By Prisca Sam-Duru
There may never be an end to police brutality in Nigeria. The nationwide protest in 2020; #ENDSARS, a peaceful campaign by the masses to end every form of inhuman treatment by men of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, which many thought will help tame the bad officers in the force, appears to have succeeded in emboldening them.
As the level of harassment and ill-treatment by some unscrupulous elements in the force continues to soar, Nigerians are becoming weary of putting-up with their flagrant disrespect for human rights and would wish nothing else than an end to their viciousness. The campaign against police brutality in addition to a whole lot of issues plaguing the country, form the focal point of a current exhibition by renowned protest artist, Bob-Nosa Uwagboe.
Bob-Nosa, founder of Protest Art Studio, Lagos, is representing Out Of Africa Gallery, with a solo exhibition titled ‘Police Brutality’. The exhibition is part of the stunning art fair taking place in Barcelona, Spain, beginning from September 15, till October 24, 2021.
“We were born into this struggle and the only weapon in my possession to fight and condemn this act in an offensive or defensive manner is art, just as Majek fashek did in his song, ‘Police Brutality’”, Bob-Nosa says, defending his choice of theme in the exhibition.
Recall that in 1988, the African reagge legend, Majek Fashek released the album “Prisomer of Conscience”, in which the 7th track on the album was titled “Police Brutality”. It was this song that inspired the title of Bob-Nosa Uwagboe’s exhibition.
“Extortion, rape, illegal arrest/detention, dehumanization, killings of innocent citizens, just to mention but a few, forms our daily struggle. Every day, we the under privilege of society experience this inhumanity and cruelty without justice”. The body of work, a project with special inspiration drawn from the work of late Majek Fashek, according to the artist, is “fundamentally raw political critique on the uniform men in provocative forms and abusive manner in which such havoc is unleashed on the common man on the street in our local environment, and all over the world”.
Employing materials such as acrylic, spray paint, used fabric on textured canvass, Bob-Nosa’s special solo outing in Spain, exposes the height of injustice meted against the citizens of this country by the government and particularly men in uniform. The artist’s exhibits in the ongoing art fair in Spain, are in unison with his usual main choice of subject matter; being the provocative characters in the Nigerian social sphere, as well as the urban landscape.
“The figures in my paintings include police officers, government officials, businessmen and criminals, who through their actions unleash havoc on the citizens. In one of the paintings, drunk policemen are depicted with liquor in one hand, and gun in the other. There’s no need offering explanations on the faith of victims of such officers who are supposed to be arresting drunk drivers or breakers of the law. In “Human merchants”, a piece which is largely a voice against human trafficking, the figures are observed carrying little children on their backs. In “Big Man”, a wealthy man hides behind his armed bodyguard while committing evil, meanwhile, dirty politicians sexually grope defenceless women who mostly engage in immoral relationships with the politicians, due to debilitating poverty. The figures in the artist’s body of work are painted as a kind of caricature, which come across looking animalistic and barbaric. This he noted, is reflective of the inhumanity that their actions embody. “As a Nigerian artist, my artistic practice focuses on social injustice in my country in order to give a voice to the unheard. My artwork exposes problems plaguing Nigerian society, from poor leadership and government corruption to violence, theft, election rigging and human trafficking. I see art as a tool to raise pertinent issues in the public discourse, in order to begin the cycle that will incite social change”, he added.
As an exceptionally talented painter, Bob-Nosa uses a variety of materials including acrylic, spray paint, crayon, charcoal and oils. He also incorporates materials found in popular culture, including clothes, sacks, ropes, paper, artificial hair, sand and archival images. His paintings oscillate between the abstract and the representational, with figures formed through basic, elemental forms that act as ambiguous and ghostly presences.
The protest artist whose paintings are found in many respectable public and private collections both within and outside Nigeria, shocked the art public in 2009 in his show “Recent works by bob-nosa”, held at the Pan African University, Lagos with originality and strength of his voice.
“Bob-Nosa is an extremely talented painter, whose expression does not allow us to remain indifferent to the power of art. He creates strong, expressive works, and consciously chooses a primitive and brutal form of expression, which, contrary to appearances, shows how sensitive and compassionate he is not only an artist, but also a human being”, says the artist’s manager and curator for the exhibition, Małgorzata Paszylka-Glaza. ‘
“His work is a bold and conscious criticism of the Nigerian society and its rules. The subject matter of the works oscillates between the brutalism of the authorities and the humiliation of ordinary people and their specific passivity, resulting from the daily struggle for a dignified and righteous life in Nigeria”.
According to Paszylka-Glaza, ‘‘The strength of Bob-Nosa Uwagboe’s protest lies in his consistency and wise humility, and in his faith in the power of art. Consistent image and artistic medium are the key to the strength and power of conveying disagreement with the surrounding reality, social injustice, abuse of the citizen and privileging the authorities. In his protest, the artist is surprisingly effective and as honest as possible”.
One noticeable feature of the artist’s paintings, which are mostly in primitive form, is that they are usually supported by ‘‘an intense and even lively color. This colour screams, stigmatizes, impresses with its literalness and sometimes even overpowers.
“The artist paints the world he knows well, which accompanies him and is an integral part of his life”, she added.