Nigerian social satirist Julius Agbaje uses skillful, confrontational style to criticize brutality, hypocrisy-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost


In Nigeria there is an abundance of artists who criticize the political system, but many only use abstract images, few do so in such a confrontational way.

Jules Agbaje. Image via Facebook / julius.agbaje.35

Lagos: When in 2019, Nigerian painter Julius Agbaje portrayed President Muhammadu Buhari as the Joker, he never imagined that a year later his portrait would become a symbol of youth protest. His image, The joke is on you, showing Buhari with a red nose, white make-up and a terrifying smile, was the emblem of the protests against the police brutality that rocked the country last October.

“At first it was a joke, just a provocation,” said the 28-year-old artist in his tiny studio in a run down area of ​​Lagos. “Months later this play went viral and resonated with a lot of young people.”

Even before the image of the Joker, Agbaje had already earned a place on Nigeria’s vibrant cultural scene. He is also one of its most committed artists. “I always dare to question things, especially where there is injustice. I like to be provocative, and art gives me a channel (through which) I could express this annoyance, to fight these injustices . “

Social satirist

Nigeria, with its 200 million inhabitants, may well be considered Africa’s largest democracy, but it has barely turned the page in its history of military dictatorships. More than 20 years after its democratic transition, the country remains plagued by corrupt politics, endemic poverty and human rights violations.

Between acrylic pots and worn brushes, Agbaje unrolls his canvases on the tiled floor of his workshop for a visitor. The “social satirist”, as he likes to call himself, Agbaje knows few taboos.

Take her portrayal of a nun painted as a chimpanzee, complete with a nose piercing, tattoo, and plunging neckline – risky content in a country where religious beliefs are strong and blasphemy is often called the worst of sins. “I wanted to denounce the hypocrisy of religion in Nigeria,” said Agbaje, himself the son of a pastor and teacher.

But the strength of his caricatures, as funny as they are shocking, is also due to their technical mastery. He learned his craft at Lagos’ oldest art school, Yaba College of Technology, from which he graduated in 2017.

His dexterity is evidenced in a knife portrait of two monkeys – the figures, wearing police helmets, are seen in ID photos, with signs around their necks saying ‘murder’ and ‘duplicity and theft. “. The diptych, entitled Good cop, bad cop, was produced long before last year’s #EndSARS protests erupted over police brutality and forced the government to disband the SARS Special Police Squad.

The image is now on display at his art school museum. “Strangely enough, so many people reacted to this article, it got a lot of attention and discussion, and also got its own nickname – ‘The monkey piece‘”, explains his former teacher Odun Orimolade.

Trauma and art

The young artist resumed his brushes when last year’s youth protest movement was brutally suppressed. Amnesty International said the army opened fire and killed at least 10 people, a charge denied by the army.

From this “trauma” and “this anger” were born three paintings. Far from his caricatures, these are perhaps his most successful, at least his most poignant.

Against a blood-red background, one of them shows a shirtless black man raising his fist. Instead of his face, the artist painted a shooting range target riddled with bullets. On the ground, overturned barricades recall those of the Lagos toll booth where the army allegedly opened fire on peaceful demonstrators.

“This is an account of what happened the day the government came out to deny any intervention in the matter,” he said. “I felt it was important to document the event with my art, for the sake of posterity.”

These are the “evils of his society” that the young painter wants to fight with his art.

In Nigeria there is an abundance of artists who criticize the political system, but many only use abstract images, few do so in such a confrontational way.

Among his influences, Agbaje cites Nigerian interpreter Jelili Atiku, who has denounced extrajudicial killings for years, leading to his arrest in 2016, has come, ”Agbaje said. “And because of these sacrifices … I can even enjoy a little of this semblance of freedom that I enjoyed today, I think it’s my duty.”


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