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When artists ponder ‘Security,’ Nigeria comes out hurting, bloodied


By Chuka Nnabuife


IN A season of bullying, bullets, bandits and bloodbath even the insensitive senses danger. There are blood marks everywhere on our streets. The gory sings are so much so that even undertakers marvel at the plethora of briefs the society feed them. Agents of insecurity are in brisk business chasing law enforcement and security men and their aparatik out of our streets and out of touch.


Artists know this.


As uniquely endowed, very sensitive and observant people, when they withdraw to their inner chambers of their faculties, in their studios with minds set on security, they create engaging masterpieces that not only joggle the thoughts of anybody who beholds them. They recreate and present the issue in succinct hues and mind-boggling imagery. Their oeuvres come with such encapsulated energy that no one who sees can leave with doubt that insecurity is breeding anxiety and uncertainty across the country.


Beholding the multi-genre collection of art pieces in ‘Security’, a group show, put together in Awka, Anambra State by the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) brings one to appreciate the vital roles artists and creative thinkers play as conscience and pulses of every society.  


  A preview of art pieces in the exhibition, open in the Event Hall of Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation, ANPC (National Light Newspapers), behind Governor’s Office, Awka reminds even the most evasive and insular of how grim things are in current Nigeria, at least on security matters.


Without doubt, insecurity is the biggest elephant in the room for Nigeria, currently and it poses immense challenges that cut across most zones of the country. Most cited in the development is the resilient Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East.


There are also the long-running discontent over the militancy over petroleum resources and control in the Niger Delta (South-South); increasing violence between herders and farming communities which is now fast-spreading southward from the Middlebelt (North-Central); and the nagging pro-Biafra agitations in the Igbo (South-East)1.


Some of these crises have lasted for several decades without being tackled. Notwithstanding the oft touted effectiveness of security formations and establishments like the Joint Task Force of the Nigeria Army, Nigeria Navy, Nigeria Securities and Civil Defence Corps, the Police and the Directorate of Security Services (DSS) among others, the insecurity situations still bug us.


Boko Haram insurgents are still on rampage. Several times, they have attacked innocent citizens and high profile citizens. The case of the convoy of the current Governor of Borno State, Prof. Zulum, is one of the most recent.


According to reports, in one instance, security aides with the governor had no choice but to literally, whisk him away. In another of the occasions, militants from an Islamic State-linked group strapped explosives to a donkey to target the governor2. Such odious developments are too many to recount.


Communities and local councils have been sacked, resulting to thousands of internally displaced persons (IDP) languishing in camps both within and outside Nigeria.


The simmering crisis between herdsmen and farmers in various agrarian communities across country forces up the prices of food items and keeps the nation hungry. The struggle for survival and protection of economic livelihood (including, farmlands, crops and cattle) appears to precipitate conflict between herdsmen and farmers across many communities in Nigeria3. Herders in the Sahel, being compelled by desertification to move southwards, in search of greener pastures, force themselves through peoples’ farm lands.

This has led to conflicts with farmers over the years. The result is competition for minimal resources available in those rainforest regions. In many places, herders have clashed with farmers and their host communities over cattle destruction of their crops whilst in instances, farmers’ encroachment on grazing reserves have caused crisis. Indiscriminate burning of bushes and farms by herdsmen which led to loss of crops4 have spurred clashes that resulted in loss of lives, crops and cattle.


Our society’s security ailment was also laid bare recently in the youths-led quest to end police brutality.  The October 2020 #EndSARS serial protests which began and held peacefully in several urban cities of Nigeria gradually snowballed into a saga of macabre rate and bloodbath on our streets.


Criminals and hired arsonist cornered the street action, exploited the security lax it created to loot, vandalise and harm people as well as destroy property. Operators in the military and police eventually ruined the whole process when live rounds of arms were fired at unarmed protesters, holding Nigeria’s flag and chanting the National Anthem on the evening of Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos.


An ongoing panel of inquiry in Lagos is still unraveling who fired the shots that killed the young people as the army and police authorities issue their various denouements amid videos and other media accounts that challenge their stance. On Monday, November 23, 2020, the parliament of United Kingdom discussed the  #EndSARS shootings; the federal government is currently in a row with the global broadcasting organisation CNN; Secretary-General of United Nations, Athonio Guterres, had earlier issued a statement on the body’s site urging the government of Nigeria to be cautious in dealing with the protesters and exercise restraint.


All factors show the huge local and growing global status Nigeria’s security throes have become. The issue simply mocks our nation and people. Artists in Nigeria who are touched by the events never fail in their duty to make their art interrogate the experiences, with the intent of redirecting their homeland. SNA, Anambra Chapter, therefore offers the 2020 edition of her yearly art exhibition, ‘Security’ as an unmistakable visual arts community’s statement on the matter.


Artists make enduring comments on socio-political situations through their visual rendition prowess. They tend to compel society, especially, the intellgentsia and elites to toe the right (their preferred) direction. This role has been theirs of yore. Through the ages, they set themselves on self-deployed paths of correcting societal ills. Through artistic comments, derailing individuals or sections of society can be exposed to tow the right direction. More so, exact socio-cultural situations are portrayed through art for posterity’s sake.


            In line with this, artists of Society of Nigerian Artists, Anambra State chapter display works in their 2020 Art exhibition, ‘Security’.


Stephen Umahi’s mixed media sculpture titled Carnage at Lekki Toll Gate is an iconography of the popular #EndSARS movement that shook the country in October 2020. Though the social momentum led to eventual bloodbath, social disharmony, killings and vandalism, it put some thing straight socio-politically.


The clenched fist captured in weaves of metal by Umahi comes across as replication of the emblem of the movement, seen with hashtags all over the social media. However, the artist seriously makes his piece symbolic and memorial of that bloody period of modern Nigeria by his use of reds. With the drips of colour he makes blood flow as the red can be seen gushing out from a clenched fist.


The artist mixes the reds with the green hue of Nigeria’s national colour. This is somewhat representative of the incident where a protester, wielding the Nigerian flag, and was shot in as cold blood with the red splattered all over, the white and green areas Umahi creates a harrowing effect.


      Works of Dimsteve Chukwunonso, Innocent Okoye and Chukwudi Onyendi, in diverse media appraise parenthood, child care and nurturing of children feel secured under the protection of their parents but are they real safe and secure? Chukwunonso’s painting of  child hanging precariously on the back of her mother as she fetches water in a river gives a hint of the answer.

Chidiebere Onwuekwe’s Ogbunigwe is a title that brings to mind a menacing weapon of mass destruction deployed by the defunct Biafra Army during the 1967-1970 Nigeria civil war, is this time a reflection of politics of creation of forest guards in parts of Nigeria where apathy of national protection reign. Commitees’ concern over protecting them from dangerous bandits and rogue herdsmen exude from the pieces. Though the piece’s title connects nostalgia of Biafra, it stretches the viewer to conjective that security should be provided in all nooks and crannies of the country, even if through native guards.


Osinachi Okafor’s ‘I Am’ captures a woman who stares blandly into the space, appearing forlorn and thoughtless. It is a stylistic representation of today’s women whose visage show raw need for material security and upkeep. The precise rendering of warm and cold colours reveal optimism and pessimism at the same time.


          In Cliff Nwanna’s Emergency Situation, the relief sculpture bearing numerous faces of men, women and beasts shows a land in disarray is obvious. The bold embossed piece is a reflection of state of confusion in the society today.


Moses Njoku’s ‘Ww3 Veteran,’ an experimental sculpture-in-the-round piece made from disposed bits of plastic hints of a forecast of another world war, possibly from insecurity. While Chinonyelum Okonkwo’s cubical painting, ‘Reflection’ captures how insecure a beautifully-endowed damsel can be.


Chuka Nnabuife’s pieces, ‘Consultation & Negotiation;’ ‘Herdsman’s Treasure’ and ‘Sacrifice’ probe the issue conflict, highlighting to roles intentions and expectations play in the aggravation of crisis and their resolution through floaty laying of acrylic and adventurous use of inks, tea and coffee.


Charles Azuakor’s minimalist ink drawings give a minimalist detour to the somewhat all-bold collection.


The exhibition ‘Security’ is a collection of works that bother on recent social concerns of Nigeria features over 60 works of art of varied styles, studio techniques and experimentations. The genres comprise of painting, print, sculpture, textile mixed media and drawing.


On behalf of the exhibitors, the young and active chairman of SNA, Anambra State, Uchechukwu Ezeemo (Zeemo) says, “Every society thrives in peace… without the interference of unscropulous elements… We hope to make positive impact in the society as we open the exhibition” that bold attempt to turn things around is evident in the expo.


The show defies the subjective tendencies that manifest in themed group shows. Artists’ works come from their hearts instead tending to satisfy the theme of the collection.

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