Josfyn Uba and Jet Stanley Madu
Dr. Iian Timothy is a German-based Nigerian visual artist. She has won several awards in recognition for her creative exploits. During the ceremonies to mark the inauguration of Governor Emeka Ihediora of Imo State, which included an art exhibition at the Ahiajoku Convention Centre, Owerri, Dr. Timothy, who is also a linguist and social worker, was among the artists who exhibited their works
She spoke to Daily Sun shortly before she left Nigeria.
Can you recall your growing up years?
I hail from Obetiti-Nguru in Aboh-Mbaise, Imo. I had my primary and secondary education here. I started my OND in Idah Polytechnic. I didn’t finish it before I went to Germany. I didn’t complete it because, when I was growing up, I realised I was a bit different from other girls and artistically inclined.
But I was not allowed to study arts because, then, it was not considered a proper profession for girls. I tried fashion designing too. I was not allowed to do that either. So, I got frustrated and moved over to Germany because I believed Nigeria couldn’t give me exactly what I wanted.
Did you continue with your schooling there?
The first thing in Germany was to study the German language. It was important to do that because the knowledge of the language is more beneficial in whatever I would do, in education and even social interaction.
I got married to a German and had a child. Raising a family was a great stride for me. Later on, I joined my husband in his company.
At what point did you get back into the visual arts?
I didn’t just come into Germany and go into the creative world. The first thing I did was to work on my papers. The documentation process of citizenship was important. I faced it with a sense of focus and determination. I did everything I needed to do to get it. I got married to a German and had my child. Through these struggles, I almost lost track and forgot the reason I came to Germany. God was on my side, I had everything. I have a family now, and I have stated living a bit comfortably. I am happy and grateful to God for seeing me through. Life became good.
But then, I realised that something was still missing. I felt an emptiness and void that I couldn’t understand. The urge to go back to my arts was strong. I realised that there was a part of me that had been lying fallow. I needed to open up that channel because it was something I would not trade for less value. The artistic part of me was yearning to be harnessed.
While all this was going on, one day, I met a friend, a Polish national, who introduced me to the art world. She was doing well in that profession and I admired her a lot. That was how the whole idea resonated again in me. She reminded me of my passion and helped recreate my part in it.
How do you use you art as activism?
Art is naturally a form of activism. It is a means to social change. I am an activist. I use my paintings to address problems, especially societal ills that plague our country or womenfolk.
I highlight and talk about challenges womenfolk are faced with. With my paintings, I fight for the rights of women in Germany, genital mutilation and rights of the girl-child in Africa. I talk about giving back power to the black African women because I know that we had power before the white men came.
When the white men came, they saw that they could not break through the African woman. Before they came, Africans also had queens. They were ruling kingdoms. The African women were military strategists. But the white men came and took the power from us. Then they gave it to the men because that was who they could manipulate.
I remember in my village, Obetiti-Mbaise, till date, they still talk about the Agha Udengele Ezi. That was the Aba Women’s Riot. They fought it. I am happy that history documented them as the major force that fought the war, and not the men.
How did you get to be part of the Owerri exhibition?
I was invited by the organisers. It was an honour to be part of that historic event of inaugurating my Mbaise brother as Imo governor.
It is the first in the history of Imo State. It was quite difficult flying back home, financially and otherwise. It was a huge task conveying my artworks from Germany. For me, movement of the works was critical because of the delicate nature but it was worth it. My joy is that I was part of history. I am happy to bring my art home because, like they say, East or West, home is the best.
I am happy and proud to identify with the new government in Imo State.
How were your early days in Germany?
It was not easy but, thank God, I surmounted all the challenges. When you move to another country, you have to struggle with a lot of things, like identity, language and cultural values, especially when you are coming from Africa. I struggled through all of these before I found my feet. To cut the story short, Europe gave me the opportunity to live out my dream as an artist.
How did you get into social work?
At a point while in Germany, I did a course in psychology. With that, I worked as a social worker. The job description was to make sure that children from broken marriages enjoyed love and affection from both parents. I found some fulfillment in that. Yet, it didn’t give me the satisfaction I craved. I knew that art was my mainstay.
How did you achieve that?
Couples in broken marriages usually had a lot of fights. And children were the ones who suffered the separation most. We wanted the children to enjoy the quality time, to enjoy their company, which they lacked since their parents were separated.
What we do now is to create a very loving, calm and very peaceful environment to share with their parents.
It is an opportunity where the child/children meet with the mom or dad and enjoy some moments, one hour, one and a half or two hours, without the other parent. We do this because, when the other parent is there, the child is happy. In that environment, where they spend quality time, the other parent is not around, just one parent at a time with the child.
It seems that you are acquainted with the situations back home. How would you compare the rate of divorce in Germany and Nigeria?
I have been married for 20 years now. I think the rate of divorce in Nigeria, presently, is escalating. It is a pity. I call it civilisation, it is the disadvantage of what they call civilisation.
Although it has not reached the level we have in Germany, I don’t see any hope of it reducing because of peoples’ exposure to the various segments of the media now.
We learn a lot from Western culture. We are masters at copying, and it is indeed a pity. Sometimes, when you go to the white community, it is actually not like that. There, many of them are good wives. They are good husbands, still. They are good mothers and fathers. They are good families. So, it is not actually as bad as it seems there.
Unfortunately, Nigerians copy, learn and practice these un-African traits, including divorce, from films and the media.
I have German friends who have been married to their fellow German spouses and have lived together as good husbands and wives for 18, 20, 30 years and more. So, I would say that marriages still work. Mine is still functioning. It is also a function of individual lifestyle and people’s ability to manage relationships. No two marriages or individuals are the same. The important thing is that you must find a way to manage your uniqueness.
Have you had your own solo exhibition?
I have had several. Maybe more than 40 solo exhibitions. I also do very few group exhibitions. I enjoy group exhibitions because you have a variety of paintings. Most of them are solo because I work with organisations. My exhibitions are all theme-based. I worked on Broken Vessels, which I did when the Chibok girls were abducted. I did Exploitation of Natural Resources In Africa. I did another on the Invisible Present Chain, because we think that slavery is no more but, unfortunately, it goes on, silently. The shackles are invisible because we don’t see them but they are still there. You can feel it, everywhere. Humans are in chains. My exhibitions are topical and I do presentations with my paintings. With these, I speak against societal ills.
On a general note, what is your advice for women?
I would like to say, first and foremost, we are interested in civilisation and chasing all its shadows or what we call independence, but that is an illusion.
For us to be part of the society we find ourselves in, we have to first identify and know who we are. The problem we have now is identity problem. In Nigeria, and even abroad, we all have identity problem. Now, our children have identity problem. And our children are likely going to have more serious problems.
How often do you visit home?
I haven’t been to Nigeria in the last two years because of work demands where I had to be more on the go. Before then, I was coming like two three times every year to Nigeria.
This is what my art seeks to achieve, to bring us back to our roots, to transform us and to re-embrace our culture because I believe that if we feel we want to be free, we must break our chain. I strongly believe that we can break the chain to free ourselves but, if we break our roots, we will die.
To the womenfolk, I say, don’t you ever think it is too late to achieve whatever you desire to do. Don’t you ever think you are too old to achieve.
Every one of us has a talent that God gave us at the time of our incarnation. I believe that in it lies our power to order our future. In it lies the power to be successful in whatever we are doing. So, I advise them to use what they have, no matter how little. Start from where you are, do what you can and the universe will embrace you.