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Nigeria’s social satirist Julius Agbaje uses a skilled, confrontational style to critique brutality, hypocrisy

Nigeria’s social satirist Julius Agbaje makes use of a talented, confrontational fashion to critique brutality, hypocrisy

In Nigeria, there’s an abundance of artists who criticise the political system, however many use solely summary photos, few achieve this in such a confrontational manner.

Nigeria's social satirist Julius Agbaje uses a skilled, confrontational style to critique brutality, hypocrisy

Julius Agbaje. Picture through Fb/julius.agbaje.35

Lagos: When in 2019 Nigerian painter Julius Agbaje depicted President Muhammadu Buhari because the Joker, he by no means imagined {that a} 12 months later, his portrait would grow to be an emblem of youth protest. His picture, Joke’s on You, displaying Buhari with a crimson nostril, white make-up and a terrifying smile, was the symbol of demonstrations towards police brutality that rocked the nation final October.

“At first it was a joke, only a provocation,” the 28-year-old artist mentioned in his tiny studio in a rundown district of Lagos. “Months after, this piece went viral, and resonated with a variety of youth.”

Even earlier than the Joker picture, Agbaje had already earned a spot on Nigeria’s vibrant cultural scene. He’s additionally one in all its most dedicated artists. “I all the time dare to problem issues, particularly wherever there’s injustice. I like to be provocative, and artwork offers me a channel although (which) I may specific that vexation, to combat these injustices.”

Social satirist

Nigeria, with its 200 million inhabitants, might be thought-about Africa’s largest democracy, however it has barely turned the web page on its historical past of navy dictatorships. Greater than 20 years after its democratic transition, the nation stays tormented by corrupt politics, rampant poverty and violations of fundamental rights.

Between acrylic pots and worn brushes, Agbaje rolls out his canvases on the tiled ground of his studio for a customer. The “social satirist”, as he likes to name himself, Agbaje is aware of few taboos.

Take his portrait of a nun painted as a chimpanzee, with a nostril piercing, tattoo, and plunging neckline — dangerous content material in a rustic the place spiritual beliefs are sturdy and the place blasphemy is usually branded the worst of sins. “I wished to denounce the hypocrisy of faith in Nigeria,” says Agbaje, himself the son of a pastor and a trainer.

However the energy of his caricatures, that are as humorous as they’re surprising, can also be due to their technical ability. He discovered his craft on the oldest artwork faculty in Lagos, the Yaba School of Know-how, from the place he graduated in 2017.

His dexterity involves the fore in a portrait made with knives of two monkeys — the figures, sporting police helmets, are seen in mugshots, with indicators round their necks saying “homicide” and “duplicity & theft”. The diptych, entitled Good cop, Unhealthy cop, was produced lengthy earlier than final 12 months’s #EndSARS protests erupted over police brutality, and compelled the federal government to disband the SARS particular police brigade.

The picture is now on show at his artwork faculty’s museum. “Surprisingly sufficient so many individuals have reacted to this piece, it has drawn a variety of consideration and dialogue, and in addition received its personal nickname — ‘The Monkey Piece‘,” says his former trainer Odun Orimolade.

Trauma and artwork

The younger artist picked up his brushes once more when final 12 months’s youth protest motion was brutally suppressed. Amnesty Worldwide mentioned the military opened fireplace and killed no less than 10 folks, a cost the navy has denied.

From this “trauma” and “this anger” three work had been born. Removed from his caricatures, they’re maybe his most profitable, no less than his most poignant.

With a blood-red background, one in all them reveals a shirtless black man elevating his fist. Rather than his face, the artist painted a capturing vary goal riddled with bullets. On the bottom, upturned barricades recall these of the Lagos tollgate sales space the place the military allegedly opened fireplace on peaceable demonstrators.

“It’s an account of what occurred on the day as the federal government got here out to disclaim any hand within the matter,” he mentioned. “I felt it is very important doc the occasion with my artwork, for the sake of posterity.”

These are the “evils of his society” that the younger painter desires to combat together with his artwork.

In Nigeria, there’s an abundance of artists who criticise the political system, however many use solely summary photos, few achieve this in such a confrontational manner.

Amongst his influences, Agbaje cites the Nigerian performer Jelili Atiku, who denounced extrajudicial executions for years, resulting in his arrest in 2016. “It is scary to be sincere…, it have to be mentioned, as a result of I realise that some folks sacrificed earlier than I got here,” Agbaje mentioned. “And due to these sacrifices… I may even take pleasure in a few of this semblance of freedom that I loved at present, I really feel that’s my responsibility.”

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Updated: April 6, 2021 — 1:56 pm
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