Rahima Gambo is a multimedia journalist based between Abuja, Nigeria & London, UK, and presented “A Rest Guide for a Tired Nigerian Artist,” which is a both a podcast series, series of book, and an immersive experience that was presented at DocLab 2021. Her previous experience of Tatsuniya was presented at DocLab 2017.
This was recorded on Monday, November 22, 2021 as a part of a collaboration with IDFA’s DocLab to celebrate their 15th year anniversary.
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and I normally do the Voices of VR Podcast, but during the IfADocLab this year, it's the 15th anniversary, and I'm going to be interviewing a number of different artists that have worked here this year at IfADocLab, but also in the past. And so today we have Rahima. Rahima, maybe you could go ahead and introduce yourself and tell me a bit about what you do in the realm of these emerging forms of media when it comes to the doc lab.
[00:00:35.195] Rahima Gambo: Mm hmm. Yeah, my name is Rahima Gamble. I am based between Abuja, Nigeria, and London. I became a multimedia journalist, just as traditional newspaper organizations were kind of shutting down and they were pushing journalists to sort of learn coding, to publish things online. And I was in New York at the time, actually, as a journalism student. I was really inspired by the really long form documentary storytelling projects that were coming out of places like the New York Times and The Guardian that felt very experimental. very indulgent projects like Snowfall came out I think around 2013 and as a journalist it was just incredible that I could possibly use all of these tools to tell a story that I was passionate about in a place possibly that may not be of interest to maybe a vast majority of people, but because I had like all of these skills, I had learned like photography, video, coding, just this vast online world, I can literally self-publish a story that I'm passionate about. So that's how I independently created Education is Forbidden, going to different schools in northeastern Nigeria. It was right after the Chibok girls were abducted. And the question that I had was really just kind of like, how were students experiencing it? And because I was in Nigeria, I was on ground, I could literally travel to all of these schools and universities and really do this firsthand reporting. but also with this skill set that I had, tell the story in a really in-depth way. So I did this four-part series, got a grant by the IWMF, the International Women's Media Fund, and yeah, really indulged in telling that story. Yeah, that was my kind of first route into that. So recently, I mean, I veered off. I became a conceptual artist doing things with found objects, doing installation, doing sound work, a lot of video art pieces. But during 2020, obviously with the lockdowns, I was just really alarmed that there was just this lack of care for artists if we weren't like producing things for like these cultural institutions. And now that they were shut, you know, I was looking around the world and seeing like all these conversations coming up, like about the welfare of artists, how they're doing, all these kind of emergency funds were popping up. But in Nigeria, there was like this silence around that. And so I began my blog, Tired Nigerian Artist. You know, blog is a really archaic word, actually. I think now nobody uses the word blog. But I like to kind of go back to it because, you know, I came up in the Internet when Tumblr was like really interesting and It felt like the internet at that time was like this really wild space where you could find like these nooks of really independent voices coming up. And I wanted to sort of go back to that feeling. So yeah, I started this blog titled Nigerian Artists, really just saying things that no one else was saying about being an artist and being Nigerian and being tired. And really from these little questions, like who cares for us, started to find a story. I'm using that word really deliberately because William, I always cannot pronounce his name, from MIT, he was in the opening speeches of DocLab this year. And he was saying, you know, we're moving away from storytelling to story finding. And that was really what I was kind of doing with that kind of exploration. And then I just had this idea of to create a guidebook, a guidebook of rest for tired Nigerian artists through a series of audio conversations I had with my peers, my colleagues who were in the same situation as I was, and then boiling it down into like almost like a children's book with 10 instructions, with illustrations that's just super accessible. And I go back to the book. I think the book is one of the, I mean, it is the interactive form, isn't it? It is the interactive form that we've had for storytelling forever. And I really just wanted to go back to that form and have something that people can hold and really look through. Yeah, so built a team around that with illustrators based in Lagos. with my co-director, Innocent Ikejuba, who is based in Lagos, now in New York. He also, around that time, was having these conversations. So we just kind of came together and were like, OK, we're going to do this project. And actually, yesterday, I was in this roundtable with other directors and producers and artists from DocLab. And the roundtable was about digital storytelling and distribution. And something came up and it was like, okay, what is the measure of success for our projects? And, you know, a couple of people around the table was like, okay, the metrics, how many people get to see this project, social media, you know, how many eyes are on the project. And I kind of like was like, the success for me for this project is for actually just to exist. And hopefully in like a year and two years time, we can have more books in this sort of rainbow collection of artists and have this alternative art history, Nigerian art history of rest. Yeah.
[00:07:02.442] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I had a chance to see some of these different pamphlets of tired Nigerian artists. And, you know, there's like, like you said, these books that are like 16 pages, and there's a top 10 list. It's almost like a listicle for like the things that you want to do to be able to rest. And what was interesting was the different range of personalities and characters for these people, because some of them have very much drawn into larger intersectional feminism advice to be able to really understand systems of oppression and then you have people just like get naked and dance around you know the whole wide range of stuff that is independent of the context of being an artist of just general things that would be generalized advice and then stuff that's very specific to artists in general and then stuff that's specific to Nigerian artists and so I feel like there's different layers of context that you're able to capture through this, that you're able in some ways to document what's it like to be an artist in this context by having all these different perspectives. Some of them are, like I said, universal advice and other are very specific. And so be curious to hear some of your reflections on the revealing of character or the revealing of what's it like to be a Nigerian artist by taking these samples of these listicles and these top 10 lists and what you're able to, at the end of it, as you read all of these, what you're able to, in some ways, document this culture in some ways.
[00:08:24.555] Rahima Gambo: Yeah, I mean, that list is taken from, like, two-hour conversations that we had with each artist. And, I mean, what is not said that you don't see in those guidebooks is a lot about politics, about the environment, about personal... mental, psychological things that is happening with them. The side that you don't see, or the conversation that you just don't have with artists, that is really the cutaways, the things that are like on the editing room floor, I think for most interviewers, actually. And I think that is, you know, it's like these two sides. I think you have to kind of listen to the podcast and then have these playful takeaways in these instructional books. So they go side by side. We publish our first interview, which we did earlier in the year, last Wednesday. And every Wednesday, we will be publishing an episode of this. So you can find the podcast where you get podcasts like iTunes and Spotify and Deezer and Amazon Music. So you can kind of follow along And I think the voice is really important, like actually hearing the voice of the artist, which you don't see in the book, literally relaying these instructions. And it is a guide, you know, it is a simple guide, something that when you look at it, it's restful. It goes back to the books that you read when you were like a child, you know, that you can really sort of just, like Ayodele, one of the artists that we interviewed, She mentioned something about this sense of always trying to be clever or intelligent, like whenever you're called upon to sort of like explain something, the sort of pressure of having to sort of be on. I'm reminded about that when I'm thinking about the guidebooks of like just stripping it all down to like these three word headlines. and this simple illustration and these abridged kind of notations of what they said. Yeah.
[00:10:50.721] Kent Bye: So just in terms of your process, you have these conversations and then you're reducing things into like these top 10 lists. Are you working directly with the people you're interviewing to be able to isolate what those 10 items are? Or is that something that you're distilling down from that conversation that you had?
[00:11:05.970] Rahima Gambo: Yes, we asked them beforehand. to start sort of thinking about what their 10 instructions would be. But then during the conversation, we obviously ask a whole range of other questions. And then in the end, they sort of relay this. And unfortunately, I mean, during the lockdowns and the pandemic, what we initially wanted to do is actually go to each artist and record this, you know, face to face. but we have to sort of do these Zoom, yeah, obviously like how we are right now. But, you know, obviously asking each artist to record a different audio so that we could have very clean sound for the installations. Yeah, and yeah, the installation is a whole different experience because you're entering a room and hearing the voice of the artist talking about their rest routines Yeah.
[00:12:05.326] Kent Bye: Yeah. I saw a photo from the IFA doc lab where there were a classroom and people sitting there and there's these pamphlets, like you said, they're almost written in the style of a children's book, but they're very serious in terms of the advice that they're trying to give in terms of if you're an artist, what are the self-care practices that you can do? So maybe you can describe what the experience that you were able to create in the installation, like What's the onboarding and what's the experience? And then as we come out, what is the offboarding? And, you know, just kind of describe as you turn this into an event or a presentation, because it is a book with different audio pieces, it sounds like. And so how are you tying all that together there with the installation there at the doc lab?
[00:12:45.630] Rahima Gambo: Well, the books, they're all sort of different colors, color coded. So we had this thought of kind of. having these different colored lights as each artist is speaking. So kind of that light, the color of the lighting signifies the voice that you're hearing. So you come into a room and if it's a blue room, you know that you're listening to Halima Abu Bakr, whose guidebook is also blue. The light, the blue light is shining on her instructions that are also sort of pasted on the wall as well. I'm kind of like a blackboard kind of setting. Yeah, just really simple cues to take you along, kind of like this linear progression of these five artists talking. And, you know, I always go back to audio and sound because I think we have relied on it so much. I think these last two years being in lockdown, I think there's a certain kind of intimacy about hearing a voice, even if you can't see a face. And there's just so much about character and style and personality that comes through audio. There's another installation actually right next to mine at DocLab. It's called Testing Times. And it was literally one of the most poignant pieces that I experienced during that installation. It's just audio, but it's all of these notations and clips that the artist took during lockdown, her talking to her family, And when you're listening to that piece, it takes you to these, you know, you almost feel like you are the person, you know, and I think that is what the installation is about. It's about kind of like returning this, this humanity to art workers, right? And it is, you know, like I say, in the summary of Arrest Guide, it's shifting the focus from the artwork, the art piece, to the bodies of the art worker. And I think there's just something about hearing a voice speak that it just, yeah. It brought me so much peace, yeah.
[00:15:14.370] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. I unfortunately didn't have a chance to travel there this year to see the pieces. So I appreciate the little report back on some of the pieces that really stuck out to you. And you know, it is the 15th anniversary of the doc lab at the end. I think the two times that I've been there in person and then a year that I saw things remotely, I feel like the types of experimentations that are happening there are really On the bleeding edge of pushing forward what's possible when it comes to what the documentary form is and how you're able to expand what that means in terms of trying to find new ways of using these media, whether it's emerging technologies or existing technologies, but in a more immersive or experiential way. And I'm curious if we could go back to your first piece that you had at IFADocLab and what you thought was maybe an experiment or a deviation from the existing forms of documentary that you were playing with, with your background in journalism and what you felt like your video pieces that you did as your first pieces there at DocLab, what was different about them and maybe expand on that a little bit.
[00:16:15.140] Rahima Gambo: Can you explain what was different about them?
[00:16:19.325] Kent Bye: So DocLab, I see as a bit of, you know, the documentary form where you have an existing approach for the rules of documentary. And if you felt like with the piece that you had previously at DocLab, if you felt like you were trying to push the edge of what was even possible with the medium. and if there was existing experimentations, or how you thought about either journalism or the documentary form, and maybe just a bit more context as your initial piece there about what you were able to document with going to these different schools. And if you consider just a typical documentary, or if it was something that was trying to be experimental in the form in any specific way.
[00:16:52.877] Rahima Gambo: I mean, like I go back to, you know, this project 1000 artists, you know, I tried to create work that may not exist if possibly I didn't give it that attention and that care and that indulgence. And, you know, I wonder, you know, where Education is Forbidden and Tatsunia, the video work that has come from that, would have existed otherwise if it wasn't for like this online territory that I was exposed to. And just allowing it to, for example, exist in a series so that I'm not just, it's not just kind of like this one time thing. It's like over a period of time, people can go to the website and kind of see each chapter unfolding and following along. Also the fact that, you know, this independent spirit that there isn't going to be another news headline that is going to come over it. you know, that I think one of the things that I was really kind of disturbed by from my journalism past is just the way we kind of gobble up information so quickly. And what I think that this space has opened up to me is just like really staying with something and traveling through it and being able to come back again. And it will still be there. and being able to add to it and add these layers of complexity to it over time. So I think that is really what is important to me with this medium, what it allows me to do with a story that I feel that is important and the way it allows me also to skirt censorship or to avoid these sort of gatekeepers from these like traditional platforms. And I think, yeah, that is really, I think the essence of DocLab is these fringe projects that may not get to breathe elsewhere. So it has this kind of rebellious spirit. And I think all the while that I was making Tired Nedger and Artist and the Rest Guides, I was committed to that project because I knew there would be a home for it in a way. I knew there would be like these connections to other works that exist in this way. that are taking kind of risks and defying category and defying platform.
[00:19:39.600] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm curious to hear where you feel like you're also in the tired Nigerian artists where you're pushing the edge of innovation, if it's sort of a synthesis of adding in the podcast with the installation and lighting and creating an immersive experience that you could go and see versus also just the books on their own. And if there's something about the connections between those that you feel like it's a new combination. because you're using, I guess, media that is traditional media like books and podcasts, but there's also the immersive element of the actual installation. And what was interesting for you to try to start to push the edges of what it meant to experiment or to put them all together in a new, different way?
[00:20:24.423] Rahima Gambo: I'm really inspired by, I mean, we were all, I think, taken on a ride with Serial. I don't know that you've heard it from This American Life. There was this podcast series called Serial. I mean, that was brilliant. And I think it's always been kind of like at the back of my mind, I want to do something in a podcast form that is kind of in-depth and takes people along. But I think adding this book element is something else. I think I was really missing a certain materiality and a physicality. I mean, the sense that you can hold something in your hands and that even if, you know, a platform ceases to exist, a digital platform ceases to exist in a hundred years, that this book will still be here as a testament to what was created And I think also, I mean, I'm talking about also a particular Nigerian experience as well. You know, the digital storytelling is not as, I mean, not many people give time, so much time to that locally, I think as internationally. And I think being able to, bring some of these things down to the ground to be accessible as a book, as a pamphlet. I think back to like newspapers and like the flyers that you would have like inside the newspaper. So I think this project in a way exists to be an addition to something. So maybe an addition to a meta-narrative or like an addition to a art fair, an alternative, right? I mean, this work is actually heavily inspired by this book called Glitch Feminism by Legacy Russell. And I think a lot about the glitch and the works, almost like things that should not exist, the things that come out of error. And this is really what this work is. I think if my blog, you know, Tired Nigerian Artists was a call to tiredness, then the guidebooks are kind of like a response to that. So you have this digital element. So it has this kind of duality happening. You have these two parts where there's a digital element, but there's also like this very physical element to it as well. And just how can these two things sit even more comfortably together?
[00:23:07.298] Kent Bye: Right. And just as a kind of wrap things up here, I'm curious to hear what you think the ultimate potential of all of these either emerging media or existing media and more immersive forms, what these kind of emerging immersive storytelling modalities, what they might be able to enable in a form of, you know, new ways of telling stories.
[00:23:29.313] Rahima Gambo: I mean, if they could enable us to feel more, I think that is always the goal, I think, for any artist or storyteller. is if the medium can allow us increase our capacity to feel. I think in an age where we're not surprised by a lot of things, we're desensitized by a lot of things. And being able to experience things in a new way, to see things in a new way. and perhaps have new organs of perception to be able to sense the essence of whatever that piece is, right? Hence, all these tools are emerging to allow us to be extensions of ourselves, to allow us to further have this sensory experience. And I think, you know, it's always that question, you know, what is the measure of success of a piece? Whether it's an art piece or a good story or a book, it's that ability to make an impression. You know, I'll never forget this piece that I watched actually in 2017 at DocLab. It's called Notes on Blindness. And I don't know that you've seen it or watched it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I think that was just an incredible use of the medium. Yeah.
[00:24:58.504] Kent Bye: Yeah, just really diving into the process of losing your sight and the immersive media of how they're able to really translate as a story. I'm just wondering if you have any other final thoughts or things that are left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader DocLab community.
[00:25:16.337] Rahima Gambo: No, I can't think of anything, but I mean, as always, I'm just excited to be a part of the DocLab family and the fact that it has persisted for 15 years. really doing these really, you know, just this rebellious spirit, you know, I am glad to be a part of that, you know? So, yeah.
[00:25:41.269] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Rahima, thank you so much for joining us today on reflecting on both your work and also 15 years at doc lab. And yeah, I guess if people want to find the tired Nigerian artists, they just search for that on podcast and are the pamphlets available remotely or what's the best way for people to keep in touch with your work?
[00:25:58.963] Rahima Gambo: Um, I think you go to the website arrestguide.com and the pamphlets will be available soon. They're not available yet, but soon, but you can follow along with the podcasts. Yeah. Everywhere. You can listen to podcasts.
[00:26:14.775] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
[00:26:17.577] Rahima Gambo: Thank you. Thanks. Yeah.
[00:26:20.517] Kent Bye: So that was Rahima Gambo. She's a multimedia journalist based between Abuja, Nigeria and Lanyu, UK. You can find her podcast at thetirednigerianartist.com. This conversation was recorded on Monday, November 22nd, 2021, as a part of a collaboration with the IFAZ DocLab in order to celebrate their 15th year anniversary. If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please do consider becoming a member at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.