One of the works from HERE Campaign
With statistics indicating 95 per cent assailants being males, and females making up 80 per cent of the victims, with 60 per cent said to be below 18 years of age, there is indeed an alarming rate of sexual violence in Nigeria. This is not help by a culture of silence, rights abuses and denial.
These statistics, written boldly on the wall, as part of the exhibits at Stand To End Rape Initiative (STER) photography exhibition titled HERE Campaign bring onto the public space the importance of collective efforts to confront the growing monster known as sexual violence. Still ongoing till May 14, 2017 at Revolving Art Incubator (RAI), Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island, Lagos, the exhibition is centrally in photography, but it has sound and dolls installations as well.
As a social intervention, the exhibition also adds to the vocabulary of photography as a powerful medium in visual communication. Portraits of unidentified figures, either veiled or pictured in half shots, against backgrounds of painterly vegetation, are no doubt enough to generate curiosity. But not exactly enough: combined composite quality and the aesthetics value of the photographs as well as installations of dolls along the staircase of the exhibition space add to the concept’s narrative energy.
In some of the portraits, the actual victims, according to the organisers, The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs and STER), are pictured to tell their own story. What story? It’s the tragic story of being someone else’s prey for forceful pleasure. More worrisome, the victim of such bestial act is often neglected by the larger society. These are common experiences among the victims whose stiries make the contents of the exhibition.
Courtesy of the creative director at RAI, Jumoke Sanwo, the photography exhibits explain – both in composite and choice of pink colour as costumes – the depth of emotion that victims of sexual violence go through. And with the audio installation of as complementary creative contents in the background, the HERE exhibition, no doubt, gives voice to victims of sexual violence.
But giving voice to the victims is not enough; the scourge should not just be reduced, but eradicated, Head, pychotherapy, of STER, Amanda Iheme, told visitors during the opening of the exhibition. After several years of working with STER to help victims regain mental stability, Amanda shared her experience: “A victim asked me: ‘why did this happen to me?’ Carrying out post-assault counseling, she noted that most of the victims are traumatised such that they can’t “functions in the society like we do,” except there is social intervention.
If it is such a beautiful thing to have consensual relationship, “one wonders why anyone would want to rape the other person to derive pleasure,” Iheme echoed what is usually on everyone’s mind and challenged the society to be collectively alive to the plight of victims.
Rehabilitating rape victims, she argued, is a task for all, adding, “Everybody needs to assist the victims to get back their life.”
The ultimate goal really, she added, is that “we are not trying to reduce rape, but stop it completely,” saying it is not just the responsibility of specific professionals like her. “All of us here can be a psychotherapist in our own little way by talking to victims of rape.”
Earlier, during the opening, a director, Human Right and Advocacy at TIERs, Omolara Oriye, stated that as the organisers of the exhibition, “we represent interests of the survival of sexual violence and their experience: how it happened and where.”
Interestingly, the Executive Director at STER Initiative, Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, claimed that her experience of being a victim of sexual violence seven years ago led to the project being conceived from her desk. She recalled having the idea on how to use art to draw attention to the plight of sexual violence victims.
“I was a victim of sexual violence and this is the story of my survival,” she said. “Some of them in the pictures are the real victims.”
Executive Director at TIERs, Olumide Makanjuola, chided the society for often blaming the victims, especially the women on the way they dress, for example. He argued that society must allow people to be who they are. Physically abused persons, he noted, are also victims of “power game.”
As contentious as it sounds to urge the society to allow people absolute freedom to choose to be whoever they want to be, it is, however, salient to mould a society based on the right values. Perhaps within that context, Makanjuola warned, “we don’t have to agree with people, but violence should not be the way out.”
He cited some odd cases of women who the rapists believed behaved like men, and the best way to make such females feel like woman was to rape them.
As an alternative art space, RAI, in the short period of its existence, has also given a voice to under-represented artistic expressions, particularly of the conceptual kind such as the HERE Campaign.
When RAI opened last year, Sanwo stated that the initiative was a partnership with the Silverbird Group in setting the pace for subsequent art interventions in public spaces all across Nigeria.
And this year, the space has shown Visual Representations: Past and Present, a photography exhibition that featured Matiu Idang, Bernard Kalu, Aderemi Adegbite and ASIRI magazine, among other outings. A few months ago, it showed its second exhibition with installation and ceramic by May Okafor in the artist’s first solo titled ‘Of Consummates And Cannibalism.’
And perhaps the space could just be a medium to make art more relevant in changing the thinking of policy makers towards a better environment. In a press statement, Sanwo said she hoped the exhibition would generate the right conversation that influences positive actions from lawmakers, law enforcers, and the community; that’s what they are trying to communicate.
What has dolls got to do with the thematic focus of rape victims? “As memory, it triggers, evoking times past when acts of turning humans into rudimentary play objects, to violate, impose values upon and discard without recourse to the emotional transmission of pain evoked by the general populace, was frowned upon,” Sanwo stressed.
On the effect of violence to the larger society, she argued: “The impact of violation is felt individually and communally,” particularly truncating community values, which every society need for co-habitation. “The subjects, some of whom are representations and others individuals, who have undergone physical and mental forms of violation, serve as reminders of the status of normalcy acts of rape and violence now enjoy.
“In collaboration with STER and TIERS, we have put together an exhibit with the hope that it will generate the right conversations, actions and policies required to rid society of this menace.”
Excerpts from the organisers’ profile indicates: TIERs is a Nigeria-based registered, non-for-profit organisation working to protect and promote the human rights of sexual minorities nationally and regionally. We’re committed to bringing about a society that is free from discrimination and harm on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. We work towards this goal through education, empowerment and engagement with the many publics in Nigeria. We were founded in 2005 as a response to the discrimination and marginalisation of sexual minorities in both HIV prevention programming and mainstream human rights work. We currently have 11 full time members of staff and over 50 volunteer peer educators.