John and June Allcott Gallery: I Be Person I No Be Number
October 1 @ 8:00 am - October 26 @ 5:00 pm
Closing Reception: October 25, 5-7 pm
As Mogens Herman Hansen has argued, freedom as relates to independence might even be contrary to democracy. The birth of democracy in ancient Greece gave the modern age a tool for governance that has morphed into a process or practice now manipulated by politicians or states in order to suit their purposes. The concept of living as one pleased without being subjugated by the “elected” autocrats has relative meanings and implications in different countries across the world.
Most developed nations have hinged their successes on the democratic principles of liberty and the philosophy of freedom of expression. On the other hand, most developing countries have engaged their citizens through different forms of control and rule (also known as democracy). African countries since independence have grappled with elements of this ideology but ended up perpetuating their leaders in government for many years without a tangible impact on the population. This has led to inefficient use of both natural and human resources, which have hindered the growth and development of societies and economies. Therefore, the term “democracy” may be seen as a relative concept as groups and governments can apply it differently in order to suit their political agenda.
For “democratic” constitutions to fulfill their purpose they must serve as platforms for marginalized and deviant groups to project their voices in matters that relate to sexuality, gender classifications and stereotypes, religion, migration, economics, politics and other social issues in the current global discourse. Therefore “democratic” constitutions should aim to serve as a charter (or a body of law) that is used by states as a guide to good governance and ensuring the protection of citizens’ rights.
Nigeria and other African countries (as emerging economies) often come under the prism and critical attention of human rights watchers concerning free speech and the appropriation of democratic tenets. Nigeria became a pariah state in the 1980s under dictatorial military rule, which suppressed the citizens’ civil rights and their access to a democratic constitution. The country returned to democratic rule in 1999 after a thirty-three year military rule.
The exhibition “I Be Person I No Be Number” hopes to investigate how civil liberty groups and human rights movements have become potent platforms in the hands of ordinary citizens and their impact on dictatorial rule. Its aim is to highlight the friction between the two opposing forces – the people’s yearning for freedom and the underhand machinations of corrupt leaders. These groups have remained in the forefront of Nigerian democracy since independence. The project will also explore questions on leadership, the role of citizens and their ability to challenge political authorities in state affairs.
More importantly, it is a visual interrogation of Nigeria’s political evolution as relates to the citizens’ rights as Hegel noted when he spoke of freedom in philosophical and practical (political) terms. Nigerian visual artists have in sundry times played critical roles in the interrogation of Nigeria’s democracy and leadership in relation to citizens’ freedom. This was particularly the case following the events of June 12, 1993, after the annulment of the democratic mandate given to Moshood Abiola by the electorate. And during the uproar and backlash against President Goodluck Jonathan in the fuel subsidy “Occupy Nigeria” protests in 2011. The resulting impasse on both occasions paralyzed the economy and the government. The government’s insensitivity to the people’s wishes was an aberration of citizens’ rights of enfranchisement. Photography became an important medium through which the people’s voices (and especially group protests) were projected to domestic and international audiences. The orchestration of these events and their impact on the national psyche was such that the administration succumbed to this civil non-compliance in the 2011 crisis.
This exhibition aims to present diverse viewpoints and voices from a group of emerging photographers in Nigeria, with their unique individuality, style and vision. They will explore (in some degree) the idea of freedom (in the Nigerian context) including freedom of expression, enfranchisement, the relative meaning of democracy and its varied application in different milieus, the humanity of freedom and its attendant numerical implications in an emerging nation-state like Nigeria.
Art & Culture Producer | Visual Artist | Curator
Director, The Nlele Institute, Lagos, Nigeria
The exhibition is organized by Carol Magee, Gesche Würfel, and Makiah Belk as a partnership between The Nlele Institute and the Department of Art & Art History. This show will run in conjunction with the For Freedoms | 50 States Initiative.
About For Freedoms: Founded in 2016 by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman, For Freedoms is a platform for creative civic engagement, discourse, and direct action. Inspired by American artist Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (1941)—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—For Freedoms’ exhibitions, installations, and public programs use art to deepen public discussions on civic issues and core values, and to advocate for equality, dialogue, and civic participation. As a nexus between art, politics, commerce, and education, For Freedoms aims to inject anti-partisan, critical thinking that fine art requires into the political landscape through programming, exhibitions, and public artworks. In 2018, For Freedoms launched the 50 State Initiative: the largest creative collaboration in U.S. history.
Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 am-5 pm
Image credit: Obasola Bamigbola, People With Voices, 2018