with contributions by Alioune Diop, Barkley Hendricks, Audre Lorde, et al. D.A.P., December 2019. 352 p. ill. ISBN 9783960984498 (pbk.), $49.95.
Reviewed May 2020
Autumn Diaz, Librarian, Cranbrook Academy of Art, email@example.com
Festac ‘77 offers a comprehensive view of FESTAC, an unprecedented month-long gathering of black artists, writers, and performers from over fifty countries in Africa and its diaspora, celebrating African culture. In early 1977, nearly 16,000 individuals, the classically trained alongside the revolutionary, came together with varying results, many uniting in newfound solidarity and others reinforcing old conflicts.
This singular moment is restored in Festac ‘77 by way of immersion: lifting the book’s cover, itself a replica of an original festival poster, the reader is immediately dropped into FESTAC. In place of endpapers or preamble, a facsimile of the extensive survey sent to all festival attendants is presented: the reader is instantly involved, preparing for a trip to Lagos, Nigeria. A wealth of primary information composes the bulk of the text, presenting the development, enactment, and aftermath of the festival: artwork, photographs, clippings, maps, and sheet music - nearly all contemporary with FESTAC. Some new commentary is provided: former participants looking back, historians drawing lines from there to here. All is printed on thin paper, packing more into the finite space of the book, and the pages are bright, matte, and porous, holding deep color and a wide range of blacks.
This is not a traditionally compiled work, as the sparse title page suggests: “decomposed, an-arranged and reproduced by Chimurenga.” There is no index, no appendix, no bibliography; to include a citation for each facet would have doubled its size, though there is a brief list of attributions at the end of the book. Because most texts and images are facsimiles of originals, FESTAC is the only context. Even so, Chimurenga (the collective responsible for the book) is felt throughout, not just in expert selection but in guiding quotes and hand-drawn diagrams delineating complex FESTAC relationships (“Pan Africanism vs. the Nation State,” “Negritude vs. Afro Radicalism”). Giving access to research gathered across decades, countries, media, and disciplines, Chimurenga invites more research and incites further discovery.
The unusual format may prove challenging for those used to more conventional organization, but these readers can be encouraged to approach Festac ‘77 as the full drawer of rare archival material that it is, processed by knowledgeable artists and writers. This book presents a staggering amount of information, vital to any researcher of African and diasporic cultures, as well as any interested in international art, music, and politics of the 1970s.