Sunday, September 20, 2009

Okorodus Exhibits Immigraliens at the Harmattan Gallery

By Mary Ekah

The word, Immigraliens, is coined from the word, “Immigrants” and “Aliens”, two words that accentuate the chasm between two worlds. For some reasons, people move around for the purpose of work, for studies, and more specialised forms of knowledge or political asylum across borders. But for some reasons, a lot of them lack the legal means to embark on such journey and therefore devise other means, including illegal means to ensure they embark on the desperate search for greener pastures. Most often, they are regarded as illegal immigrants in the countries they move to and are usually discriminated against. So they keep moving on and on without definite destinations.
Over the years, living in Europe as an African artist, Godfrey Williams Okorodus has seen first hand the problems that immigrants encounter.
“People come to Europe for different reasons and sometimes when they get there, their aspirations are not met and so they are left in the hand of the authorities who torture them.”
Okorodus who has lived in Europe for about seven years and had run an art gallery for that period, feel that with his sculptured Immigraliens series, he would be able to sensitise the public both in Europe and Nigeria on the need to treat immigrants with a little bit of respect.
He started the campaign in June last year with an exhibition held in October on the same theme in Brussels and right now the exhibition is ongoing in his Gallery Labalaba in Antwerp, Belgium.
“I am the only African that runs a gallery in Antwerp, Belguim, and over the years, we have been able to show Africans from all over the continent, mostly African living in Europe and also African artists based in Africa. This campaign must be a two front thing because on the one hand you have immigrants living in Europe and the only thing we can do is to find ways to educate them on the society and also to let society know that when people are immigrants in your country, you should treat them with a bit of respect, even though we aware there are a lot of people who do not contribute in any way to the society. The problem that I have noticed over the years is that everybody seems to be lumped into one sum. So, you are an immigrant, they don’t care why you are there and what made you leave your country”, Okorodus noted.
So with this exhibition here in Nigeria, Okorodus intends to enlighten the government and also the youth on the problems they are likely to face in their final destination.
The immgraliens series are ten in number with each one carrying a mask (its identity). Reason: Okorodus notes that when people leave the shores of their land, they become anonymous. There is a particular sculpture with the words: “Good day sir, I am here, it took a while but here I am, desert crossed, checkpoints dodged, friends lost, always fearful, always hoping. I am here no name, anonymous, no country, just a limbo child, when I am tired I will go back, I come in peace”. This he calls the Limbo Child. “When you don’t have any where to go, you are in a limbo and most immigrants end up in the limbo state. And that limbo state is psychologically damaging to any individual.
“It is really a confusing state and I have seen people in that state for 15 years, and in that time you lose a lot of things and after a while you find that you have not been able to do anything constructive.”
Apart from the sculptured Immigraliens series, Okorodus also has other paintings like Nude Maskerade, Poker Face, Queen of Slums, The Loser, The Joker, and several others.
“Our youths must arm themselves before traveling out of the country and the best way to do is through education. I have a feeling our government is not doing enough in that respect. I might be wrong but I don’t see any sign from the government telling the youths the problems they would face. Let us have people do documentaries showing the dangers of traveling without being prepared”, he said.
“Moreover, if we have a very conducive environment here like stable electricity supply, stable government and most things working, people will not feel the compulsion to want to leave the country. But because we always seek for greener pasture and for a lot of youths, living abroad is the utopia, which sadly is not. I think that if I am able to convince one or two people, I have succeeded. And if those two people also go ahead to spread the message, over time we would begin to see the impact”.
Okorodus is not particularly opposed to the idea of migrating. “Traveling is one of the best education one can give to oneself,” he said. “But it’s necessary to be prepared. That is all I want to get across to people. If everybody stays put in this country how would it be possible to broaden our mind? People should know about the rigours of the journey they intend to take because a lot of people don’t really have the idea of the distance and the terrain. A lot of the immigrant youth that you find in Europe do not have sound education, so they find themselves in a society where a lot of people there are educated and then find it difficult to get good jobs.”
Okorodus, an Itshekiri was born in Lagos and spent much of his adult life in Lagos. He attended the University of Benin where he graduated in 1992 with a degree in graphics and advertising. He worked with The Guardian as a cartoonist before its closure by the military authorities in 1994. From 1994 till now, he has been a full time studio artist. In 2002, he opened his gallery, Gallery Labalaba, an African Art gallery in Belgium. That he had to do because when he got to Belgium. “There was really no strong West African art influence in Belgium. Mostly I saw works from East African region, so I was compelled to open my gallery.”

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