By Simeon Mpamugoh

The cultural power of Africa and Nigeria, in particular, influences youths across the world. The influences of music and arts are on the rise. It is believed that artists, musicians and media professionals can help people consider things beyond the direct experience of the world so that they can start looking at them from more possibilities.

These were the thoughts entrenched in the conversation in a solo exhibition in Nigeria, which activates Sankara’s legacy as a catalyst for cultural inquiry into Africa’s present reality, with eyes on the past and actions towards the future. It was mounted during the last quarter of 2020 by an artist of a Cameroonian father, Chad/Egypt mother, and an Igbo, South East of Nigeria grandmother, Pierre-Christophe Gam. The exhibition lasted for 12 days at Alliance Francaise, Ikoyi Centre, Lagos, and had a lineup of events, including a guided tour of the artist, artist talk hosted by Ugonna Ibe and art performance tagged “Toguna.”  

The primary ideology canvassed in the exhibition, a French Connexion entitled: “Sankara: The Upright Man,” was that Sankara was a military captain and a humanist, who became a leading African voice for the global fight against imperialism. The exhibition was a mixed media installation which offered an apocryphal retelling of the life of one of Africa’s greatest champions.

The works showcased 21 pieces, 12 mixed media collages, 6 printed clothes, a sculpture and a video and informed by interviews with family members and peers. The setting up offers a unique exploration of Pan-Africanism as a political and spiritual movement.

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Said the artist:  “The exhibition is a story about the life of Thomas Sankara. It is a mixed media with little collage of video about his culture and retraces the fullness of  Sankara who died at 37. For those who don’t know, he was the President of Burkina Faso from 1984-’87, a pan Africanist and freedom fighter, and, in many ways, he was fighting for Africa, trying to push the continent out of imperialism.

“He has been recognised as an icon during his time and all the way to this day. So the exhibition celebrates 24 years of Sankara as president of Burkina Faso; introducing him as the last prophet of pan Africanism. So, the context explores pan-Africanism as spirituality. We have this idea of a mountaintop, where people are looking up. In the context of Africa, where is the mountaintop?

“As someone who was born the same year as Sankara’s ascendency to the presidency, I have lived and followed his journey and the way he lived his life, the policy accomplished, and, in many ways, one can argue that he lived his life as a prophet and one of the youngest presidents at that time,” Gam noted.

With more than 10 participations in joint exhibitions across the world, Gam hints that the show reechoes African design philosophy, using different skills and techniques: “This is a travel exhibition that focuses on an important African story, and I think it is essential to use fabrics, an African tool and medium to tell the story, though it is my first time of using fabrics to an extent for artworks in an exhibition.”