By Prisca Sam-Duru
An exhibition of sculptures representing the Chibok school girls who were abducted in 2014 in Nigeria, opened recently at Art Twenty-one, Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos.
The very emotive show billed to travel around the world much later, is the collaborative effort of French multidisciplinary artist, Prune Nourry, the Department of Fine & Applied Arts of the Obafemi Awolowo University and the families of the over 250 Chibok girls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State, Nigeria.
On display at the exhibition titled, “Statutes Also Breathe”, are 108 sculpture heads by Nourry and art students of the OAU Fine and Applied Arts department, inspired by the ancient Ife terracotta heads. The heads so much evoke memory of the narrative/works on the Igbo Landing in Georgia, where Igbo slaves decided to drown with their masters rather than live as slaves in US.
The hall during the opening of the exhibition was not just packed full with the carved heads on tripod stands, but also, lovers of arts and a delegation of mothers of the Chibok girls and some of the girls who escaped from Boko Haram captivity.
Holding as a campaign to ensure the return of the remaining girls still in captivity, the art exhibition also featured audio-visual mediums showing the processes involved in the making of the works. Also, the documentary features some of the rescued Chibok girls who shared their harrowing experiences while in captivity. In essence, the project raises awareness on the plight of the Chibok girls still missing, in addition to advocacy on girl child education.
So for Nourry, the exhibition is to remember the Chibok girls as the works are symbols of their agony which also signify love for the girls.
“The idea is to travel the world with the army and to show all the heads that personify the Chibok missing girls. It is also an opportunity to talk about girls’ education around the world,” she explained.
“When I heard about the Chibok girls for the first time, I was travelling with a work, an “Army of girls” called the “Terracotta daughters” in China, and I heard about the Ife heads,” Nourry explains the genesis of the project, adding that “As a sculptor, it was my dream to go someday to Ife and work with the clay”.
Consequently, Nourry got photographs of the Chibok Girls from their families which served as inspiration for eight heads sculpted in clay.
From the eight original sculptures Nourry moulded, 108 heads were cast in clay sourced from Ile-Ife by potters from a female potter’s community in the Yoruba town of Ilorin and, students of Obafemi Awolowo University.
The exhibition at Art Twenty-One runs till 4th February 2023 before travelling across the world. Upon completion of the tour, the sculptures will be taken to the permanent collection of a museum in Africa.
Very commendable is the artist’s dexterity to combine the iconic Ife Terracotta’s heads style with the Chibok girl’s portraits. Moreso, the works are creatively produced such that each student represented is easily recognisable.
Amina Alli, one of the abductees present at the opening of “Statutes Also Breathe”, narrated the harrowing experience of how she, alongside her school mates were kidnapped as well as her miraculous escape in 2016.
According to her, “I was kidnapped alongside others on April 14, 2014, I was in JSS 2. We were taken to different camps, and I was lucky to have escaped when the Nigerian Armed Forces came to raid where I was captured. That was in January 2016.The happiest day of my life was the day I escaped from Boko Haram. I’m sad that some of my sisters are still in captivity. We want them to be back, we are missing them so much. I was held for one year and two months in captivity. I escaped in 2016”.
The President of the Missing Chibok Girl’s Parent Association, Yakubu Nkeki, noted at the event that a good number of parents of the abducted girls died in the first three years of the unforgettable incident, while about seven of his extended family members were abducted as well, with one still in captivity.
He described the exhibition as “A great vision, because by seeing these images, the Chibok Girls will not be forgotten”.
He called on the government, well-meaning individuals and associations not to give up on the search and eventual rescue of the rest of the girls languishing in the terrorists’ den.