Racism in arts and two good hearts

September 11 2009 is a day that Belgium-based Nigerian artist Godfrey Williams-Okorodus will not forget in a hurry. Godfrey has been championing a campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) using art as the tool of his campaign.

In respect of this campaign, Godfrey’s work has been shown in the British Parliament, Harvard Faculty Club, Cornell University and several other venues in Europe. On September 11 2009 the art works were displayed in a small town called Ypres in Belgium. Godfrey had an exhibition of his own works along with those of other artists. The organizers of the exhibition completely ignored the presence of our own Godfrey Williams-Okorodus while the officials of the city and organizers of the event made speeches and keynote addresses. As the originator of the campaign, Godfrey was left in shock. He was not even mentioned or acknowledge in the program. According to him, “I have never in my entire professional career felt so low. Of course I would rather die than allow such injustice and I raised a serious fuss and I was allowed to say something. The question I want answered is: can this same treatment be meted out to a Belgian artist?”

The second case was another incident that involved Godfrey and his friend Bode Owa who is a very well known black actor in Belgium. Bode was billed to perform at the exhibition mentioned above but when they got to Ypres they had to stop to get directions to the venue. In the process Bode spotted a wallet in the middle of the road. He picked it up and walked across to some youths to ask them if the wallet belonged to any of them but they answered in the negative.

So Bode opened the wallet and discovered that it belonged to a British man. Together Bode and Godfrey guessed it must belong to one of the tourists who have probably come to visit the graves of British soldiers killed during the World Wars. They decided to try to give the wallet to the owner rather than the police because Bode had a very nasty experience in the past where he took a wallet he found to the police and they detained and questioned him. The police even accused him of taking money from the wallet.

Anyway this time around Bode and Godfrey called the UK numbers on the complimentary cards that they found in the wallet and left messages saying that they found a wallet and they would like to return it to the owner. These 2 Nigerians even went to a pub in Ypres in an attempt to locate the owner of the wallet. They had seen a receipt from the pub inside the wallet.

After the nasty experience at the exhibition a call came through from the owner of the wallet and an arrangement was made to meet up at the exact spot where the wallet was found. The couple that came to retrieve the wallet actually stood in front of Godfrey and Bode but it was beyond their thoughts that these are the guys who have found their wallet. It was rather comical as Bode was calling on the phone and Godfrey was looking at the whole scene. Bode had his back to the couple as he spoke to them on the phone on this tiny bridge where it should have been possible to see anyone who was talking on the phone.

Godfrey had to call the attention of the couple saying hey! We are the ones with the wallet. The first word that the man uttered in amazement was, YOU!!! That simple word spoke volumes as the man could not believe in his wildest dreams that he would lose a wallet and have it returned by two black men, one of them in dreadlocks. His jaw dropped and he was speechless for a few seconds. The couple did not know how to show their appreciation, the man was so grateful he refused to check the wallet to see if everything was intact in it.

The man told them that he trusted them so that he still refused to check the wallet even when Godfrey insisted that he should. The man didn’t need any proof of honesty for the case at hand. His wife was almost in tears with gratitude. The couples had planned to leave for Spain the next day but when they lost the wallet they canceled the trip to Spain. But now they can continue their holidays by still taking the trip to Spain.

They offered money, meals, drinks but Bode and Godfrey turned down all. In Godfrey’s words: “their happiness was enough thanks for us”. Bode and Godfrey formed a common opinion that the next time the couple listens to someone saying how much blacks and other races are dishonest they can at least narrate this experience in Ypres.

Godfrey would like all black people to be like him, walk erect with their heads held high. He sent these words “I have been to a lot of places and I have seen countless injustices. That is why I am using my talent to let the world know that as long as I have breath in my body I will not let any form of injustice and victimization pass by me without protesting loudly and constantly be it wars, hunger, brutality etc. Even after I die my works will still be there to fight on. My parents told me as a child, do good and good will come to you”

Thy Glory O’ Nigeria…!

With contributions from Godfrey Williams-Okorodus, Belgium


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