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55 years after, Asaba memorial inspires remembrance, communal healing

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
27 November 2022   |   4:29 am
Fifty-Five years after innocent Asaba indigenes were callously massacred in the fratricidal Nigerian Civil War, the first major show on this tragic contour opens today at Red Door Gallery...

Enotie Ogbebor, Untitled, 2018, Oil on canvas, 36 X 47.5 inches

Fifty-Five years after innocent Asaba indigenes were callously massacred in the fratricidal Nigerian Civil War, the first major show on this tragic contour opens today at Red Door Gallery, on Bishop Oluwole Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. The show ends December 7, 2022.

Produced by A Whitespace Creative Agency, the exhibition is majorly the effort of Asaba Memorial Committee, and convened by Chief Chuck Nduka-Eze – the Isama Ajie of Asaba.

Featuring works by over 20 artists, including Ben Enwonwu, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Olumide Onadipe, Victor Ehikamenor, Sadiq Ajibola Williams, Joseph Ogbeide, Kainebi Osahenye, Stacey Ravvero, Ade Bakare, Enotie Ogbebor, Adekusibe Odunfa, Ozangeobuoma, Prince Orlu, Adiza Nzekwe, Kanye Okeke, Elizabeth Ekpetorson, Tiffany Annabelle-Davies, Ayoola Gbolahan, Naomi Oyeniyi, Marcia Martins DaRosa, Rom Isichei, Duke Asidere, Kelani Abass, Juliet Ezenwa Maja-Pearce, Ade Odunfa, Lekan Onabanjo, Philip Nzekwe and Anthony Nwalupue, the show reflects a variety of media including paper works, oil paintings and sculpture.

A captivating selection of work by Nigerian artists that provokes awareness and recognition of this tragic moment of Nigeria’s history, the show aims to support the development of Asaba Memorial Park – a cultural monument in honour of victims of the 1967 massacre.

The artists bring works that reflect the healing process associated with a regenerative spirit. According to the Gallery, the show “covers the emotional complexities of a forgotten peaceful community with compelling stories on the trajectory of the horror and the growing realisation of the extent of the massacre during the Nigerian civil war.”

The gallery adds: “It simultaneously critiques the government and global communities’ inaction to the atrocities that took place and will question commonly held assumptions about the massacre, and challenge visitors to consider the responsibilities and obstacles faced by those who managed to survive — from the young widows, women and children to soldiers — who made difficult choices, to effect change and in a few cases, took significant risks to help victims on that fateful day.”

The show features works such as In Memoriam, a monumental canvas piece with the names of some of the victims by a 12-year-old artist, Okeke, who created this work for this show and Ehikamenor’s Black Peace (2022), part of the series which was featured as the book cover of Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottanelli’s book, titled, The Asaba Massacre: Trauma, Memory, and the Nigerian Civil War.

Also on view is a body of work donated by Ogbebor, the son of a senior military officer in the Nigerian army who provided an eye-witness account of the atrocities that occurred in Asaba and renowned fashion designer Bakare’s Ogbueshi – a Guipure cotton lace with red paint and soil that depicts the fate of Chief Mariam Babangida’s father – the late Ogbueshi Leonard Nwanonyei Okogwu, who was to give the welcome address to the soldiers on behalf of the Asaba community on that fateful day.

In addition, Enwonwu’s 1967 painting about the Civil War, War Dreams and Onobrakpeya’s 1972 painting, Ayo Players, are among the collection’s oldest works.

According to the curator, Otsholeng Poo, “Asaba Memorial reflects on the 1967 massacre of over a thousand Asabans, mostly men, during the Nigerian civil war. It examines both the opportunities and the limits of memorialisation, faced not only by those intimately connected to tragic historical events, who have a personal interest in preserving and publicising memories of those event, but also by a wider public, among whom might exist young audiences who may lack the relevant context to connect the circumstances of the present to those of the past.”

Poo continues, “I am inspired by the people of Asaba’s continued survival and resounding call for the massacre to be given its proper place in the telling of Nigeria’s history. I’m also hopeful that as this project gains supporters from across the continent and the world, we can keep telling the story of Asaba through art and community.”

Speaking on the show, Nduka-Eze reveals, “to date, there has been no proper explanation or official apology from the Federal Government of Nigeria for the humanitarian crime.”

Nduka-Eze continues, “we encourage everyone to come and explore the exhibition. It will challenge people not only to ask, ‘what could have been done?’ but also, ‘what can we do?’ This is the first step to creating a memorial site that is accessible and dignified in its representation to honour the victims, a place that will be a community symbol of all the lives lost and extend to encompass a cultural and recreational attraction for both local and international tourists.”

The exhibition is part of a series of remembrance activities to support the development of a permanent physical space – a world-class nature park, monument, artistic and cultural centre in honour of all those who lost their lives and were displaced by the Asaba massacre.

The Memorial Park will have, as its foundation, 1,000 trees as a symbol of all the lives lost. It will be a legacy project that finally gives homage to the victims, their families and becomes a place for reflection on healing.

As a heritage project, it will educate visitors about wider aspects of Asaba’s history, culture, and people. Its grounds will also be used to emphasize the beauty and serenity of the Asaba landscape and promote opportunities for recreation, healing, and community.