Residency: Emmanuel Iduma
Emmanuel Iduma, a Nigerian writer with a particular interest in the role of writing and art to promote the ever-evolving concept of the “transafrican,” problematizes the role of nationhood and colonialism in African identity. He came to Thread with a healthy skepticism, but has now become a great ally and advisor.
Having spent months traveling, Emmanuel took advantage of Thread’s atmosphere to come to rest, and complete a manuscript he had been working on for some time. He worked with Yelimane Fall who was in residence at the time as well. And produced various other projects inspired by his time there.
But as he is the writer, it is best to understand his experience in his own words, below.
My Time in Sinthian
Last October I left Dakar for Sinthian, where I spent four weeks at the Thread Residency. Months earlier I was in Morocco, Kenya, and Nigeria, for varying lengths of time. Coming to Sinthian I was travel-weary, distressed by constant movement and the end of a love affair. In Dakar, looking forward to my time there—in a village most Senegalese were unfamiliar with—and considering the narrative arc of my manuscript-in-progress, I decided to think of Sinthian as home.
Home: but not to me. I knew it was a village of about a thousand inhabitants, who lived there mostly as a result of their ancestry—their fathers and mothers before them had settled there. I was going to be a stranger. But not the kind of stranger I had been in cosmopolitan Dakar, or Rabat, or Tangier, or Nairobi. My guiding words were Yvonne Owuor’s: “I imagine as only a stranger, not even that, a mere pilgrim might.” I was in Sinthian, I imagined, on a pilgrimage.
In practical terms I intended to complete a manuscript, titled A Stranger’s Pose. The writing had taken off a year earlier, but it was a culmination of four years of travel with Invisible Borders on road trips across African countries. I was writing about those experiences, from both memory and imagination: interspersing fiction between facts, inventing new protagonists, and making the stories inseparable from my meditations about place and non-place.
Two weeks into my stay Yelimane Fall, a Senegalese calligrapher and devout Mouride, came to the residency with his friend and assistant, the Chicago-born Saliou Mbacke. In the first mornings after his arrival, Yelimane walked around the Center counting prayer beads. I watched him from afar. When he walked for several minutes he’d sit on one of the bamboo chairs, shaped as a V, unmoving and meditative.
Soon Yelimane’s aslant image became the image of my father, pictured in a sway in 1975.
Travel teaches us the generosity of the human spirit, when it enlarges to make space for others. In Sinthian I was almost tongue-tied, unable to converse in French or Wolof, and surely not in Serer. But the gift I received was the freedom to come to terms with my estrangement. Once, towards the end, Saliou began to teach me how to ride a bicycle. He steadied me from the Center towards the large tree at the entrance to the village. A small crowd gathered to give instructions. Left unguided I pedaled anxiously into the bush. There were shrieks of delight and mild mockery by the boys. In Sinthian almost everyone old enough rode one.
I knew I wasn’t, and wouldn’t become, one of them. Yet for the first time in my travels I was unimpeded.