Ernest Obukx Agoba

The Emergency Room Artist


From Cracks and Crannies, I Saw the Walls Going Down: Protest Art Exhibition by Ernest Agoba

“Deep Cracks” Digital Art Exhibition by Ernest Agoba

Moved by the Events of the Past

The cracks on the walls were carved in by guns, knives, and the blood of the innocent dead. I remember the day I vowed to make protest paintings, I was rebuffed by a former university colleague who said protest paintings would make me a poor artist. But I knew no other way of protesting. I hated to go out in the street with banners and placards. I could not fight or be allowed to be clubbed by some zealous policeman or soldier. As long as we live as Nigerians, correcting wrongs, fighting evil, and protesting bad leadership must be as attractive a passion as eating your favorite meals.   From September 7 to 13, 2001, Jos, the capital of Plateau State in Nigeria, became the scene of mass killing and destruction for the first time in its history. Hundreds of people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in less than a week. For so many years, the inhabitants of Jos were still counting their dead and assessing the massive damage done to their homes and property. 

Mass burial of hundreds of corpses in Bukuru area of Jos in Nigeria

Protest Art: A Paradigm Shift?

Art, for me and many others, has always been a powerful tool for social and political change. From the earliest cave paintings to contemporary Street Art, artists have used their work to express their views on society and the world around them. These are typically created in response to social or political issues. They can take many forms but my focus is limited to painting and photography. Nine years later, after the first major crises in Jos, in 2010,  Muslim Hausa-Fulani herders massacred more than one hundred Christians in Dogo-Nahawa village near Jos.  That was  on the 17th day of  January, 2010. These attacks went on for hours killing hundreds of villagers in their wake. They set ablaze many of the buildings and left corpses dumped on the streets. Many of the dead were women and children, including an infant less than three months of age. In total, in that year, more than 1000 Nigerians were killed in the violence that persisted in the city for over two weeks. My first set of paintings expressing this evil was titled, in a series, after the name of the village settlement, “Dogo-Nahawa” I had four paintings in Acrylic with this title as could be seen below:

“Dogon Nahawa: Rumours of War” By Ernest Agoba

24″ x 36″ , Acrylic on board, 2011

“Rumours of War” was the first painting I did that was reminiscent of the event of 2010 crisis. It shows the quietness that was observed as families clung to themselves that night, as they thought of a means of escape. But where could they go without being cornered by the irate Fulani herdsmen? This painting was followed by a similar acrylic work titled,  “Melee at Dogon Nahawa”

“Melee at Dogon Nahawa” By Ernest Agoba

24″ x 36″ , Acrylic on board, 2011

Decades of predatory governance and economic neglect turned Jos, a cultural melting pot, into a fiery cauldron of ethnic and religious tensions that grew worse with every bloodletting as grievances from one bout of violence went unaddressed, sparking the next round.   The painting below illustrates the eerie and uneasy calm that often attend every killing and destruction in this region of Nigeria

“Dogon Nahawa: Ruins at Dawn” By Ernest Agoba

24″ x 36″ , Acrylic on board, 2011

 There were countless other incidences at different parts of this region of Nigeria. These incidences were not reported internationally. The reports from the national press did not match the reality on ground. I was bugged by the fact that most people were scared of reporting it the way it was. At that time, we were all scared of the Muslim terrorist group known as Boko Haram and the multiple splinter groups that had been generated from the killing of Mohammed Yusuf in 2009. With the death of Yusuf, and the avowed threats by the group to revenge his death, coupled with the escalated crises in Jos, Kaduna, Bornu, and other neighboring states, I saw a large scaling crack on the walls of our nation. About six years after the crises, on the 24th of June, 2016,  I had my first protest exhibition titled, “Cracks on the Walls”.

A Wicked, Meaningless War!

It was a useless, meaningless crisis but this was what set the tone for a new encounter in art for me. I now see my art as the only available instrument of reprehension open to me.  I knew it would be difficult  to cover these new cracks, these deep cultural conflicts, by mere wishful thinking. My artworks are the only means by which I  can express and condemn the endless horrors of the dreaded Boko Haram. 

Artworks that Made the Show

“Gaping Holes”, Digital Art by Ernest Agoba

The exhibition, “Cracks on the Wall” was opened to the public on June 24th, 2016. The 3 feet by 6 ft photographic work of a slain woman, “Gaping Holes” carries yawning cracks of gunshots behind her. This work, coupled with “Deep Cracks 1”  were the first two attention grabbers amongst the 23 pieces of works exhibited in the University of Jos Conference Centre. Gaping Holes, as the name denotes, was a reproduction of a digital art on canvas. It measured 3 ft x 7 ft. It was rendered in monochrome to suggest the absence of color and life. 

“Deep Cracks 1”, Digital Art by Ernest Agoba

I painted “Deep Cracks 1” using a former student of mine who equally had strong convictions about a country that was in dire need of rescue.  To her, “Deep Cracks” reflects the fragile state of women who were expected to nurture love in a world often devoid of love.  This photographic work was printed on glazed canvas and measures,  2 ft x 3 ft.  A major exhibition to be featured in Jos and Abuja is presently being prepared for the coming years. It is hoped that this will feature more engaging works on the horrors of Boko haram, the Fulani herdsmen and the their sponsors