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Kent Onah: A book on art therapy for physically challenged kids

By Chukwuma Ajakah

The project name is “Children of the World” and behind it is the Nigerian art therapy exponent, Kent Onah. “Children of the World” is organized to create awareness about the therapeutic functions of art and its untapped potentials as a veritable resource in solving societal problems especially in areas of health and education. It is a twin event planned to mark Kent’s birthday on September 15 with a book launch and an art exhibition dedicated to children with disabilities. The venue will be Quintessence Gallery, Ikoyi between the 15 and 28 September, 2019.

Kent Onah
Kent Onah

Kent, a graduate of Auchi Art School is a versatile artist, culture and art promoter. He is also a designer and an illustrator. He works with mixed media, water colour, gouache, pastel and oil. The master painter speaks on the therapeutic meanings of colour and the relevance of his craft to the society. According to the visual art artist, “Art can bring solution to many problems children with disability face”. He adds that the book, A Medicine for Children with Disability in Nigeria and the art exhibition series portray the same message, “There is a connection between the book and the art. I feel this is an opportunity to bring out both of me.

My art in medicine project focuses on the children. They are the ones painted”. Kent also talks of the healing potential of colours,, “All colours can heal. For instance, yellow is cognitive while red is energetic. Painting is beyond aesthetics. This art can heal you”. The prolific artist and author describes disability in children as encompassing physical, cognitive and emotional. He explains that there are many intelligent who perform poorly in their academics because they are emotionally traumatized either due to social stigmatization or that their parents are financially handicapped to cater for their education.

The works to be featured in the exhibition series include “Love Children” and “Trapped”. “Trapped” depicts the plight of children who are locked in adult ideology as they are expected to behave as adults and tackle problems meant for mature persons while “Love Children” implores caregivers and the larger society to treat all children equally. Kent observes that children with disabilities are grossly stigmatized even within their families, “Many parents in our society give preferential treatment to those they consider as normal children. I use art to correct this and other socio-cultural misconceptions about these children”. He calls attention to the need to explore the rich cultural heritage of Africa and to correct misconceived cultural ideations that inhibit societal development saying, “We have a rich culture.

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There is a lot in our culture that we need to learn. We also have to change our perception and some practices. For instance, there is the belief that a child with a certain health challenge is a punishment from the gods to a family lineage”. The artist intends to use the planned exhibition and book launch as an advocacy campaign against observed ills in the society. According him, “The message depicted in the book and art cuts across all ages, it is not only for children”. Citing the instance of funeral rites and other such ceremonies, Kent emphasizes, “Some of our cultures need to be changed”. He condemns the prevailing moral depravity in the society and canvasses the need for attitudinal change saying, “Our society is such that even a mother will tell a rape victim not to report the incident in order to avoid attracting social stigma. The rapist goes scotch-free will the victim suffers the consequent psychological trauma”.

Explaining his passion for children with disability, Kent says, “I have had neither a personal experience nor a relative with a disability. My passion is driven by love for humanity. I love to be with people, relate with people and go where the people are, I even go to the shrine which some people regard as fetish, instead of recognizing it as an integral aspect of our rich cultural heritage”. Kent’s works have been exhibited internationally since 2003. In May 2012, he held an exhibition in Darkart Bienalle, Senegel. Using a biblical allusion, the celebrated painter also speaks on the wealth creation potential of colour therapy, “The beginning of the wealth of Israel was from colour therapy. The patriarch, Jacob asked Laban to let him have spotted cattle which rarely existed as wages. After administering the therapy to the animals, Jacob got the stronger ones he desired and subsequently became very rich”.

Kent, a lecturer and HOD, Painting Department, Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, decries the imbalance in the educational system particularly the relegation of art to the background, “The UN recognizes that education hinges on a tripod of learning-images, letters and figures. Here, we ignore the images, art and focus on letters and figures. Most schools rarely employ art teachers to handle just art. The art teacher teaches other subjects, but the Mathematics teacher teaches only Mathematics”.

He also states that medicine art specialists are in short supply as the relevant courses are not in the curriculum of most Nigerian school. He cites Joel Adewale, a former student of his, as about the only known art therapist in the country. According to him “Curriculum assessment costs millions. No institution wants to be involved. Many are scared of the high cost of accreditation and introduction of new courses. There are also no elaborate research works on Art Therapy in Nigeria”.

Asked about the challenges he faces in conveying the intended message to Nigerians, Kent remarks, “Many people are afraid of collaboration. The magnitude of the Art in Medicine Project requires that I partner with medical personnel, those in ministries and the media. But, perhaps because I am not trained as a medical doctor, there is a natural resistance from that field. One also needs to have the necessary political clout to make a strong impression on the people that matter in government’. He identifies the problem of funding as another hiccup which deters those desiring to pursue higher degrees in art medicine from doing so. Despite the drawback, however, Ken maintains his strides towards ensuring that art therapy is given a pride of place in the country.

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