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Fighting Rape with Messages on the Wall
With its mural art tour project, the Girl Child Art Foundation aims at enlisting the support of various community’s support to end sexual violence against the female gender. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports
IIsn’t it gratifying that art is increasingly being used to combat sexual violence? This is despite the apocalyptic scenario that provides this evil with ever more fresh nourishment, which helps it perpetuate itself like an endless chain. Therefore, it is little wonder that willing human tools are continually enlisted in the service of the contents of fluttering, hideous ethereal forms, which coalesce into dark thunderclouds of evil for their crudest perpetration.
Spearheading the activism against this scourge in the local scene, the Girl Child Art Foundation (GCAF), with its coterie of female artists, has executed three recent mural projects in three communities across Lagos and Enugu states, with the hope of organising more in other parts of Nigeria. The idea behind this project, according to the GCAF’s founder and executive director, Adaobi Onyejike-Ananaba, is “to reduce sexual violence and increase community support toward ending sexual violence against women and girls.”
Other key activities of the project, in addition to the mural painting art tour, include face-to-face conversations and concept creation on sexual violence with key stakeholders at the community level, as well as campaigning and lobbying at the community level. “Young women and girls led these activities with support from men and other stakeholders,” Onyejike-Anannaba explains. “We want to increase community support toward ending sexual violence against women and girls using art.”
With daily incidences of rape of young women and girls in both urban and rural communities across Nigeria, a project like GCAF’s could not have come at a better time. Its four artist workshops, which were recently held, introduced the artists to the community while exploring talks with muralists about providing a safe and fair space for young women and girls. Beyond addressing issues bordering on SVAW (Stop Violence Against Women), it also seeks economic empowerment for the potential victims in the local creative industry. “Ensuring that girls can exercise their rights, pursue their dreams, learn skills and have opportunities to thrive in their dream careers will economically strengthen women’s bodily rights,” Onyejike-Anannaba continues. “This project highlights the power of art in advocacy. The mural brings the campaign regularly into the face of everyone who sees it.”
So far, the GCAF’s mural art tour has been held at two locations in Lagos—the Christ Church Cathedral Primary School, CMS, Lagos Island; and No. 2 Shoyemi Close in Bamako Estate in Ojodu area—and in Enugu. For the Lagos Island mural project, it worked with the following artists: Glory Chisom Ezechukwu, Funmilayo Tejumola, Olamide Bakare, Thywill Olude, Caroline Useh, Chidi Chukwu, and Tabugbo Aniebonam. Five artists—namely, Ogochukwu Ejiofor Ndubuisi, Bertha Onyekachi, Omolara Elizabeth Adenugba, Fasilat Omolola Eletu, and Taiye Erewele—were on the Bamako Estate project. As for the Enugu project, it featured artists like Juliet Chukwuma, Queendaline Odo, Ozioma Aniekwe, Florence Mba, Florence Chukwuma, Chukwuemeka Nwodo, Kingsley Eze, Williams Ejim, Chisom Emese, Stephen Chukwuemeka, Chidi Chukwu Ewa, and Ukie Ogbonnia.
On the impact of the mural art tour, the organisers estimate that with over 5,000 community members in Lagos State openly speaking out against sexual violence against women and girls while enjoying the painting, incidents of sexual assault will have been minimised. The same could be said of Enugu, notably the campus community of the Institute of Management and Technology Enugu, with over 3500 community members actively coming out against sexual abuse against women and girls.
In addition, the GCAF enthuses about the support of the male community leaders in both Lagos and Enugu, as well as the open sharing of experiences of rape in their communities by seven participants.
Although it was established in 2002, the GCAF only began full operations in 2003. This was initially in Enugu and Anambra states before spreading to other parts of Nigeria, including Lagos State, where it now has its head office. Its ideas centre on the initiative, which aims to combat poverty by giving marginalised girls a platform to discover their innate creative talents, cultivate them via art education, and also make a living to sustain themselves. In order to achieve this, it offers free after-school professional training courses in the visual, performing, literary, and digital arts to females between the ages of 8 and 24 in an effort to educate and inspire them. Young women and girls are educated about the arts and exposed to professional arts-related activities, performances, and after-school programmes where they can interact and express themselves or share ideas with artists. “Our practical studio work and project-based programmes expose young girls to rewarding careers and help them develop marketable art-related job skills,” Onyejike-Ananaba says. “We also offer free career counselling classes and support them in becoming changemakers using the art platform.”
In addition to its employees, GCAF uses partners and volunteers for these programmes. Its distinctive style of “artivism” or art advocacy has brought it honours and recognition on the local and international levels, including the 2008 Patricia Blunt Koldyke Fellow of the Year award from the Chicago Council on the Arts in the United States for inspiring Africa’s children: development and education through the arts, as well as coverage of its initiatives in FORBES online magazine as one of Africa’s organisations educating girls using the arts.
Meanwhile, the organisation has grown from gathering eight girls under a mango tree to classrooms, museum spaces, and eventually its own rented space, with over 5000 youths benefitting from its various programmes. “It has earned great acceptance and testimonials from beneficiaries with a clearer dream career path.”
Over time, its mentoring of young girls included free holiday training classes on life skills focusing on global issues. It began as a volunteer effort with no financial backing and has since extended to over 200 primary and secondary schools in Nigeria. Its three Nigerian states’ centres run programmes in over 200 villages, and despite reaching hundreds of young women aged 8 to 25, the organisation continues to set higher goals. As for its pioneer members, who were aged between 8 and 16 in 2003, they now hold positions in various organisations, mostly as directors and leaders.
It has also collected over 1,000 artworks from young people all over Nigeria and beyond, as a testament to its use of painting and sculpture, as well as music and dance, as catalysts for social transformation.
Among GCAF’s recent programmes were an art competition titled Behind the Mask: My Voice, Our Equal Future in 2020, We Believe You (a virtual group art exhibition held from November 18 to December 8, 2020), and My Body, My Body (as part of the celebration of women’s bodies and rights on World AIDS Day in 2017).
Two decades on, the GCAF prides itself on its achievements so far. Looking back as the foundation’s founder, Onyejike-Ananaba says the seeds of the foundation were sown early in her life. As the first of eight children, fate thrust upon her the burden of being a de facto carer and childminder. “Although my father was a medical doctor and my mother a health-science teacher, they subscribed to the traditional belief that a male child was more valuable to the family. The female child could not extend the family lineage or name and thus should not inherit anything.”
Despite having educated parents who ensured that she was educated, she realised that her career path had already been mapped out for her. “It was inconceivable that I could even have a say in my life or make choices. I found myself guided down the path of becoming a medical doctor, although I had no affinity or passion for science subjects. I’m glad to say the universe gave me the opportunity to pursue my passion for art. Looking around, I realised that many girls were not as fortunate as I had been.”
Her resolve to change the narrative for her gender led to the creation of GCAF, which has helped numerous girls to find their voice, a listening ear and freedom of expression without condemnation or judgement.
As a full-time studio artist, Onyejike-Ananaba specialised in screen printing and pattern creation for textiles, and she also co-founded Peculiar Instincts Limited, a Nigerian design consultation organisation. She holds professional qualifications from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia; Wageningen University in the Netherlands; St. FX University’s Coady Institute in Canada; and NSCAD University in Halifax, Canada, in addition to a Master’s degree.
In Nigeria, she has worked with a variety of groups, including individuals with disabilities, orphans and vulnerable children, and young women and girls. She also planned and directed expressive art therapy initiatives for the US Mission in Nigeria as part of the PEPFAR media project and as a consultant art therapist for IOM United Nations Migration, Nigeria. She, as a Gratitude Network Fellow, has shared her experiences in over 30 countries.