Sunday, 31 March 2013

'Circus of Encounter' against Niger Delta stereotypes

As a picture is said to worth a thousand word, a group of photographers known as f/stopCollective is set to prove that there are better stories to tell of the Niger Delta than militancy and oil spillage.

From some of the Niger Delta cities, the photographers Perez Tigidam (Port Harcourt), Ebiware Okiy (Benin), Israel Ophori (Ugeli), Tuoyo Omagba (Asaba) and Timipre Willis Amah (Yenagoa) will on Saturday March 23 to April 6, at Quintessence Gallery, Falomo, Lagos exhibit exotic photographs under the theme, Circus of Encounter.
Wonders of Niger Delta from Nchaka FestivalOmoke, Rivers State. 

Some of the images to be on display, include across actual representational scenes taken at festival, landscapes and conceptual or composite images, from which members of f/stopCollective explores the cultural values of the troubled region. The aim, they state, is to drawing the world’s attention away from oil and focus on creativity as well as tourism.

Digging into myth, Tigidam brings the aquatic legendary creature, Mamiwater – a local version of Mermaid  – into contemporaneity. It’s a photo composite that places a costumed-model against painterly skyline. Titled Mamiwater Monolugue Study 1, the picture could have been a pullout from any travel and tour magazine for A-list destinations of exotic islands anywhere in the world. From a low angle shot, Tigidam’s capture of Mamiwater on a boat sailing over water that bounces light into space for a convergence of reflection between the blue sky and the lady’s white costume, indicates that indeed, there are still some parts of the region not yet violated by oil explorations.

In the festival-related images, works such as Omoke Dancers, acrobatic and highly costumed displays; Omunguaru, King Koko Festival, Nembe, a boat regatta; Masqurade Dance from the Creeks, Gbaramatu; and a procession for traditional rulers in Benin by Okiy stress the people’s rich cultural value, even in the diversity of languages and other challenges. 

Perhaps, some of the most fascinating photographs of landscapes and skylines from the Niger Delta, in recent times, come from the camera of Amah. He, however, laments that “unfortunately, the Niger Delta is only known for militancy”. To change the perception, even among the people, the theme of the exhibition, he explains “is therefore based on the beauty of the people, their culture and natural environment”.

And despite the environmental degradation caused by oil exploration, Ophori argues that there are still quite a number of places with their natural features. “We still have beautiful environment in places like Bonny Island, Agbar Otor and others, which we hope to showcase to the world.”

Aside the natural ambience of the environment, which the f/stopsCollective projects, there are the abundance of human resources, particularly in the creative areas such as performances. This much is captured in Wonders of Niger Delta, from Nchaka Festival (Omoke, Rivers State), in a display of perceptive illusion by a young man who seems to have passed a bar through his mouth.
  For a region known to have produced some of the creative minds in Nigeria across arts and culture genres, Amah states the gathering of f/stopsCollective “is to remind the people about the beauty of the land as en extension of the contribution of others like Late Rex Lawson and Ken Saro Wiwa and Kelechi Amadi Obi to creativity in the land”. 

The choice of art, he adds, was crucial as “art allows the freedom of diversity and difference to find form and purpose in the contradiction and complexities of human existence.” The ultimate goal, he adds, is to build a new Niger Delta, via the arts “that can withstand the challenges of the future.”

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