“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?
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. Of the many ironies surrounding this tragedy, one of the most notable is that Jos was once a cosmopolitan city, with residents drawn from different parts of Nigeria and the world at large. Its high altitude and cool weather offer a pleasant climate that attracted migrants and tourists. Decades of predatory governance and economic neglect, however, turned this cultural melting pot into a fiery cauldron of ethnic and religious tensions that have grown worse with every bloodletting, as grievances from one bout of violence went unaddressed, sparking the next round. I remember moving out of a dangerous road where there had been a major skirmish one hot afternoon. Though I managed to conceal my fears, I remember how I was confronted with the sight of hundreds of dead people on the streets, with so many women among them clutching onto their children in their death. In this settlement called legislators quarters, there were over 50 buses with no less than 20 people in each of them dead. I could see the horrified look hanging in their eyes as they begged to be spared before they were burnt to death in those buses. In most parts of Jos, were commercial motorcyclists sitting dead on their motorcycles with burnt motor tyres hanging around their carcasses. I remember my son clutching onto my legs in fear any time I tried to step out of the house. I remember his teary eyes piercing through my spirit as he begged me not to leave. These incidences were not reported internationally. The reports from the national press did not near 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 paintings are the only means by which I express and condemn the endless horrors Boko Haram. This has become the only means by which I have regained and maintained my sanity.
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 exhibited that day. Gaping Holes, as the name denotes, is a reproduction of a digital art on canvas. It measures 3 ft x 7 ft. It is 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. More confrontational works may be presented to the public in this anticipated exhibition