The work of nine Nigerian photography students is being featured in the John and June Allcott Gallery. Titled “I Be Person I No Be Number,” the exhibition explores issues of democracy and human rights in Nigeria.
The exhibit is the result of a partnership between the UNC Department of Art and Art History and the Nlele Institute, which aims to educate and develop the skills of budding photographers in Nigeria and throughout Africa. Uche Okpa-Iroha, the director of the Nlele Institute, taught the students whose work is being shown.
The exhibition is also a result of a collaboration between the art department, the Click! Photography Festival and the For Freedoms initiative. Okpa-Iroha'sstudents were asked to respond to For Freedoms’ mission to use art to encourage public discussion of political issues and values.
UNC professors Gesche Würfel and Carol Magee organized the exhibition. Both have past experience working with African photographers. Last year, Würfel created an exhibition with the Market Photo Workshop, a photography organization in South Africa. Magee, who was working with Okpa-Iroha on her own project at the time, brought him in to do a panel discussion on the exhibition.
This year, Würfel and Magee decided to create a show featuring Okpa-Iroha’s students. Makiah Belk, a senior political science and English double major and studio art minor, helped organize the exhibition as part of an independent study.
“It was really cool that we got to bring something like this to UNC,” Belk said. “I feel like we don’t really hear about black conscious movement in other parts of the world and in places with budding democracies and budding economics. The political movements there are a little bit more on the ground, and so the fact that we get to tell their stories here and kind of give insight to what is happening both politically and culturally there — I feel like it was a unique opportunity.”
Würfel said it was purposeful that the exhibition coincides with the upcoming midterm elections in the United States. She said she hopes the exhibition both teaches people about the current situation in Nigeria and encourages them to participate in their democracy.
Magee and Würfel also emphasized that the work on display is by students. Würfel said it is important to bring over work by students and not just established artists. Magee said she hopes UNC students will be curious to come and see what photography students from another country are doing.
Adedeji Olalekan, one of the featured artists, did a project focused on a week-long protest in 2012 called “Occupy Nigeria.” Citizens took to the streets to protest the rule of the People’s Democratic Party, which had been in control since 1999. Olalekan titled the project “The Day Nigerians Stood Against Oppression, In Favour of Good Governance.”
“In an attempt to keep the memory alive and remind the citizens of a well-fought victory, that I profiled some of the memorable events in picture format with the above title,” Olalekan said in a statement.
Themes the artists explored include human rights movements, corruption, freedom of speech, senior citizens’ rights, the media and the evolution of Nigerian politics.
Another student, Israel Aigberadion, said in a statement, “What if the government chosen by the people for the people, is not of the people. Does that kind of government still count as a Democratic one?”
Würfel, Magee and Belk said that this exhibition is a learning opportunity for visitors.
“It’s understanding that people everywhere are dealing with issues that we deal with here — these ideas of rights to vote and corruption, or feeling marginalized or disenfranchised," Magee. "Those issues come up everywhere. These connections that we have with human beings that are very far away from us and that allow us to see people who we don’t know and we don’t anything about as people that we share commonalities with.”