On 27 October, Nigerian photographer, filmmaker, writer and visual artist, Emeka Okereke, was conferred France’s prestigious insignia of Chevalier De l’Ordre Des Arts et Des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the Ministry of Culture of France as recognition of his contribution to the discourse on art in Africa, France and the world at large. The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) is an Order of France, established on 2 May 1957 by the Minister of Culture to recognise significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields.
Okereke becomes one of the youngest Nigerian and African to be conferred with this honor, joining the likes of Zanele Muholi, David Goldblatt, Shorna Urvashi, Olafur Eliasson, Tim Burton, Vanessa Paradis, Eva Green, George Clooney and many more acclaimed creatives who have received the same distinction in the past. The award ceremony took place at the new Alliance Francaise, Lagos. The event was officiated by the Ambassador of France to Nigeria, Mr. Jérôme Pasquier who decorated Mr. Okereke with the medal of the Order.
“This award, in many ways, underscores the fact of my relationship with France and the French language, Okereke said on receiving the award. “As I continue to create and work with the French language especially in, but not limited to, the African countries, I am aware of the continuous colonial implications present in this relationship between France and it’s former colonies – which are stubborn remnants of a colonial past. My position will be, as always, one of speaking out against any form of neocolonial mindset, exploitation and maneuvers while upholding what is equitable, dignifying and de-colonial about this relationship.
He added: “I gladly accept this honour, especially as I did not ask for it. I want to believe this is an indication that the French ministry of culture considers my work and my position with regards to the relationship between France and Africa as progressive. On that note, I would like to thank all my family members who were able to come today. I feel blessed by your presence.”
Emeka Okereke, who was born in 1980, lives and works between Lagos and Berlin, and is founder and artistic director of Invisible Borders Trans-African Project, an artist-led initiative which birthed the Invisible Borders Trans-African Road Trip, wherein a dozen artists, including photographers, writers, filmmakers and performance artists collectively travel across Africa to explore and addresses gaps and misconceptions of the African continent.
In 2008, he organized the first ever photographic exchange project between schools in France and Nigeria – the Yaba College of Arts and Technology Lagos and Ecole Nationale supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris. This was followed by Crossing Compasses: Lagos-Berlin Photo Exchange and Converging Visions: Nigeria-Netherlands Photo Exchange (2012).
Okereke has served as guest/visiting lecturer in several art platforms and learning institutions – most recently Hartford University’s MFA program in photography and Summer Academy of Fine Arts, Salzburg Austria (July 2018).