This article was added by the user . TheWorldNews is not responsible for the content of the platform.

A Quartet’s Graphic Tales of a Nation in Throes of Despair


Four artists rail against the alarming rate of inflation and the burden of survival in Nigeria in an exhibition in a Lagos-based gallery. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

A collection of petrol jerrycans adorns the gallery walls, as does a section directly facing the entrance. These prepare the viewer for what to expect at this protest art exhibition, titled JE-KA-MI.

The exhibition’s title derives from the Yoruba expression for “Let us breathe,” an allusion to a viral comment made by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu saying “Let the poor breathe.”

Echoing the groans of many Nigerians who are finding the rising cost of living suffocating, four artists—namely Tobi Adebule, Tumininun Gbebire, Peter Okotor, and Mathew Oyedele—re-enact the story of Nigeria’s economic challenges in a way that resonates with average income earners and even business owners—with the aim of amplifying the voices of Nigerians on the clamour for favourable economic conditions.

For these artists, the rising fuel prices and the weakening of the local currency against the dollar are only the entry points to the other ripple effects caused by them, such as procuring expensive fuel, paying for electricity bills, and other daily essentials. For Tumininu Gbebire, the situation in Nigeria requires urgent attention. Using the jerry cans as a collage, she articulates her thoughts using newsprint pasted on each fuel can. “I personally like to tell stories with my art as a painter,” she says. “I thought it would be very interesting to tell stories through a collage. The newspapers are from different sources, but I had to put them together to create a message while creating jokes out of it.”

On how the hike in fuel prices directly affects her work as an artist, she says that she often works at night when the natural light is gone. Due to frequent power outages, she is forced to buy fuel at N20,000, which used to cost her only N5,000 before the increase. Aside from that, art materials have become more expensive, making her wonder how young artists from low-income households would cope in the absence of government funding for the arts.

The exhibition, according to Mathew Oyedele, a co-curator and additional artist, is intended to spark important discussions about how to better navigate the tides of inflation and keep the nation afloat rather than plunging into deeper levels of poverty. He explains how the sound installation at the concert emphasises the message of national concern using subtly humorous components. The show’s satirical tone is created via a mash-up of popular sounds taken from the president’s popular speeches. On September 17, when the exhibition opened, a corn vendor set up shop outside the gallery, parodying the president’s mention of maize in one of his widely shared campaign speeches. The entire body of art, according to Oyedele, is “provocative.”

“In this piece called ‘Family Photo,’ we are using the jerrycans as the representatives of the family because, if you look at it, in almost every home in Nigeria, there is a jerrycan for fuel. We are bringing all elements together to be like a family. The effect of fuel scarcity might not affect you directly, but it affects everything else. At the time that the fuel subsidy was removed, the price of everything else went up, from tomatoes to transportation. The income you are receiving seems not to be enough for your expenditures. The effect of inflation is affecting everything that you are buying.”

The exhibition, which runs until October 8, also preserves cultural memory with the installation titled “Up NEPA.” By assembling some old electric metres, unpaid bills, copies of electricity bills rolled into dangling plastic bottles, and a list of neighbours who are indebted to the power company, the artists carefully document a vivid account of living in Nigeria before the advent of pre-paid metres and the historic transition to the digital electricity billing system. Using everyday articles, the artists present a coherent story of hardship and survival woven through the parody of a fuel station. With a gallery manager dressed in a branded white shirt that replicates a fuel attendant’s type, the show paints a true picture of daily reality.

As for the founder of Galari, Tobi Adegbile, the show is the product of several brainstorming sessions with other artists of varying specialties with the same passion for socio-political change. Drawing attention to the justice scale and the fuel dispenser pump, he draws parallels between the fluctuating dollar-to-naira rate and the impact on the quality of life of every Nigerian.

“Everybody is affected regardless of who you are or our political differences,” he argues. “Everybody is affected by the price hike. The idea of the justice scale is to show how the dollar is the determining factor in our economy. In just three years, we went from N260 to N900 to a dollar. This has affected the pump price for fuel. Those were the ideas that inspired the justice scale.”

Those postcard-sized images may not have allowed the audience to be engulfed in emotion too deeply, but they speed through tales of poverty like a film reel. Through this photographic series, the artists recount episodes of the daily struggles of Nigerians as they commute to their places of work and residence. Indeed, the strength of the collective lies in its ability to poke fun at the oddity of being a Nigerian by inviting visitors to the gallery to pose with the installation of used fuel kegs and spray paints arranged in a pyramid of sorts, daring each one to put on a brave smile like ‘Sizwe Bansi.’