by Ugo Nweke SJ
Laudato Si' is Pope Francis’s letter inviting us to a change of heart and attitude in our relationship with mother earth, our common home. Laudato Si' invites us to reduce consumerism, reduce waste, respect all God’s creations, to work collaboratively across religions, tribes, industries, and political parties. It calls us to care for the earth, our common home, which we share with so many creatures, for when the earth sneezes, we all, irrespective of status, religion, tribe, region, catch a cold. The Pope was saddened that the most vulnerable among us, that is, the poor, children, women, elderly suffer the most from the environmental crisis. Thus, one of the goals of Laudato Si': Care for Our Common Home Art Exhibition was to conscientize us to do something about our environment. To ask ourselves "what more must I do" to care for our environment.
Six contemporary Nigerian artists from Abuja, Enugu, and Lagos participated in this exhibition (Chike Emembo, Klaranze Okhide, Dr. Ayo Adewunmi, Izuu Muoneme, Ernest Nkwocha Ogbonna, Grace Ighavbota). Two student artists from Lagos, Master Michael Obi of St. Francis Catholic Secondary School, Idimu, and Miss Ayooluwa Olugbenga (Class of 2019) a recent alumna of Holy Child College, Ikoyi were also featured.
The works on exhibition included a provocative picture captioned “Esther” by Dr. Ayo Adewunmi. The picture portrayed an 8-year-old girl paddling her canoe in a Niger Deltan creek in search of potable water. Apart from drawing attention to a national emergency on access to potable water (which ought to be a human right because it is one of the necessities for human survival anywhere), the picture is also a metaphor for the Nigerian situation; abject poverty amid plenty. Klaranze Okhide’s paintings are vibrant with colors. Her colorful semi-abstract paintings of leafless trees remind us of the dangers of lifelessness that accompanies a lifestyle that cares less about mother earth. Her Red Alert was acquired by St. Ignatius House, Surulere.
The other four works were hopeful. Mr. Ogbonna and Mr. Muoneme transform wastes from our consumerist tendencies into beautiful sculptures and collages. Mr. Emembo, influenced by his Christian religious faith, finds hopeful solutions for the environmental crises in this religious worldview. Ms. Ighavbota, on her part, captivates with paintings of reminiscences of paradises, which are fading. For anyone who grew up around the lush vegetations in most rural Southern, Western or Eastern Nigeria or around the tropical rainforests in West Africa, Ighavbota’s paintings trigger that unmistakable feeling of déjà vu. Four of the artists, Dr. Adewunmi, Mr. Muoneme, Mr. Emembo, Mrs. Okhide generously donated an original artwork each to beautify St. Ignatius House, Surulere.
The featured students’ paintings reflected a longing for that affectionate and loving relationship with beautiful Mother Nature. However, their paintings also demonstrated that that affection hangs on a delicate string that may snap. Miss Olugbenga, in her presentation, made a passionate appeal for us to take action for the care of Mother Nature, while Master Obi, using pigments drawn from nature, presented a strikingly beautiful facial portrait of Mother Nature, staring, almost alarmed, at her children.
One of the high points of the event was Uche Oguike, SJ’s presentation of his poem titled “Killing the Riddle”. The special guests Mrs. Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, OON (a doyenne in theatre), and Dr. Newton Jibunor (an octogenarian and environmentalist who has crossed the Sahara Desert four times) were so spellbound by his rendition of the poem that they insisted that the event may only continue after Mr. Oguike has been duly acknowledged.
Those who attended the Laudato Si' Art Exhibition complimented the artists for their creativity, innovativeness, and talents. The participants felt challenged to do more for mother earth.