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In Gratitude: Bits of Borno

July 13, 2020

In this addition to our Gratitude Journal, Samuel Fury Childs Daly remembers the 2017 campus visit of Nigerian photojournalist Fati Abubakar.

By Samuel Fury Childs Daly

Fati Abubakar discusses Bits of Borno, her digital project showcasing Borno State, Nigeria, in the time of Boko Haram, with Duke professor Samuel Fury Childs Daly. Bits of Borno: A Conversation With Fati Abubakar was sponsored by the Duke Africa Initiative, the Forum for Scholars and Publics, and the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke.

In October 2017, the Forum for Scholars and Publics hosted a conversation with photographer Fati Abubakar, who shared her photographs from the city of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria.

Maiduguri is known to the outside world as one of the fronts of the Boko Haram insurgency, a longstanding war that is poorly understood and devastatingly destructive. But this political story is not the only one to emerge out of Borno State in recent years, and Fati Abubakar has made it her goal to document how lives lived under the sign of conflict are not fully determined by it.

Otto Dix, Collapsed Trenches (Zerfallender Kampfgraben)

Otto Dix, Disintegrating Trench (Zerfallender Kampfgraben) from The War (Der Krieg), 1924. MoMA Permanent Collection

I am a historian of war, and the artistic representations that usually sit at the front of my mind are those that show its horrors: the paintings of Demas Nwoko or Otto Dix, or works like Elem Klimov’s Come and See and Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War. In these canonical representations of war, it is easy to forget that daily life of the sort Fati Abubakar documents — chores, celebrations, quiet moments — also takes place. To see this is not to diminish the destructive capacity of war, but to place it in a wider frame.

Fati Abubakar’s visit was especially fruitful because it was not her last trip to Durham. She returned to Duke to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts, and two of her photographs now hang in the Forum for Scholars and Publics meeting rooms.

Every time I pass them, I am grateful that she is part of our community.

Visit Fati Abubakar's Bits of Borno project on Instagram @bitsofborno.


Watch the full conversation with Fati Abubakar and Samuel Fury Childs Daly at Duke.

Fati Abubakar stands next to her portrait, Young Girls at the Sanda Kyarimi Zoo in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on permanent display at the Forum for Scholars and Publics. The photograph was taken as part of the Eid series for Bits of Borno to celebrate the fashions worn during the Muslim holiday.

Samuel Fury Childs Daly

SAMUEL FURY CHILDS DALY is an Assistant Professor in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University. His current research connects the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) to the history of fraud and “419” in late twentieth-century Nigeria. A separate project considers the history of military desertion in East Africa. Previously, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar “Ethical Subjects: Moralities, Laws, Histories” at Rutgers University. He completed his PhD in history at Columbia University.