Photography by Rog Walker.
To whom it may concern. This is a challenge to the zealously held belief that Africa is a monolithic village in need of perpetual saving. This is an open assault upon the delusions of those who cry endlessly of desolate stomachs and doorways darkened by disease. This is a public disavowing of all who think the cradle of civilization has nothing more to offer than unmolested raw materials and an army of open palms awaiting aid.
Further, this is a disclaimer that upon becoming dissatisfied with the myriad fictions which are daily presented to us as fact, we have henceforth resolved to tell our own stories. Loudly. No longer will we dine on a bounty of half-baked biases. No more will we sip from hoses gushing hypocrisy and hogwash. There are those who look past Africa's beauty in the hopes of seeing savagery; so that they may preen and posture as saints. We are the children of tomorrow. And we are here to assure that their disappointment awaits.
"The epidemic of gossip was proving more deadly and contagious than the disease. What began as a benign tale of a farmer coughing in the back of a bus quickly metastasized into a lurid account of a man struggling to barricade blood in his mouth with five futile fingers as fellow passengers clawed at themselves and tore at the square-windowless spaces of a danfo careening through the mass of human traffic referred to as the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway. If one believed the eager talk of women at the local bukateria, the crowded commute we were all accustomed to braving had conjured a creative new method to lure Nigerians into an early embrace with an unexpected doom.
Undeterred. We cozied in crowded bars sipping beers as round-table panelists on American cable news debated how long it would take for the end of the world to climb over their borders after those unfortunate Africans had been decimated. The bright side, as always, would be all that poor abandoned oil with no one to look after it."
"These were strange men. The kind of brutes that roamed the streets like wolves and battered opponents' supporters bloody in back alleys for being caught wearing the wrong jersey after the wrong outcome of a football game. I had seen men do unspeakable things to each other where I was from. But even then, they still treated each other like men.
The first time I heard the now familiar monkey chants directed at me from the crowd, I was setting up for a corner kick. The ball never made it onto the pitch. Before the whistle blew, I had gone flying into the stands with blood boiling and fists looking for a grinning culprit.
Later, I would learn to resist their goading. I had fought through deserts, waves and a government abetted prophecy that spoke of my early death. But I had not done all of this to be treated like an animal while playing football in Italy. Today, when the banana peel landed at my feet, I decided I had had enough. I picked up the ball and strode toward the stands with an index finger to my lips. A thousand spectators were silenced. To everyone present, it felt like the whole world was waiting to see what I would do next."
"They arrived by the cargo load. Endless rows of boxes littering the shores like a passive aggressive reaction to the migrant crisis that had recently befallen the southern tip of Europe. There, Africans had braved bitter crossings of the Mediterranean with hopes of finding better lives on the other side. Here, benevolent American corporations had bravely bought safe passage under tax shelters with dreams of depositing deductions in a faraway place, where no one would notice that such charity wasn't actually needed. Indeed, this invading army of tasteless t-shirts did more harm than good.
We affectionately referred to them as obruni wawa or 'dead white men's clothes'. But in truth, no self respecting white man would be caught wearing them...dead or alive. Which is how they ended up here in Ghana. This was presumably a place where no one would be bothered by the act of donning a pre-printed shirt celebrating the assumed championship victory of a team that would later choke at the finish line. Of course, It hadn't occurred to any of our generous benefactors that we might actually have televisions.
As a struggling garment worker, I watched with disappointment while former customers with no shame and less self esteem paraded around adorned in these aberrations. It wasn't an unfamiliar sensation. Eye-rolling at condescension from the West was an age-old tradition passed down from our forefathers. And this wouldn't be the last time "well-intentioned" foreigners would wreak havoc on the very people they prided themselves on helping. It was just another Tuesday."
"Life at home quietly embraced then smothered us, like the hands of a 19th century alleyway strangler emerging from an English fog. Amidst peers who promised well-pointed AK-47s were more profitable than piddling about on a pitch, I held my dreams of being a footballer aloft. For some reason or the other, all of us sought an escape from an estranged country that entangled us because it knew no other way to love.
Like too-many others, I paid what portion of a king's ransom an Eritrean pauper could dredge together, and climbed aboard a Libyan fishing boat pointed toward the Mediterranean Sea. All of us had heard of the barges that didn't make it across. The bodies that littered the bottom like deep sea sculptures molded by someone who had only seen terror. We thought that things would be different. That if we held each other tightly and stared at nothing but the horizon, it would eventually draw us ashore like some accelerated Darwin illustration inspired by a geopolitical nightmare called "Today". Less than a mile off the coast of Lampedusa, the boat's engine stopped. Mass panic ensued. As the edges of the barge began to tip into the water, we realized that we were wrong."
Our fathers' generation was deluded into thinking it knew hard work because those men had to brave a lifetime in the fields while their hands bled, and their backs wilted under an oppressive Nigerian sun. But they never had to face the burden of conjuring a barrage of blissfully deceitful emails to hundreds of gullible Western retirees before lunch.
This was work for men with nothing to lose. Because we had nothing to start with in the first place. Nothing but the dreams we invented for a living, and the collection of lives we would leave in shambles after ransacking their inboxes, savings and stock portfolios with the keys that they had given us to their own homes. Each of us was Shakespeare & Sheharazad. A thousand yarns to spin around the necks of a thousand fools who would be strung along for a thousand nights at the cost of thousands of dollars.
Every morning I waited. For the moment of divine inspiration which would guide me to the end of a new Master Work that would eloquently begin: "Dear Sir, It is a pleasure to meet you. Please let me tell you of a great financial opportunity that involves my sweet cousin Muyiwa and a wire transfer from your account..."
"Of Saints & Savages" is a collection of visual stories subverting the historical depictions of children of color in early European fine art. Whether the children appear as angels, heirs, or symbols of revolution against an unjust ruling class, each of these images tells a tale which is diametrically opposed to the subservient and subjugated manner in which persons of African descent were generally represented in the early fine arts from the Western World.