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A BOOK: A TREASURE by Philips Akwari
Philips Akwari is a visual storyteller from Abiriba, Nigeria who expresses himself mostly through documentary photography, and now, after 7 years of documentation about the different aspects of the culture of Igbo, one of the biggest African ethnic groups, he wants to compile it in a book so that it can be preserved for the next generations: an inspiring project which deserves to be noticed and to have a voice.
Nigeria
05.09.2020 words by Giulia Celegon

We are the world. Not a song, a duty. And Philips Akwari knows it well. He’s a visual storyteller from Abiriba who expresses himself mostly through documentary photography: he puts his art to good use for all those who are rarely considered participants of the life of the world. He did it through his series of the exhibition “The Rich Abiriba Heritage”, a cultural documentary, and now he wants to give voice to Abiriba’s Igbo community. Why? Because of her dance on this planet matters. It’s right to try to sing, to look, to lend a hand to her, to build something important: a place where we can grow together and we can understand that heaven belongs to everyone, simply a home. But most people forget to look elsewhere, beyond their own steps: they forget the map for the real treasure, for the true cultural and human richness. Philips Akwari doesn’t get over it, and he teaches us how to reach it: how? Just with a book, that’s not just a book.
This project comes from a premise:

Africa is a rich continent with diverse cultures even though a lot of uninformed people from outside the continent think and treat it as a homogenous country. Nigeria alone has more than 300 ethnic groups and with more diverse cultures than can be imagined. However little pictorial evidence has been circulating in the media and the few reported ones have been repeated constantly given the impression that that is all that can represent such a diverse nation. – Philips explains – The Igbos are among the three largest tribes in Nigeria and also the most travelled because of their engagements in trade across the country and of course across the continent. These trading activities have become so important that little is known about their cultures and ways of living.”

According to him, art is the soul that the world needs: it can take us in people’s hearts, it can show us theirs. In our latest interview, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Philips, who took part in: “Art: an essential need” initiative, observes that we need new songs and poems now more than ever before. As he says, “we need those pictures and paintings inspiring hope”: now, he wants to show us Abiriba’s Igbo people, some of the biggest travellers and traders.

“Their customs and traditions are so organized that it inculcated every aspect of their lives including trading, farming, marriage, burial and many other rites. Trading comes first before farming because they live in a very poor topography which makes them poor farmers but great traders. Their colourful traditions capture their voyages and adventures in the past and their dressings reflect the different cultures that have influenced them.”

So since 2013, he has been documenting the different aspects of their culture and now he wants to compile it in a book so that it can be preserved for the next generations:

“In the time we live in, things are changing very fast and the cultures are not been spared, so without documentation, in the next few years we will lose very important aspects of our existence and this is the reason why I have embarked on this project”.

Here’s the idea: a colourful coffee table photo book in which each chapter is introduced with a few paragraphs of the background story to give proper understanding. In the initial production, he and his collaborators planned to print 1000 copies at the rate of $20 each.
Here’s the treasure: just words printed on paper, but they represent a very important piece of the world’s body.

Philips and his collaborations are looking to raise funds for the project, and to be able to print the book so that other eyes can look at the colours of this population, so our existence can become a little bigger. The beauty of the different has to come alive.
For more details on how to get involved, you can reach out directly to Philips.