There are artists who believe their work should be assessed solely for its aesthetic qualities. This “art for art’s sake” philosophy should not be surprising as art is “the conscious creation of something beautiful or meaningful using skill and imagination”. There are others however who hold that beyond the beauty of their work, it should also send a social message.
Germany-based Nigerian painter Vivian Chioma Timothy belongs to the latter group. She holds that her work is a platform to give a voice to the voiceless.
Last year, she held an exhibition in Augsburg, Germany, where she focused on the ordeal of the Chibok girls, pupils of a secondary school who were kidnapped by Islamist terrorists of the despicable Boko Haram group in 2014.
The exhibition, entitled “Broken vessels”, was to open our eyes to the horrendous suffering of these victims of terror and their families and hopefully elicit response from us in their defence.
At the exhibition, Vivian talked about the girls to both young and adult Germans, on an issue, she said, had given her sleepless nights. Those at the exhibition were visibly touched by the paintings and the narration of the ordeal of the Chibok girls that some in the audience openly broke into tears.
Vivian has also addressed the devastation of the environment in the Niger Delta, the region that holds most of Nigeria’s oil and gas riches. Despite the enormous wealth that has been (and is still being) extracted from the soil and waters of the Niger Delta by Western multinational companies, the people inhabiting the area have been worse for it in every regard. “Our land is being destroyed and poisoned, the pipelines are ailing, the methods of delivery are old, but the old, corrupt rulers hold fast to it,” she says. “When people flee, then from violence and the destruction of their homeland,” Vivian added, pointing out the link between the activities of Western companies in Africa and the migration of young Africans to Europe.
Another recurring theme in Vivian’s work is rural life in Africa, to draw attention to “these rural African women that raised the strong men and women in our nations”.
“All these presidents, bureaucrats and technocrats, leaders of all classes emanated from these women. Whether we like it or not, these are the voices that shaped and moved the world and are still moving it. So I speak for them with my paintings,” she says.
The beauty of Africa – of its landscape, nature, people, also inspires Vivian’s paintings.
“The love for my roots and for my origins is mirrored in my paintings, which can tell you much about African lifeworlds – traditions that are disappearing more,” said the Nigerian-born artist of Igbo ethnic group about her work. “If we break our chains, we will be free, but if we break our roots, we die.”
Vivian has held many exhibitions across Germany and Europe and as far as in the United States with her message resonating with art lovers who admire her work as a vessel, directing the attention of society to the plight of those without many speaking for them.
Vivian, who has lived in Germany for twenty-five years, studied biochemistry and initially wanted to become a singer, but a chanced meeting with an old friend who discovered her talent for the visual art changed her plans. Since then Vivian has devoted her life to painting.
A multiple-awarded artist, Vivian recently added another feather to her already loaded hat. On 7 July she was conferred with an ‘Honorary Doctorate Award’ by the Academy of Universal Global Peace at a colourful ceremony held at the University of Westminster, London, UK.
Vivian’s next exhibition, entitled Back to My Roots, holds from 15-28 September in the Bavarian city of Augsburg.