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Strengthening Advocacy Through Arts at Freedom Vibes 8.0

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Strengthening Advocacy Through Arts at Freedom Vibes 8.0

The event, through a robust panel session, critically examined women’s participation in driving social change using different art forms. Featuring an all-female panel comprising emerging and mid-career artists and advocates, while calling for more involvement, the event honoree Ms Sola Alamutu (Green Queen) was the reference point. On the panel, allusions were made to her illustrious career and the positive influences garnered from directly working under Ms Alamutu who clocked the milestone of 60 years on Sunday April 28th.

Unchained Vibes Africa (UVA) on April 29th, 2024, successfully held its flagship programme, Freedom Vibes 8.0 at the Freedom Park, Hospital Road, Lagos Island. The event was essentially designed to inspire women through arts and advocacy with the primary focus of driving social change.

The event kicked off with a thought-provoking colloquium themed “Inspiring Women to Drive Social Change Through Arts.” At the Kongi’s Harvest Art Gallery, the colloquium featured an all-female panel where various aspects of activism, arts, cultural and social advocacy, among other critical issues were discussed.

Moderated by Nnenna Fakoya-Smith, the panel included emerging and mid-career artists, human rights advocates and other professionals such as the  gender, social inclusion, disability rights advocate and founder of the Hope Inspired Foundation for Women and Youth with Disabilities (HIFWYD) Ejiro Sharon Okotie, performance/spoken word poet, and arts journalist at the Nation Newspaper Evelyn Osagie (AKA Evelyn D’Poet), emerging Nigerian radical environmentalist and founder of Mental and Environmental Development Initiative for Children (MEDIC) Doyinsola Ogunye, and Nigerian creative writer, performance/spoken word poet and social activist Iquo DianaAbasi. The event compere was the elegant Olajumoke Alawode-James, broadcaster, accomplished event producer, showbiz entrepreneur, former TVC ‘Your View’ Co-host and social advocate.

Alamutu as a Frontline Artistic Expression Advocate

In an Audiovisual Introduction and Advocacy Showcase of the honoree, the UVA Executive Producer Ayodele Ganiu painstakingly highlighted some of Sola Alamutu’s advocacies for artistic freedom from 2013 to 2018. Ganiu said Green Queen as a member of Arterial Network team, a pan-African Organization for the protection of artists’ rights was the only woman in the frontline who worked vigorously to draw the attention of the Nigerian Financial System to support artists to access their accounts in the area of development of creative economy. She was also in the frontline advocating the protection of artists’ intellectual property which eventually resulted in the new Copyright Act we now have today.

“The most challenging of the advocacy work we have done through ‘ArtWatch Africa’ is serious legal fight against violations of several artists’ fundamental rights in 2016 to date. Green Queen was the only woman in the frontline who led that struggle, which she did very well through complementing her advocacy work with the use of artistic expressions to drive social change. She understands visual impacts to have any effect on the audience to act”, Ganiu further stated.

Alamutu as a source of Inspiration to fellow female artists and associates

The Colloquium panelists shared individual stories of their first meeting with the Green Queen and how she has been influential in their lives and in shaping their artistic and advocacy vision

Iquo DianaAbasi, an MFA student at Alabama University, US, DianaAbasi, who joined via Zoom commended Alamutu’s work with children and advocacy for the environment. She said, “It’s been so long that I can’t remember exactly when we met. We met at the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), and I was really impressed with the way she was handling children and I became friends with her and we began to work together. Over the years, we have been interacting, working with children. I had young children then, and that was the opportunity for my children to learn about the environment and nature. I love the fact that the children were also having creative workshops and I thought it was a very fantastic idea, because I believe education doesn’t stop in the classroom”.

“I feel when children are allowed to express themselves with their hands and eyes, doing arts and writing, it’s the best way for them to retain everything they’ve learned. We kept doing these things and we had tea parties with the children. I think it’s important to teach the younger generation, so that as they grow older, their mindset will already be fixed from a young age”, Iquo said.

She also added that: “Aside working with children and doing advocacy for the environment and culture, Green Queen was also very friendly with me as a female writer back then. Whenever I had a personal problem she always gave me a listening ear and good advice as well. Some people looked at her as kind of eccentric back then. She would put on earrings made out of bottle covers, and she was always looking cool in it. I realized it was just an expression of what she does. We had green parties where we learned about nutrition that were not too good for our bodies, and how to improve our lifestyle and health. This is just how we kept growing and I imbibed a lot of these good things I learned from her.”

Evelyn Osagie recounting her first meeting with Alamutu and expressing admiration for her dedication noted: “I met Alamutu’s work before I actually met her in person. I was always at places like LABAF, where she was always hosting events for children, and I was particularly interested in anything happening for children, because I feel that we need to impact the next generation, because some of us came from where we’ve had opportunities with people like Green Queen supporting us in our young age and helping us find our passion, and with that came purpose, and it’s what is feeding us today”.

“I have never forgotten the first time I met her. We were actually introduced by Uncle Jahman Anikulapo, Chair for Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), who’s a mentor to all of us. I just came from Benin City as a greenhorn and my blood was hot. So, in one of those Nigeria Prize for Literature events, sponsored by Nigeria LNG at Eko Hotel, Jahman was introducing me to everyone, and he said, ‘there’s a woman I want you to meet. She’s just like you and she might inspire you a lot.’ So, he brought her and said, ‘come and see this girl. She’s always looking for trouble,’ and she said, ‘I know you, and I don’t like you.’ I was asking why she didn’t like me, because she was someone I was trying to impress, and she said, ‘you remind me of me!’, she added.

Excited Osagie further noted: “She has always been an inspiration. I have been watching her and I wanted to honour her in my own way, and write a collection of children’s short stories dedicated to her. That’s how much she inspired me, from the issue of environmental stuff, child rights advocacy, and all of that. I try to do that as an artist and journalist, but we have not told her story enough. The world needs to hear, and people like this are examples that should be documented for posterity, and for people to follow. I don’t know where she finds the strength and energy to do so much and when she takes you on, you think you’re the only person she has under her wings, and you don’t know that there are hundreds of us.”

Ejiro Sharon Okotie similarly, praised Alamutu’s support for disabled students at Queens College, emphasizing her inclusivity. “I fondly call her senior Sola. We are old girls of Queens College and I am their youngest, because I finished with the 2003 set. I met her in 2016 through her class group of 1979. So, I was at home that day and Aunty Abigail, the resource teacher for the visually impaired students at Queens College, called to inform me of a programme they were having, and they wanted me to come. And I did, and was given a recognition award by the class of 1979 for the work that I was doing, building the lives of development for the girls at Queens College at the time”, said Okotie.

“We have a 5-day camp in December and we just bring these girls together in the same space to encourage them, and given that Queens College is my alma mater, I decided to start from there. From my own personal experience, young people with disabilities do not really step out, especially young women, and I identify those gaps, and that’s one of the things that spurred me to begin to do some of the works I do. The class of 1979 and senior Sola personally bought into it. We sent her invitations to those camp events, and even if nobody from the class of ‘79 showed up, she was always present. She supported us in so many ways – morally and ensuring these girls also find purpose”, Okotie added.

Okotie concluded saying: “I think a major thing that stood out for me was the Lagos Book and Art Festival, and one of the things I said to her was, ‘you are bringing all of these to them, but what about students with disabilities?’ In one of the editions, students from Queens College came, and there was a cooking competition, and the visually impaired students also participated. Senior Sola is very intentional, so she does all this work and she makes sure every single person is able to participate and benefit, and I’m glad there is an opportunity like this to celebrate her.”

Doyinsola Ogunye reflected on her early experiences working with Alamutu and credited her for igniting her passion for environmental activism. She noted: “I couldn’t remember my childhood without Aunty Sola and all the Alamutus being a part of it. My first job was actually with her organisation Children and the Environment (CATE), and I think I was about 15-16, and I just got out of secondary school and I was looking for a job to keep me busy before university and I started working with Aunty Sola. I remember it was in Victoria Island and it was tough. Everyone knows Aunty Sola is a perfectionist when it comes to environmental work, and I still remember some of the early things she instilled in me, which are things I still do till now.”

“There was a particular day, she sent me to a fast food place to buy food, and she asked me to take coolers because she didn’t want takeaway packs, and this happened when I was 16, and she instilled that in me. Today, I don’t buy food in takeaway packs. This year, the Lagos State Government banned Styrofoam packs; surprising that people are now doing what Aunty Sola started a long time ago”, she added.

“I think that’s how my passion for the environment started, because I started doing some environmental work in 2009 or thereabout, and that was after I started working with her. So, I would say that working with her actually ignited that passion in me to do what I’m doing now. Right after that, we started to work on something called the Beach Samaritans. I would say that there is nobody that knows me and my work that doesn’t know how Aunty has supported my work, and also being a strong influence in my life. So, I want to really appreciate her. Thank you so much for being a very strong influence in my life today.” Ogunye reiterated.

Following the colloquium, the event transitioned into a vibrant cultural evening at the Mainstage of Freedom Park. Attendees were treated to a rich tapestry of artistic expressions, including live music by Abbey Trombone and the Abinibi Groovy Band, Efik Ekombi Dance by the energetic Efik Dance Troupes and captivating performance by Jojo Body Beat. Poetry performances were done by spoken word artists like Kemistry and Ruth Mahogany. A host of goodwill messages also added depth to the evening, creating an atmosphere of fulfilment, gratitude, and reflection. Jahman Anikulapo, Dame Taiwo-Ajai Lycett, Eedris AbdulKareem, Iquo DianaAbasi, Mrs Oyo-Ita in their goodwill messages lauded Alamutu’s advocacy for social justice.

The Green Queen deserves her flowers

The event was dedicated to honor Sola Alamutu affectionately known as The Green Queen of Africa, for her unwavering commitment to freedom of artistic expression, cultural diversity, and environmental justice. Ms. Alamutu expressed her gratitude for being recognized and emphasized the importance of empowering young creatives for social transformation. “I feel very honored and privileged to be celebrated while I am still alive, and I am receiving my flowers now” said the Green Queen.

Freedom Vibes 8.0 served as a platform to further the conversation on women’s empowerment in the realm of arts and advocacy. By showcasing the diverse talents and voices of women, the event was aimed to inspire attendees while igniting dialogue and driving social change. Through a fusion of exhibitions, panel discussions, and artistic expressions, Freedom Vibes 8.0 successfully amplified Alamutu’s legacy and underscored UVA’s commitment to promoting civic education, human rights, and cultural diversity in Africa.

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