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Opinions of Sunday, 11 September 2016

Columnist: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri

Ghanaian artists talk ‘sh*t’

Henry Obimpeh explaining the significane of one of his photgraphs during the tour.

By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri

Fifteen Ghanaian artists, 15 genres of art and 15 different media, with one goal; use artwork to contribute to the fight against open defecation.

The artists, selected across the country, will be talking about ‘Sh*t’ through their various art works, all aimed at creating a buzz around the issues pertaining to open defecation and how communities can work together to solve the menace.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)-sponsored, Alliance Française project on ending open defecation, ‘Let’s Talk Sh*t’ project, chose this group of unique and talented artists in its latest campaign on ending open defecation in the country.

The project is to show how visual art can make a contribution in raising awareness on social and public health issues.

Let’s talk sh*t

Fabrice Laurentin, Communication Expert with UNICEF, says the organisation chose to support the ‘Lets’ Talk Sh*t’ project to arouse the interest of communities in dealing with open defecation which is widely practised in the country through the artworks that will be produced.

He says, “UNICEF is using the word sh*t and people are shocked but what is shocking is that five million people do not have toilets in their homes or two out of five basic schools do not have access to toilet and water in the Ghana.

So, we wanted to create something that will interest people and help people to know about the programme to generate more interest in ending open defecation.”

He says the objectives of ‘Let’s Talk Sh*t’ is to create a buzz around the issue pertaining to open defecation.

“People should talk about it, make the issue more public with the support of the media; create a dialogue with the communities using visual arts by exhibiting the pieces of art to people in their communities,” Fabrice Laurentin says.

Sanitation in Ghana

One in five Ghanaians have no access to toilets and defecate in the open, with open defecation rates over 70 percent in Northern Ghana, reflecting significant national inequalities.

UNICEF data shows that only 15 percent of Ghanaians have access to improved sanitation, with less than 15 percent of households having handwashing facilities.

According to 2015 JMP, Ghana has been ranked seventh with the lowest sanitation coverage, and it will take the country 500 years to bring an end to free ranging or open defecation if efforts are not accelerated.

However, proper sanitation practices like handwashing can reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia by up to 50 percent. Improved sanitation can also reduce diarrhoea rates by 36 percent.

Artists share creative ideas

Prior to the exhibition which is in a few weeks, a group of journalists had the opportunity of visiting the artists at their workplace to interact with them and pick their minds on the artworks they are producing for the project which will end in an art exhibition at Alliance Française on September 28, 2016.

Six artists producing very interesting visual artworks in Accra and Koforidua were visited by the journalists, representatives of Alliance Française and UNICEF.

Unique in their own art forms, the artists explained to the group their concept for the project and what they intend to use their work to achieve in helping bring an end to open defecation.

The power of the ‘stool’

Nana Afari Darko, based in Koforidua, is a sculptor working in the installation industry. Being a graduate from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Nana Afari says he uses his artworks to question social norms and generate discourse that seeks to bring social change.

“Art can also play a role in our developmental process and this is what I am doing,” he says.

For the ‘Let’s Talk Sh*t’ project, Nana Afari’s work will look at the role traditional leaders can play in ending open defecation in communities.

He states that his interaction with people in society reveals that most people believe their leaders need to take the lead in addressing issues like open defecation in the country.

“Mostly in traditional setting, we see the seat as the tool of power so I’m welding a stool that is fused with a toilet seat.

In other words, I’m combining the two aspects together to tickle the interest of leadership and influence that traditional authorities can have on the construction and use of proper toilet.

Although it might look like a ridicule of their power, I want to draw them into the discussion of open defecation so they can lead the process of address the issues of open defecation in the community,” he explains.

Nana Afari believes his work will generate the needed buzz among traditional leaders in the fight against open defecation.

Sh*t in the hole

Kwesi Botchway, a contemporary artist who uses painting as his medium of expression, lives in the neighborhood of Nima, a suburb of Accra.

Kwesi believes the expressions on the human face can send strong messages to the world and, thus, focuses on painting such images in a creative way that talks about different issues in society.

His work titled ‘Sh*t In The Hole’ talks about the bad state of public toilets in communities which deter people from using the facility and, thus, opt for open defecation.

“For we artists, the theme is very interesting because it gives us the avenue to talk about this problem in society using what we know how to do best,” he says.

Using a 4 x 5 ft canvas cleric paint and brush, Kwesi is developing an artwork that states proper sewage as a key to urban sanitation.

“I will talk about how people can go to the public toilet and defecating into the bowl instead of the ground and how they have to keep their hands clean after usage,” he adds.

“That is the most interesting part and I’m proud to be part of the ‘Let’s talk Sh*t’ project. My final work will be a surprise,” he tells the group.

Sh*t ambassadors

Bright Akwerh is a multimedia artist who uses illustration as his primary form of art which is shared on social media and recently public poster making.

He believes using the medium of posters as a loud means of communication, indicating that it is not too elitist like how other art forms are shared, “so I see it a means of reaching a very broad audience across all societal groups.”

He adds that his work already engages directly with what happens in society, “as a member of society and as an artist I find it as my responsibility to use my work to address societal issues.”

Bright states that the poor sanitary conditions at public places need to be addressed, hence his project.

“It has made going to the beach a difficult thing for me so if I can contribute my effort to contributing to ending this problem it is a plan for me.

I want to find a way to put my whole flavour into the project using my graphic tablets which is directly digitised to allow for easy sharing on the internet.

He is working on a satirical illustration titled, ‘Sh*t Ambassadors’ for his ‘Let’s Talk Sh*t’ project.

Bright says his illustration will depict in a satirical illustration on why historical sites, beaches and open places must be considered as national treasures and should not be used as toilets.

“I am developing a young boy idea now is that this thing when finished shout be a poster that go into the community showing two satirical characters trying to correct practice of open defecation.

I use my work as a medium to engage in the existing space,” he concludes.

Recycle sh*t

Mohammed Awudu, alias Moh Awudu, is a graffiti artist based in Nima. He is working on a graffiti piece titled ‘Recycle Shit’ which tackles why our historical sites, beaches and open places are national treasures and should not be used as toilets.

“As an artist, you have to make sure you use your art work to tell stories that change lives. I have taken the role of an ambassador for ending open defecation in my area. When we stop, it will create a lot of income for us.

I want to change the perception of Nima in the public’s eye. So I started a year now

In my community, they don’t have any role model so they follow bad people.

As an artist, I want to help these kids out, teach them on Saturday because I have been in the same shoes and I know how it feels,” Moh Awudu adds.

Faced with conflict, he tried to put for an open defecation-free community

Henry Obimpeh

“As a photographer who makes meaning, I just don’t make photographs. I make photographs that have value. When you make a photograph of a beautiful lady and put it online, of course, you get likes but what does the photograph do,” Henry Obimpeh discloses.

Photos that inspire, educate and tell a narrative

One the wall of his mini workplace is a picture of a lady on the wall with different shades of textiles, but it sends the message of the plurality of the media since democracy. First, it was on major media house and two or three joined and now more are springing up. You cannot even count them now.

He started using African wax print in his photos since last year, and he will be using different names of African fabrics to tell the story of how open defecation can end.

“I’m using four fabrics that their names are combined and these perfectly tell the story of ending open defecation. The first is life is how you make it ‘obra ni war a bo’, broken pot, one tree cannot stand alone, good beads don’t make noise.

“The main idea is that I plan to use these fabrics to create a piece of work with theme cholera and diarrhoea is gotten through eating faeces.

Good beads don’t talk signifies a problem we have as a country but the big men are behaving as if they are not seeing it. I am laughing at them because when the sanitation-related diseases come, it is going to get all of us.

Life is how you make it signifies that the problem of open defecation can be solved by us and on one else broken pot signifies the problem on our hands, one tree cannot stand alone, one name cannot solve the society’s problems,” he reveals.

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