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Nigerian art connects culture and politics

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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Oct. 1, 2017, marked the last day of the “Not Nasty, But Feisty” art exhibition at the Alfa Art Gallery in New Brunswick, New Jersey. This show features six Nigerian artists based out of the United States and celebrates Nigeria’s 57th year of independence from British rule.

All six artists specialize in the contemporary style and have exhibited their art in both Nigeria and the United States.

The artists include Ola Balogun, Louis Collins Ejeh, Rodney Asikhia, Happiness Akaniro and Abiodun Eniyandunni, and their pieces will explore the now politically charged term “nasty.”

During the American election in 2016, the term “nasty” gathered a new connotation. Initially, current president Donald Trump used the term to belittle and demonize his opponent Hillary Clinton. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the world tuned in closely to the abnormal, heated and frankly funny happenings in the United States’ political arena.

This global interest was seen in particular in Nigeria, where the American political debate crossed country borders and entered the daily lives of Nigerian citizens and “saw them engaging in passionate debates” said an article in The Guardian. There were examples of Nigerian citizens calling relatives and friends in the United States and convincing them to vote a certain way.

A group empowered Nigerian Women. courtesy of Image made available for public use by PIXNIO

The gallery is about “the strength of a people who refuse to give up. It’s about hope and resilience” said Happiness Akaniro, a featured artist and director of the exhibition.

Akaniro immigrated from her home country of Nigeria to attend school in New Jersey, where she obtained a master’s degree in fine arts.

Nearly 30 paintings are on display, and each tells the story of the Nigerian interpretation of the U.S. political chaos through each artist’s interpretive eye.

Leia Alex, the director of national and international outreach for Paintbrush Diplomacy, an art program meant to connect and unify cultures across the globe, said: “In times of, what I would term, crisis when there’s someone so against a lot of people’s belief system, it’s actually really good for the arts.”

“I think it’s a way for people show how they really feel about the political sphere.”

Sara Bushnaq, a journalism and art student at Colorado State University, agreed.

“Politically, if you are part of a culture that is suppressed or not known, and you see someone winning in a way that makes you feel belittled, makes you feel small and irrelevant, I think that’s when you can relate it to art,” Bushnaq said. “It’s not violent it’s not trying to demonize; it’s just a form of expression.”

“Not Nasty, But Feisty” is the perfect example of art crossing political and global boundaries, serving as a form of nonverbal communication that people from any culture can understand and respect.

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3 comments

  1. I love the description of the gallery – “the strength of a people who refuse to give up. It’s about hope and resilience.” This reminds me of my grandparents art exhibit. Their motto was “to share the commonalities between people, not the differences.” i feel like both quotes explain the goal of expression that the artists are trying to get across. Whether it be strength, politics, etc.

  2. From the article, the Nigerian arts exhibition is about the strength of a people that refuse to give up. It’s more than an art, but a social movement, a best way people can express themselves. It’s about hope and resilience. It awakens highly creative souls.  Each work is infused with their special cultural meaning among other notable influences.

  3. I’ve never been one to go to art exhibits or further look into politics, so this might not be the gallery for me! I always thought it was really unique and cool the ways in which different people craft their art to visualize some sort of message. It’s super cool how so many people can advocate the same message politically in such a vast amount of ways!

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