Exhibit: Are you Ashamed of Yourself?
‘Are you Ashamed of yourself?’ was birthed the day I laid eyes on what would be the first piece of the Nigerian Stars series, “My Nigerian Stars, 2019-20”. Up until that day, I had never seen the Nigerian flag appear so ‘attractive’ and ‘special’–as though it was symbolic of a prosperous nation. While conversing with the artist, we were able to dissect the importance of a Flag to a developed country like the United States of America. In the US, the flag is symbolic of the freedom, dignity, and the true meaning of being an American; in other words, it is indicative of an identity that every American can resonate with.
This reality differs woefully in Nigeria as we continuously ignore and neglect the symbolic importance of our flag–which is (a part of) our identity. What is particularly significant about our flag is its simplicity. For a nation that is anything but simple.
With over 500 languages, a wide range of ethnicities, and several traditions, Nigeria is arguably one of the most culturally eclectic African Nations. So why do we not see ourselves in a more positive and iconic light?
In Chinua Achebe’s ‘An Image of Africa’, he argues that “…Nigerians are the most unpatriotic people”. Written over 50 years ago, this still rings true today. One could argue that lack of owning one’s identity as a Nigerian has created such a divide in todays political, social & economic climate. For if you do not take care of what is yours, it will spoil.
In this exhibition, Isaac Emokpae has worked tirelessly to depict the social and political climate in Nigeria using the flag as a symbolic focal point . Upon stepping into the gallery, we are greeted with a bubble wrap installation that is indicative of a Fragile country. Our nation is not bullet proof. It needs care, it needs us. If we do not act soon, it will implode. You see the broken cracks in Emokpae’s “A Fragile peace” 2021, which features the universally recognised face of the resistance, and how those who dare to stand up to the status quo are penalised. In ‘Be careful with our dreams 2022’, the artist explores yet another view of our flag as a green forest of Nigeria being bubble wrapped. This is especially poignant this opening week of the show as we hear reports of terrorist cells existing within the forests in the South West Region of Nigeria.
In the midst of all this chaos, we must not despair! In a similar way that the artist meticulously creates his stained glass pieces by layering the paint from, back too front, surface by surface, we can rebuild our nation. We are capable and we can put it right!
As you walk through the gallery, take note of the stars across “For Peace and prosperity, 2022” . It draws attention to those amongst us who, in spite of the insecurity and instability, are stellar examples of what it means to take ownership. Emokpae pays homage to hero’s like, Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoha, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dora Akinyuli, The Feminist Coalition & all the EndSars activists. In the piece, Emokpae made sure to include some stars that are missing, dimmed, bloody and broken; this is to show the disparity between each star. But in spite of this reality, some of us are still shinning bright, and are a sign of hope for others to keep believing in Nigeria.