Those who follow Chika Idu, one of the notable contemporary African visual artists, will attest to his sustained campaign for a safer environment and the betterment of children, especially the vulnerable ones.
From works themed around swimmers, water pollution, children portraits, mothers among others, Idu has continually given a voice to children and the environment.
This year, the Auchi Polytechnic trained artist, who majored in painting, took his campaign to far away Indiana in the United States of America.
Since July 27, 2023, Idu has been enthralling visitors with his solo exhibition titled ‘Healing’
at Kuaba Gallery in Carmel, Indiana, USA.
The exhibition, which ended on September 2, 2023, featured 15 paintings, all themed around the challenges of street children in Nigeria, with special focus on Lagos.
The 15 works cut across Idu’s underwater swimmers, which talk about the environment and how people relate with the environment.
They also explored the angle of peace and joy that comes from appreciating the water and the environment.
While the exhibition centered around portraits of children from the streets, Idu was inspired by his constant encounter with the street children, who he described as most vulnerable.
“From the expressway, I see them, they just happen to be on my way anytime I am leaving, especially around Chevron, Ilaje and all the way down the spread of the expressway, you will see these children,” he decried.
“They come to the window of the car to beg for money, some clean car windows, some sell sachet water and not far from them are their mothers and you will never see their fathers”.
Recalling his experience while growing up where he used to see Chadian children, who spread across Nigeria then and beg, the artist said that the irony is that their parents gave birth to them just to use them for begging, which is criminal.
His worry is that people have been seeing a lot of these women carrying babies in the traffic in the hot sun and the babies are exposed to the weather and the mothers don’t seem to care because the baby seems to be a means to an end.
“Now, the babies who their mothers used to get sympathy from people have to grow and this is the reality of nature.
“They have grown to become street urchins, and are the little girls and boys we now see on the road running after cars, coming to the car windows to beg for money or hoping that the driver is absent minded and they start cleaning the car windshield so that the driver can dash them money.
“They are now the children beggars we see every day from Lekki Phase 1 down to Ajah and the sad thing about this again is that these children who were born for begging are gradually growing up and becoming adults and they don’t know any other life outside the streets”.
Due to the fact that they do not have education or exposure to anything that will give them future livelihood, all they know is to beg.
The sad development, according to Idu, poses danger for the society and the environment.
“Even children that come from established families, when they get to teenage age, which I call the age of rebellion or self discovery, they demand things. And when these beggars get to this stage, as teenagers with their strength, they can become a problem to the society because they are not taught how to do anything, there is no direction. They are just there, and are being fed and raised by the street,” Idu said further.
With all the above challenges and the need to address them, Idu deployed a soft power with his art that captured the portraits of these children, their faces and silent expressions.
“The exhibition raised an eyebrow on the issue. We see these children, we give them money and they give their parents the money. That is an encouragement for them to stay there”.
Idu is also worried that the beggars’ mothers keep getting pregnant to raise babies that will replace the grown ones.
So, he used the ‘Healing’ exhibition to draw attention to the issue because he sees it as a problem.
He is also preferring solutions.
“I took the painting from the angle of the children seeking help. If you look at their eyes and the expressions in the paintings, you will see that they are silently seeking for help, they are crying for help and attention like an SOS.
“These are the expressions and messages I am trying to send through this exhibition.
“My major focus is these children and how this major issue can be redressed. If we allow it to be, these street children will grow up to have children inside the traffic and it continues”.
As the ‘Healing’ exhibition ends, Idu is excited over the huge success. It would be recalled that before the Indiana exhibition, Idu earlier had a successful exhibition titled ‘Into The Deep’, which was held in May at O’ Da Art Gallery in Victoria Island Lagos.