It was at the end of October that tens of thousands of young Nigerians filled the streets in protest against police brutality and violence facing its citizens. The protests were lead by angry Nigerian youth who have had enough of being brutalized and extorted by their government. With 40% of Nigerias population consisting of young people under the age of 30, it was specially these young people who took to the streets. The protests had initially started with the desire to call an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad which is speculated to have been established between the years 1984 - 1992. The squad was established with the intention to combat and eradicate the then rising levels of crime, specifically around robberies and kidnappings. At the time Nigeria had the highest rate of kidnappings for ransoms, and it was usually wealthy families who were targeted. Since then SARS has become some what of a lawless force and under the current regime has taken to arresting and murdering innocent Nigerian citizens for minor offenses.
The youth lead protests had initially started with the aim to abolish this SARS unit but soon developed into a call for reform of the current government. The hashtag #EndSARS was coined on October 8th 2020 but is now something that has moved beyond the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
We had the opportunity to speak with a young Nigerian illustrator about the challenges of being creative in times of crisis. Folashade Adeshida (@fka.sade) or Arie an illustrator and Graphic designer. Adeshida is passionate about African folklore and telling African stories. Adeshida grew up on a steady diet of fantasy books and seeks to recreate for African children the same sense of wonder those books sparked in her.
In our conversation we talked about how her journey as an illustrator began, her intention behind creating African stories for African children and her hopes for the future of her country, Nigeria.
CN: How did you start on your journey as an illustrator and digital artist?
Adeshida: I like to say that I sort of fell into it. I started off as a graphic designer right out of university working in advertising. I have always drawn but mostly for fun. One of the things that got me hired as a Graphic designer were my character designs. Then some years down the line a friend was looking for an illustrator for a project called “Flipleaves”. It was a sort of bookathon to write and illustrate six children’s books in a day, then the published books were distributed free to communities. The goal of making African stories for African Children resonated a lot with me so I did it and I was like; “wait a minute, this is fun! Let's make this a thing”, and boom, now I’m a children’s book illustrator.
CN: Why did you feel it was important to create African stories for African children?
Adeshida: I can never over emphasize how much representation matters and how important telling our own stories matters. Africa is an amazing continent with so many different kinds of people who all have such an amazing heritage. We need to tell these stories to children and take back our narrative and build up our children to realise that they can be so much more.
CN: What do you hope to give African children when they see your work?
Adeshida: Mostly that they can just be themselves and be happy. Stories featuring African children don’t have to always be about strife or struggle or passing on a message. We can be people and do regular people-things who have happy endings as well. Your name can be Obi, you can live in Lagos and go on a wild fantasy adventure where you discover a whole new world at the bottom of a well or anything you can imagine.
I’d like to take a hard turn now, with regards to what is currently happening in Nigeria and #EndSARS
CN: How has the creative process been during this period?
Adeshida: For a while I couldn't do much of anything else but doom scroll through Twitter and my anxiety was skyrocketing but right now oddly, I feel a lot more focused on completing projects and just drawing. It’s a little bit dark but I can be a big procrastinator and so much is happening right now that I don’t feel like I can take tomorrow for granted anymore. So I just try to do as much as I possibly can, I don’t know how healthy that is but it is what it is.
CN: Do you think that there is room for art when it comes to politics? If yes, please explain why? if no, please explain why?
Adeshida: I think the #EndSARS protests are a perfect example of this, I have seen how Nigerian creatives have amplified the protests with their amazing art, I have seen people sharing the art and using it as a touchpoint for inspiration. Everyone has seen and shared the drawings of Aisha Yesufu at the protests. You may have seen it, the one with the lady in the hijab raising her fist. They were super inspiring. I think art and artistic expression will always have a place in politics because artists are people as well, people who chose art as their form expression. And if they have something to say they can only process or express it how they know best.
CN: It’s understandable that it is difficult being an artist when your countrymen are being brutally murdered, do you ever feel like being an artist loses its validity (it does not matter) in times of crisis?
Adeshida: I think 2020 has taught us all that art has a valid place in our society. In the hardest months of the pandemic when people were locked in and most people were in the worst emotional state a lot of people turned to art and media as their only solace. For a lot of us it was the only thing that got us by mentally and emotionally. I hope people start seeing art as not just a want but also as a need, especially in times like this. Our world and how we experience it has changed a lot but art will always be there.
CN: Do you think there will ever be a time where artists can create art that depicts African people as successful, healthy and doing well and have that be the truth and not just something to be hoped for?
Adeshida: The time is definitely now. Of course there will always be that African stereotype that mainstream media prefers to focus on but we as Africans have to shape our own narratives and let people know there’s more to us than just the struggle and the pain. We can be successful and happy. We are people with unique and beautiful stories worth sharing.
CN: What advice would you give to other artists who are facing hard times, whether it be personal or external , on how to stay mentally strong and not drown in everything that could be happening?
Adeshida: Frequently, we as artists can be very unforgiving of ourselves. Especially when we are not as productive or progressing at the pace we want to be. Just cut yourself some slack. Like we say here “Na person whey dey alive fit draw”. Only a living person can make art. Live, breathe, take each day as it comes and then create.
CN: What do you hope for African artists?
Adeshida: Being African is not just an aesthetic, our voices and our experiences are valid and our music and art are gradually getting more recognition globally. I just hope we continue to stay true to ourselves and not change in an effort to appeal to a wider audience.
CN: What do you hope for your country, Nigeria?
Adeshida: If I started listing them all out we would probably be here for a minute, but generally I wish Nigeria and all other African countries had genuine visionaries and leaders. We are constantly let down by the people we place in power and Africa deserves so much more. There’s so much going on in Africa right now in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibia, we just deserve better. African lives are worth something.
CN: Are there any artists that we may not know about that you think we should know about?
Adeshida: I’m pretty excited about “Nani”; an African mythology inspired Graphic novel by Kugali (@kugalimedia), the art is absolutely amazing and they have some pretty great artists from all over working on the project. It's worth checking out.
We can tell by Folashade’s passion for her artistry and her country that she holds onto hope for her countrymen and the African diaspora to have a better future with leaders who want it for their countries.
Every year there are hundreds of hashtags that flood our social media timelines, but often that is all they really are. A trend and a hashtag until the next new hashtag comes along. There is almost the notion of “out of sight out of mind” once a trend fades. For Nigerian citizens living in Nigeria, the fight to #EndSARS continues and for those who are interested in helping in practical ways here is how you can help. Sites like END SARS is a great starting point where you can learn more about the movement and get a better understanding of what it aims to achieve, it also allows for you to make a financial donations to aid Nigerians on the ground.
Below is a list of organizations that have helped in organizing protests who may serve as a compass on where you can help.
Being creative as always served as catharsis for artists for centuries and we hope that your desire to be creative never wanes, even in times of crisis.
It may just be an opportunity to create with a new sense of purpose.