Calabar, the cultural hub of Southern Nigeria was the destination for changemakers recently who gathered for the sake of tackling the challenge of gender-based violence (BGV). From July 12-16, 2022, a mix of about 30 participants, comprising GBV survivors, gender right advocates from civil society and public sectors, counsellors, community and youth leaders converged on the Women Development Centre, Calabar to leverage the therapeutic power of the arts in addressing gender-based violence. The concept of self-care was explored, to help GBV practitioners increase their self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, enhance social skills, and relieve stress while working with victims and survivors of GBV.
The project, dubbed Arts Against Gender-based Violence was facilitated by the Reciprocal Exchange component of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Supported by the US State Department and implemented by IREX, the event was a two-part programme featuring a training session and a mural painting segment.
Jennifer Corey and Aslı Arslanbek, the two scholars from Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA were hosted by 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, Timothy Undiandeye. It featured expressive dance therapy, art therapy, (magazine collage and mask therapy). With emphasis on encouraging self-reflection and expressiveness, the training set the tone for having difficult conversations, such as those encountered in GBV programming. Other artistic tools such as storytelling, beadwork, weaving and carnivals, were highlighted as skills that might be leveraged on by change makers to build more resilient communities. This is founded on the reality that creative arts speak in non-invasive ways that traditional communication may not.
The highlight of the project was the painting of the Zero Tolerance Mural for GBV, in collaboration with local artists. The mural is situated at Mary Slessor Avenue, near the Main Gate of University of Calabar.
While reflecting on the project, Undiandeye said that the goal is to remove the stigma that is associated with having such difficult conversations that are prone to judgmental remarks.
“But the arts have power to find common ground, bring down walls, and force crucial conversations that lead to reflection and positive change. Art unites us, regardless of our differences and experiences. I believe that tapping into the therapeutic power of the arts, and exploring the intersections of the arts with other disciplines holds burgeoning power to deliver non-linear solutions for many social problems. The Mandela Washington Fellowship has amplified my voice in using art as a tool for cultural diplomacy,’’ he remarked.