Art as activism and community! Nigeria – Sokari Douglas Camp

I finally made it to an event in London after missing so many over the past 4 years. For me personally, attending the 11th memorial to the executed Ogoni 9 was special as it was an opportunity to meet with old friends and comrades some who I haven’t seen since the last one I attended in 1999.

The Nigerian bus sculptured out of steel by Sokari Douglas Camp is amazing and if you are in London over the next few weeks I suggest you make an effort to see it. I believe it will be at Goldsmiths College in Lewisham for a while and then will tour the country. One has to imagine Saro Wiwa riding the bus which is full of barrels of oil and spreading his message to the people, the Nigerian government and the oil companies. The message is:

I accuse the oil companies of practising genocide against the Ogoni people”

Art as activism, as a tool for transformation, as community is something that I have come across more and more over the past few months particularly whilst in South Africa. Sculpture, portraits, photography, art from “rubbish” speak to a different audience and have meaning beyond merely the aesthetic. In this instance, the bus through its visual and written message communicates to the people of Britian and consumers of oil who are then able to see the direct connection between their consumption and the consequence it has on the oil producing communities such as the Ogoni and others ethnic people in the Niger Delta and throughout the world.

One dissapointing aspect of the event was the speech by Ken Wiwa (Saro-Wiwa’s son) who in his words has “crossed the line” and moved to the other side and is now working for the Nigerian government promoting culture and art. His justification is that by working from the inside he will be able to bring about change. I do not agree and I know there are many in Ogoniland who also do not agree and cannot understand the choice he has made. I challenged him personally to explain to me how his work would in any way lead to the attainment of the aspirations and human rights sought by Ken Saro Wiwa and all the people of the Niger Delta. He could not answer and dismissed me by saying he had to talk to other people.

I say to him and anyone else who thinks they can effect change in this way by quoting the words of Audre Lorde

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”