The Artists’ Way of Responding to Environmental Issues

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Since the 1920s which drew a historical mark between traditional and modern art practices on the African continent, Africa has continued to produce great artists that their works have had tremendous positive impact as well as contributed to solving great issues of serious concern to ‘man’ and ‘earth’. While some of the issues contained in the works of modern Nigerian artists seek to address pure social problems caused by man’s (human) relationship with one another in the society, others issues essentially focus on man’s relationship to the environment. It was on social grounds, for example, that Akinola Lasekan (one of the pioneers of modern art in Africa) made his mark by using the opportunity offered by the decolonization process in Africa to create thought provoking works to sensitize the local populace. His works (cartoons and paintings) were a reflection of the socio-political conditions as well as needs of the African people as against the imperial powers.

On the other hand, contemporary Nigerian artists like Jerry Buhari have expressed a great concern over the nature of the unhealthy relationship between man and earth, especially as the depleting condition of the earth’s resources (due to human activities) poses a great threat to its inhabitants. The body of works presented in the exhibition: ‘Man and Earth (2009)”, held in Goethe-Institut, Lagos, reveal a great deal of this. “My works at the moment fostered a continuing dialogue that”, according to the Buhari, “started in 1992 with an abstract landscape painting of a ravage forest”. The exhibition (Man and Earth) was a visual statement expressing the hostile relationship of man and the environment and the need to use the God given resources without endangering the earth’s inhabitants.

In order to capture this artistically, Buhari’s “Decay and Regeneration” is suggestive of the kind of relationship that man should have with the earth by engaging the planet symbiotically rather than the destructive ways of tapping its resources, which are neither beneficial to the earth nor its inhabitants. One of the works produced by Buhari in 2009 that has a unifying effect upon this phenomenon (issues of environmental concern) is “Tablets of Meditation”. The work is produced by cutting a log of wood into series of round slabs of varying sizes which are probably painted or dyed in black colour. The use of black, in this case, is deliberate and can be said to connote two things. First, it seeks to show how humanity heats up the earth and make it uncomfortable for the living; this in makes man to fall prey of his activities. Secondly, the black is symbolically representing death caused by the illnesses commonly linked to pollution of the earth due to man’s (industrial) activities. For example, deforestation has eaten deep into the northern part of Nigeria, leaving a bare land for desert encroachment which has already claimed acres of land. In the Niger-Delta, gas flaring and water pollution due to oil activities have remained the major challenge of the people.
This indeed calls for a time of meditation.

As African artists have joined the campaign to help address environmental issues bothering the world, the relevant authorities should act not only by formulating laws but also by ensuring that, such laws are adequately enforced for the benefit of the living. It is only through this way that the world would be a safe place for man.

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