Saturday 8 June 2013

With UNITE, American scholar taps the arts for youth development

By Tajudeen Sowole
In four months, Fulbright, U.S. scholar, Erica Licht-led You and I Teach Each Other (UNITE), initiative engaged youths across Lagos, via diverse creative activities with the aim of promoting justice and non-violence approach to conflict resolution.
Licht’s project implored the visual arts, among several creative areas, taking a space in mentorship as painter Duke Asidere and video artist, Jude Anogwih took the young participants in the Ajegunle sections of the project through the world of contemporary art.  

Few days ago, the project berthed at Freedom Park with a graduation ceremony after the participants share their experience of past four month with audience at U.S. Consulate in Lagos.  But ahead of the conclusion of the activities, Licht, took a guest through the aims of UNITE and the formats, which had 30 young participants, from each community mentored, weekly, at workshops in Ajegunle, Ogudu and Lagos Island. For the visual arts sections of the project, it’s quite instructive that two genres from the extreme ends of modern and contemporary art – painting and video art – found spaces in UNITE.
 Also implored are other creative areas such as music, performing arts and yoga. 
Painter, Duke Asidere (left) showing young participants at UNITE the rudiments of art.
 “UNITE is s justice program that engages youth in Lagos, from age 15, in an experiential learning project using criminal justice, environmental and life skills curriculum”, Licht said.
 At this period of challenge in Nigeria’s nationhood, securing the future, via better orientation of the youth indeed, is very crucial. Perhaps, exposing the youths to areas of the Arts such as the visual arts, music, performing arts and seeing established artists at works, among several activities of UNITE could take the mentality of the young ones away from divisive and hate characteristics that make conflict resolution difficult. This much appears to be the aim goal of Licht.          

Speaking on the workshops, Asidere recalled how it was fascinating for him to engage the youths in painting, photography, even in the area of art as complex as dealership. Asidere whose studio is situated in Egbeda did not go to Ajegunle for the workshop alone. “I had film practitioners Aondofa Saaka and Ralph Anire with me to Ajegunle. We all spent time talking, learning”. The core of the workshops, he stressed, was “to tell every one to put their best in whatever they do”.

Whatever could be use to prepare the minds of the youths for a better tomorrow is worth today’\s sacrifice.  The project, Litch added “teaches positive behavioral skills to youth through education on security and justice issues in Lagos”. She argued that for the youths to learn and cultivate decent attitude, “supplemental programming in nature provides a classroom to teach conflict resolution practices such as stress management, personal development and interpersonal group skills free from the distractions of the urban environment”.

And watching Asidere at work during the workshop, Licht, particularly, saw an exciting side of a painter, even at her level of exposure. This perhaps, suggested that the memory of the workshop would reverberate in the future of the participating youths. For example, she noted how “Asidere made a point that you can make a career doing what you love” In selecting artists for the project, Licht found Aidere a fascinating artist who “creates an art piece within an hour and a half”. 

Just returned from a residency in Vienna, Austria, Anogwih, a member of Video Art Network, Lagos narrated his experience of the Ajegunlle side of UNITE.  He recalled how the youths had brilliant interaction during the workshop, particularly sharing amazing views on creativity, art and technology. “I was amazed by their keen interest in the use of moving and still images in creating experimental videos”. A consistent advocate of new media art, Anogwih also screened videos from previous workshops in Lagos and Khartoum.

He however confessed how “my myopic view and stereotypes of Ajegunle was totally nullified as I saw a community in all sense orderly, beautiful and eager to engage positively”.

From African art contemporaneity perspective, the participating youths must have been fortunate that they were exposed to video art, so early; it could provide a wider perspective in information dissemination, should any of the young participants choose to improve their environment in the future via activism.  

This much Anogwih reflected by introducing unfamiliar application of video as a different form of art to the participants. He showed some works of other artists who have used video to make statement about their environment, stressing how it could be shot, even with common technology as the camera of a cell phone.

On video as an art form, Litch expressed delight that the participants were able to see video from other perspective aside the regular oulets. With the assistance of Goethe Institut, Lagos, which provided the projector, it was a great experience, the visiting scholar enthused.
Some of the participants, Bilikis Atiku (left), Michael Olatunde, Endurance Eremiokhale, Kehinde Balogun, Perpetual Nwoyeocha and Joshua Edigbe.. PHOTO BY: THE UNITED STATES CONSULATE, AYO DURODOLA

Before heading to Nigeria, Licht had taken the project to New York, Wyoming, Uganda, Trinidad and Jamaica. Despite all the warnings, from some countries of the west, about unsafe travel to Nigeria, why did Licht choose the country? “I did not choose Nigeria’, she quipped. And quickly clarifying that, she added: “I chose Lagos”. Licht argued that the difference between Lagos and the rest of Nigeria is so huge. Within her four months stay in Nigeria, she has traveled in and out of Lagos quite a number of times. “I traveled out of Lagos a lot, but the moment I returned to Lagos, it’s like I am in another place”.

Selecting the young participants seemed not so difficult. In each community, she worked with a local partner who selects the participants that are mostly secondary school students. From one community to another the ages of participants differed. “Secondary school students about 18 years in Ogudu; in Lagos Island and Ajegunle, the participants were much older, from 24 years”.
 The UNITE partners are Youth Concerns and Development Initiatives Africa, Gifted Generation, Central Lagos Island Police Station and Ogudu Senior Grammar School.
 Aside the visual arts, the visitor also took the young participants through Yoga with the input of expert, Dayo Adegoke. And why inculcate yoga? “I see yoga as a particular art form; for relaxation, self-control”. 
Erica Licht
 Still on Ajegunle, music, she said was not left out as youths were exposed to the production aspects of creating music with the assistance of Jahoha Music Studio.
  In another aspects of the workshop, she called Alternative to Violence Project {AVP}, performing art, she said, was used in creating drama that inspires “solving problems non-violently”.
And as a conservation enthusiast, the project also afforded Licht an opportunity to share her passion with the young people. She offered her “cameras to the participants to take photographs and videos at the Lekki conservation centre.
 Whatever the youths have learnt over the past months, it was time to share with others, and got recognition as well. So, at the U.S. Consulate there was a presentation and graduation at Freedom Park, Lagos, May ending and June 1.
 Quite passionate about building justice and good behaviour into the youths, Licht took her campaign to the radio airwave. She
hosted a weekly radio show Justified Nature on UNILAG fm, Tuesdays at 2:30 to 3:00pm. “It’s about creating a conversation on bridging together the fields of criminal justice and environmentalism”.

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