Nigeria’s Social Satirist Julius Agbaje Fights Injustice with Art
From his tiny studio in Lagos, 28-year-old artist Julius Agbaje is challenging Nigeria’s institutions to fight social injustices.
His image, “Joke’s on you,” showing Buhari with a red nose, white makeup and a terrifying smile, was the emblem of demonstrations against police brutality that rocked the country last October.
“At first it was a joke, just a provocation,” he said.
“Months after, this piece went viral, and resonated with a lot of youth.”
He said he never imagined the impact his picture would have such an impact as it went viral during the demonstrations.
The #EndSARS protests erupted last year and forced the government to disband the SARS special police brigade.
The demonstrations were brutally suppressed and amnesty International said 12 were killed after the army opened fire.
“Good cop, Bad cop”
Many were also arrested, but the artist said that would motivate him.
“Being arrested would only motivate me to do more because being arrested means that they are starting to notice the work that I create,” he said.
“So it means that yes, egos are being bruised. Yes, they are starting to notice that people are disgruntled, people are unhappy about the things they are doing.
Abaje learned his craft at the oldest art school in Lagos, the Yaba College of Technology, where he graduated in 2017
In Nigeria, there is an abundance of artists who criticise the political system. The country is plagued by corrupt politics, rampant poverty and violations of basic rights.
“Most of the learners here, when they are asked to express themselves they always link to issues that bother around social justice,” said art teacher Dr. Odun Orimolade,
“I think it’s because of the state of the nation, things like that. Everyone has something to say, the news is always bad, there is always something to discuss anyway.”
Abaje’s “Good cop, Bad cop”, portrait, was made with knives of two monkeys — the figures, wearing police helmets, are seen in mug shots, with signs around their necks saying “murder” and “duplicity & theft”.
The piece is on display at his art school’s museum to inspire the new generation of artists.