Klaranze Okhide, “Red Alert,” Mixed media, 61cm x 74cm, 2019

At an exhibition held at St. Ignatius House Surulere, Lagos, the state of the earth’s environment was the artistic focus of six Nigerian contemporary artists, writes Agwu Enekwachi the curator of the two-day event.

Fittingly declared open by the duo of Sir Newton Jibunoh-a renowned environmentalist and patron of the arts, and Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett OON, a veteran actress, cosmetologist and renowned journalist, the 2nd Ignatius House art exhibition which held between Saturday, August 31st and September 1st, had in attendance art lovers, environmentalists, friends and collaborators of Jesuits, invited students, as well as parents and alumni of Jesuit Schools in Nigeria.The cityscape around St. Ignatius House, the regional headquarters of the North-West Africa Province, Society of Jesus (also known as Jesuits) in Surulere, nuances the exhibition’s title. Laudato Si: Care for our Common Home. The term Laudato si is an Umbrian (Italian) phrase (meaning Praise be to you) which was drawn from a poem and prayer in the canticle of creatures, by St. Francis of Assisi which praises God for his various creations on earth. Issued in 2015, it is the second encyclical by Pope Francis-head of the Catholic Church. The relevance of this social declaration on the state of the world environment cannot be overemphasized, more so, as it provided the primary inspiration and theme for this art exhibition.

“Esther,” Photography, 23.5″x36,” 2012 (Print 2019)

Six selected Nigerian contemporary artists, who have shown sustained interest in environmental themes by their concepts and materiality, participated in the show. Their individual narratives may differ as much as their artistic media but a common denominator is that they all invite us to a visual dialogue aimed at deepening our awareness of the enormity of the global environmental challenges. The participating artists are Ayo Adewunmi, Klaranze Okhide, Izuu Muoneme, Ernest Nkwocha, Chike Emembo and Grace Ighavbota. As one enters the display space, he is welcomed by Adewunmi’s photography. Well known in Nigeria’s visual art sector for his advocacies on emergent socio-political issues especially as it relates to the environment and Nigeria’s dwindling cultural heritage, Adewunmi is also a painter and director of Art is Everywhere Project. He uses the medium of photography to address the ravages of the wanton consumerism of the modern world while expressing his concern about how humans are affected by their very own actions. Adewunmi’s Agbegi Lodo series- comprising of photographs of the dangerous trucks used for lumbering in South-western and some middle belt states and “Esther,” a photograph of a solitary girl-child,  searching for good water as she paddles her canoe through the polluted creeks in the Niger Delta, poignantly depicts both the potential and actual catastrophic effects of environmental degradation. Also, among Adewunmi’s work, is Dust and Fumes, a poignant picture of lack of concern for not only our environment but also for ourselves. The photograph taken some years back shows women working in a dusty in Abakaliki, without protection from dust.

  • “Trees Connection,” Acrylic on canvas, 46 x 61 2017

Klaranze Okhide’s paintings such as “Trees Connection,” “Red Alert,” and “Patterns of Nature” are based on the despoliation in her Niger Delta homeland-one of the sites of grave environmental degradation in the world. She paints trees that are withered or stripped of their leaves against backgrounds suggesting the conflagrations that are often caused by incidents of pipeline sabotage, gas flaring and operation of illegal refineries. The work “Red Alert,” is Klaranze’s commentary on the urgency of the situation. Two artists, Ernest Nkwocha and Izuu Muoneme have focused their remediation of the environmental challenge by utilizing the ubiquitous wastes around their environments to create objects of beauty. While Nkwocha uses strewn vehicle tires from his neighbourhood to make art, Moneme employs the equally plentiful empty beverage cans he sources from sites of consumption around him to create “paintings.” These two artists remind us that sustained beauty can be created from the ugliness of waste.

“My Strength,” Tyre, 54cm x 54cm, 2018.

The paintings of Chike Emembo and Grace Ighabovta are not direct commentaries on the global environmental disaster. Instead, they point one to the pristine beauty of the earth and the balance between it and man’s activities. Emembo’s works namely “Isi Iyi Nke Ndu, (The source of living water)”, “Ocean sanitation to tax clearance,” and “Baptism,” draws our attention to the beauty of God’s creation, compelling us to ‘…see God in all things’. Emembo juxtaposes the beauty of nature with machines as a way of finding balance in our world. Also, Grace Ighavbota’s landscape paintings often reflect the ideals of beauty that she would like the environment around her to be governed by, and this was expressed by paintings enriched with foliage and suffused with the plush calm of an unspoiled environment.

Featured in the exhibition were two students, Obi Micheal of St. Francis College Idimu, and Ayoola Olugbenga, who recently graduated from Holy Child Secondary School, Lagos, as a symbolic gesture to the young as important part in the artistic dialogue about the earth. This is because it is vital that young people (the future of our world) are made stakeholders of any project that addresses the future which rightly belongs to them.

According to the coordinator of the project, Rev. Fr. Ugo Nweke S.J., the aim of the art exhibition was to “sensitize people using the instrumentality of art, so that more people can become involved in protecting and preserving our environment.” As an aside, a documentary of Sir Newton Jibunoh’s activism as an environmentalist was screened at the opening ceremony. Jibunoh has crossed the Sahara Desert (between Nigeria and Europe) four times in order to raise awareness about desertification. Also, a well-received environment-themed poem titled “Killing the Riddle,” was presented by Uchechukwu Oguike, S.J.

As the exhibition came to a close, the common message of  the artists was about how the earth is being polluted and its resources being lost at an exponential rate, and the need for all to heed the call and work together to love and cherish the world in order to make it a better place along the individual narratives of the artist. 

Agwu Enekwachi (MFA) is an artist and curator. He was formally the head of Department of Fine Art, Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja. He is currently a doctoral student in Art History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Izu Muoneme, “Urban Dwellers,” Aluminum cans on canvas 51cm x 92cm, 2018
Chike Emembo, “Baptism,” Oil on Canvas, 30″ x 40,” 2017.
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