By Osa Mbonu-Amadi & Chris Onuoha
After Vanguard published the group exhibition of three activists (Bob-Nosa Uwagboe, Habeeb Audu and Uche Uzorka) titled “Twenty Twenty-Three” which opened April 30 and ended May 21, 2022, Vanguard Arts & Reviews, last week, stormed Bob-Nosa Uwagboe’s Protest Art Studio in Lagos for an interview with the Africa’s foremost Protest Artist. It was a hilarious encounter. Enjoy it:
For many years now, you have succeeded in branding yourself as a Protest Artist. Tell us about your finest moment in that chosen path of yours.
The ENDSARS period was my happiest moment in this country. I saw people who are genuinely tired as they are today, even more. They feel so used by the present leaders since 1960 till date. Now, if we are not careful, another 8 years will be wasted.
Are all these uncompleted works part of the new body of protest works you are doing?
More works are coming out from this body of work titled “Used and Tired”. You might not see in details all the problem facing Nigeria in this body of works, but each work encapsulates many of the woes, those problems created by the rulers that make the citizens who can afford it to want to pack their bags and leave the country as many had done already.
In 2020, you were in Poland for your solo exhibition at the Polish national museum. Were you ever tempted to stay behind instead of returning to Nigeria?
Yes, I was encouraged to do so, to bring my family over and all that, but I said no, I had a responsibility at home. I want to be part of the change at home. I can’t run away. I didn’t want to be like a coward. I want to be part of the change, even if it does not come in my lifetime, let history record it that I played a part in the struggle. In Poland, even with all the good things they have over there, they still protest. They still want improvements.
Apart from this body of works, “Used and Tired” on which you are working now, can you mention other works of yours that interrogate the decadence in the Nigerian society?
My trademark (that is what I am known for, my brand) is Police Brutality. That’s what I am famous for.
No wonder you were so excited during that ENDSARS protest.
Did you have any particular experience with the police that made you to start using your art to protest against police brutality?
No. when you protest, it may not necessarily be due to any direct experience or encounter you had personally with that which you protest against. It is because you care so much about humanity. An injury to one is injury to all. These themes are global in nature. So that’s what I do in my Protest Art Studio.
In all these problems, do you now see any ray of light at the end of the tunnel?
Yes, people have woken up. People are now asking questions. And the social media is now a significant force. The social media is helping people, especially youths, to voice out, question those in power, communicate and organize themselves. A lot of things can no longer be hidden under the carpet. That’s part of the ray of light I am seeing at the end of the tunnel.
What is the overriding philosophy that guides your art?
I always encourage artists to use their works to address the problems of the society, not only to think of the commercial. God gave us the talent, and we must use it for the betterment of the society; it’s not just to feed ourselves.
As we are looking at your board here, we can see an inscription that strikes a familiar chord in our minds in connection with the present times. The inscription says, “Jesus and the two criminals”. The youths on the social media have described a particular presidential candidate they love as standing in-between two criminals, one on his right-hand side and the other on his left-hand side. Is that what you have in mind when you inscribed this on your board?
(There were deafening outbursts of laughter in the studio. After the laughter died down, Bob-Nosa gave his answer:)
Actually, I made that inscription a few years ago. But when you look at it, it tends to reflect the very political atmosphere of the moment. However, that is not to say that the politician in the middle is a Saint, but it’s true that the two on both sides of his hands are criminals. We no longer need those criminals. We need leaders with fresh ideas, not men that are almost dead. We no longer want leaders who will be in UK today and in France tomorrow for medical treatments. Is that what we are going to experience again for another eight years? Can we as a country survive another such eight years?
Talking about Jesus and the two criminals by his sides, it appears the youths who are championing this Movement for a new Nigeria are divided. Many are for The Movement, while some are working against it. Some people say it shows there are basically two different types of people in the world: those who are on the side of good, and those who are on the side of evil. As a protest artist, do you see it like that?
These bad politicians have tools they use to divide the people. Poverty is one of those tools. When a man is poor and hungry, that man can do anything just to survive. Some of those people who are supporting those criminal politicians are doing it because of the material things they are benefiting from them. Other tools evil politicians use to divide the people are ethnicity and religion. But it should not be so. What we should do is to put the best person for the job there and let’s move forward.