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Creative inspirations from POINT OF NO RETURN

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BY OSA AMADI

The First Eko Art Expo organised by Lagos State Government as part of Lagos at 50 celebrations may have come and gone but the analysis and reviews of the artifacts and the creative ingenuity it engendered has barely been scratched. Among the art objects exhibited that night at the Eko Hotels & Suites is the melancholic, tear-evoking photograph of POINT OF NO RETURN taken from the ancient slave town of Badagry, Lagos.

School children on visit to POINT OF NO RETURN, Badagry

Badagry was founded around l425 A.D. The original inhabitants lived along the coast of Gberefu, bordered on the south by the Gulf of Guinea and surrounded by islands, lakes and creeks. Badagry made a lot of contributions to the old Oyo Empire. Presently, the Awori and Egun people are the main occupants of this ancient slave town.

Between 1500 and 1787 over half a million Africans were forcefully exported to Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. One of the artists keeping this history alive through her work is Ndidi Dike. Her works give a glimpse into one of Africa’s dark historical periods. For Dike, the trans-atlantic slave trade that spanned over 400 years still bears significance to Africa’s historical and economic development. Unfortunately, Africa is still suffering from the crippling effects of that inhuman trade.

Slavery is largely responsible for the under-development of Africa because it was targeted at young and able-bodied men who are usually the agents of change and civilisation of every society. Africa, till this day, has not recovered from this disruption of its civilisation.

At the core of this renowned artist’s installation art are the twin evils of man’s inhumanity to man and the economic gains that triggered the evil trade. She captures vividly in various media the trade in Africans, the terrible conditions the slaves were put while being transported to Europe and America, and the imprint of the trade till date in various forms.

According to Dike, Africa’s collective forgetfulness about this horrendous trafficking in their ancestors, their inability to transform that dark episode into historical and economic advantages, pose for her the most tragic aspect of that experience. It is this, more than any other thing that inspired her to create Waka-into Bondage: The last ¾ Mile, an epical exploration in visual art form, the slave trade saga and what can be excavated, like an archeologist, of  this mass rape of a continent, 200 years after the abolishment of the trade.

‘I guess it comes down to our notorious collective amnesia,’ Ndidi said in reference to the fact that no gain has come out of the slave trade saga to better Africans’ living conditions. One major way Africans can benefit from that historical cataclysm is to establish Badagry town as an international tourist center, and the people who will do it are black people. Every black person on earth ought to visit Badagry for inspirations.

Such inspiration accrued to Ndidi Dike when she visited Badagry in 2002 and 2007. “I visited Badagry in 2002 to see the slave route through which large numbers of our people were taken to the Americas to work daily for long hours on plantations under subhuman conditions,” she said sadly. “During that visit, I knew I was standing face to face with history. I went back in 2007 and knew I wanted to capture in a dramatic visual form, this cataclysmic episode in human history. No one can visit Badagry without being moved by this ignoble part of our history or by the consequences of man’s humanity.”

Her works  include Dwellings, Doors and Windows, No Easy Walk to Freedom,  Voyage, Economic Fabric, Forced Migrations, Lost Identities, A Drop in the Ocean, and  One Way.

Voyage is a canoe half filled with blood – the blood of slaves, both slaves who died and those  jettisoned into the sea. Another canoe is captured in One Way. The body of this particular canoe is coated with sugar while the inside is filled with sugar, cowries, and bottles of schnapps – the reasons for the rape of a whole continent.

Her other works are reconstructed harbours, the confinements containing manacles, copper nails, metal sheets, manila, wires, hinges, mirrors, bottles and chains – symbols of the dark era of slave trade. Another one is titled Economic Fabric – a textile piece on which is woven the economic reasons for the trade in humans. All forms of ancient objects: manila, cowries, mirrors, schnapps, manacles, and chains, bearing testimonies to the tragic episode of the inhuman trade.

Perhaps the worst of all slaveries is the mental slavery presently gnawing at the identity of Africans who have been subtly indoctrinated to disparage and abandon their cultural identities in preference for western cultural practices. Through the media, African youths have been taught that foreign cultures are better than African cultures; that the African languages are not good enough.

How many parents in Lagos, for instance, have taken their children to Badagry to see the ancient slave town? But every long school vacation, these parents fly their kids to Europe, America, and Dubai to spend their holidays. This development will not be acceptable to Africans. We must return home, even if we have gotten to the point of no return.

As this piece being written (Thursday, May 04, 2017) news broke from Associated Press (AP) that “the Florida gay nightclub that was the site of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history will become a memorial and museum to comfort the bereaved now and educate future generations about the importance of tolerance, the club’s owner said Thursday. “What began as a place for fun and joy is now sacred ground,”

That was a nightclub where Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexsuals,and Transgenders used to meet. If the Florida gay nightclub could be a museum and a ‘sacred ground’, why can’t our own  Badagry, Lagos, stand as a monument to remind Africans all over the world of that historical harvock inflicted on her by whitemen? Why can’t Badagry become a money- spinner for Nigeria as an international tourism destination? It’s up to us all.

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