be connected to a more ‘authentic’ way of living perpetrates the colonial tradition of positioning one culture as superior to another.

Art, with its tradition of bending reality, is the perfect vehicle for exploring these ideas. In his book Bayo uses the example of Picasso, who changed the way people looked at the human form forever through his use of shape and colour. Since launching in 2016, The Emergence Network has curated and organised gatherings and festivals that use art to explore new ways of living in the world. For Bayo, this reimagining is not only part of the project of creating a more ecologically sound future, but is also crucial to the process of decolonisation. For 2019 the theme for the network is ‘Hope in the Time of Hopelessness’ and projects include Vunja (Swahili for ‘rupture’), a sci-art project which celebrates black and marginalised bodies. Based in India with an international focus, The Emergence Network operate on the understanding that reformulating the traditions and structures laid out by colonialists is key to the decolonial project. “We may not have a middle passage anymore in the sense of ships travelling from England to West Africa to the Americas,” he says, “but instead we have the forced migrations of Africans whose lands have been decimated by the developmental aspirations of the West, so we’re still stuck in that temporality.”

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Tarn Rodgers Johns

I am a Berlin-based writer, editor and creator exploring how to create a thriving, just future worth living for. www.tarnrodgersjohns.com