Saturday 16 August 2014

Ogunbiyi's Nightmare of kidnapped-Chibok girls, state of education

By Tajudeen Sowole

Despite the distraction created by the money allegedly given to the parents of the kidnapped-Chibok schoolgirls by the Federal Government, concerns over the fate of the girls keep spreading. This is the thrust of the artist, Temitayo Ogunbiyi in his visual rendering. 

Inside the top floor of Kongi's Harvest Gallery, Freedom Park, Lagos Island, Ogunbiyi's solo effort titled A Nightmare's Daydreams - prints, sculpture and collage - is not exactly a direct BringBackOurGirls campaign theme.

Caption: ‘Fueling the American Table’ by Temitayo Ogunbiyi
Currently showing till Sunday, August 17, 2014, the works go steps further to raise issues over the endangered girl child education in the increasingly volatile part of North east of Nigeria. Ogunbiyi, a conceptual artist who works mostly in reproduced images on fabric as well as collage and delves in issue-based themes, is not a regular commercial artist. Trained at Princeton and Columbia Universities in the U.S, she is barely four years old in practice in Nigeria after a debut solo titled Broken Weaves held at Terra Kulture Victoria Island, Lagos, in 2010. 

Cut outs of drawings as well as some painterly images on fabrics and canvas, supported with sculptures of boxes or classroom  "desks", contextualise Ogunbiyi's thoughts on what she describes as the nightmares that the Chibok girls kidnap has brought. "The situation of the kidnapped girls and the current state of Nigeria are like nightmares," she explains to one of the two guests during a visit to the gallery. The state of education, which she notes as endangered “is the Daydreams in the Nigerian context." 

This much oozes in one of the works, ‘Happy Dream House Dreamt from a Desk’, 2014. Work such as ‘Fueling the American Table’, (2014), and ‘Crown’ and ‘Costume in Glory’ (2014), stress the artist's passion on the issue.

As much as Ogunbiyi's exhibition attempts to focus more on the repercussion of kidnapping girls from schools, government's seemingly inaction keeps surging. For example, Fueling the American Table perhaps questions the efficacy of the foreign intervention. And that the Nigerian government has accepted the assistance of the U.S reminds one of the position taken by the presidency two years ago. Recall that in August 2012, when the U.S was debating whether to designate Boko Haram as Foreign Terrorists Organisation (FT0), the Nigerian government urged Obama administration not to accept such label. In fact, a day after, Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S. Prof. Ade Adefuye, defended government’s position and explained why Nigeria was against plans by Americans to classify Boko Haram as FTO.

Ambassador Adefuye was quoted as saying such classification will subject innocent Nigerian travelers to undue embarrassment and humiliation from foreign immigration authorities. Now the President Jonathan administration would have to do a self-assessment of its handling of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Since the BringBackOurGirls campaign grew louder after the tactical denial of the kidnap by government, it does appear that there is a sudden rise of "overnight" activists. And as such, government and its sympathisers see the campaigners for the return of the kidnapped girls as opportunists, who are 'over dramatising' the calls and fronting for the opposition. In fact, the Presidency has been quoted as saying that "all it takes to get relevance these days is to say '#BringBackOurGirls”. The government’s argument appears more direct at someone like Ogunbiyi, for example, who has been inspired by the Chibok girls situation to set up what she calls ‘’. Her ongoing exhibition ‘A Nightmares Daydream’ is being carried out as part of several efforts from the 300 project.

 "I am not in opposition of the government," she clarifies. "I am only in opposition to corrupt government and bad leadership that denies children and youths good education." And if calling attention of the people in authority on the need to stand up to their responsibility is all it takes to be an opposition, Ogunbiyi says "I don't mind being labeled as one." The opportunity of freedom of speech, she argues is the people's right to speak out. "We have the right of speech to speak out against those who refuse to give our children education."

But she is being careful in responding to "steer as clear as possible from opportunism, and respect the tone and complexity of the circumstance."

The sculptures of boxes, representing school's desk, each weighing 10kg and made from eku wood, she says connotes the strength of education. Some of the cuts-outs include photographs taken by Glenna Gordon as well as reference to women, living or departed, who have spoken out since the abduction started. 

For the artist all is not lost; she dreams good futures for the girls who are victims of truncated education.  It goes beyond the Chibok girls’ kidnap: schoolgirls have been kidnapped regularly in the northeast before April when over 250 were taken away by the terrorists, Boko Haram. And having tracked the number of girls kidnapped by the insurgents, she discloses how she arrived at 300.  "By my calculation, 300 girls, if not more have been kidnapped by the insurgents in the north.” She however quickly adds that the figure include those that have escaped from their captors. "In April this year, I started archiving news of the nearly 300 girls abducted from Chibok, in addition to kidnapping of 16 girls in Yobe".

Ogunbiyi's ‘A Nightmares Daydream’ appears to be the first major voice on the visual arts scene in Lagos on the issue, since the Chibok girls’ kidnap and BringBackOurGirls campaign took a global trend. The arts appear too quiet on the Chibok girls’ kidnap, isn't it? The art scene, she notes, is perhaps too commercial. "Most artists make work for sale, and may not want to treat issues like this." But within the art for sale mentality, it is still possible to work on issue-based themes. "I do make art for sale too but I believe in making art for the larger society; my work is issue-based." 

As much as contemporary and conceptual artists lay claim to art that is laced with issues, aesthetics, perhaps and not necessarily of decorative values, are also needed to attract enough traffic required for the supposed message to get across to more people. 

Irrespective of the fate of the kidnapped schoolgirls – if found  - her project, she argues remains relevant in the face of state of the nation.  “That so many of them went missing for so long will forever remain worthy of consideration."

The mission statement of Ogunbiyi's 300girls project, include encouraging the education of Nigerian girls. The project, according to aims to encourage education among women and thereby counter actions that discourage women from seeking education.

Proceeds from this project, according to Ogunbiyi, would fund scholarships for girls in Nigeria who are attending schools at various levels. To apply for a scholarship, girls are advised to contact Ogunbiyi through for further instructions to be relayed about the scholarship.

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