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Through the Eyes of Nigerian Artists Confronting FGM: An Exhibition, Oxford, June 2016

June 6, 2016

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Alloysius Osagie 'Infibulation Stone' P1100960 (62)Through the Eyes of Nigerian Artists Confronting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

6th – 16th June, Lady Margaret Hall, Jerwood Room, University of Oxford

Duke Asidere . Wande George . Helen Idehen . Angela Japhet . Imonikebe Manasseh . Alloysius Osagie . Sam Ovraiti . Olubunmi Temitope Oyasanya . Stella Ubigho . Godfrey Williams-Okorodus . Midy Yves Midahuen


Tobe Levin writes:

Origins of the Exhibition and FGM in Nigeria
In the 1980s, Nkechi Nnaji, age five, underwent ‘female circumcision’. No simple ‘cut’, the damage was so severe that, while her peers attended school, she was hospitalized, time and again. Advertising executive Joy Keshi Walker met the suffering girl, then age 12, and was so moved by the ‘financial, physical and emotional torture’ she had borne that Joy ‘vowed then and there to do what [she] could’ to end the ‘rite’. A specialist in visual communication, the social entrepreneur approached Sam Ovraiti, principal lecturer in painting and drawing at Auchi Polytechnic in Auchi, Nigeria. Could he gather students to attend a seminar in which Joy would teach them about FGM? There Joy and artist Godfrey Williams-Okorodus joined forces to create this exhibition.


Introducing the artists, the sculpture and paintings.

#1 INFIBULATION STONE by Alloysius Osagie. Marble and metal. 1998. Bio: Born in 1965, Mr Osagie graduated from Auchi Polytechnic and in 1994 earned the Higher National Diploma (H.N.D.) in sculpture. He specializes in stone carving and junk sculpture, has taken part in numerous exhibitions, and provided still another statue called BLADE AND SHELL for the original Lagos exhibition. Both the razor and the shell suspended above the head of a sculpted mother and child depict specific tools actually deployed for cutting in Nigeria. About the work: FORWARD – Germany’s executive committee, consisting equally of African and European members, chose “Infibulation Stone” for the cover of the first German exhibition catalogue in 1998, the sculpture thought most appropriate for its colour and evocation of a European ‘tradition’ whose remnant can be seen in official Museums of Torture, namely the ‘chastity belt’. Aware of the need to address racism when addressing FGM in any European context, the whiteness of the stone highlighted gender as a concept while muting race. Classified by WHO as type 3 FGM, infibulation is the most severe form of genital assault and makes sense only in a context of sexual inequality. It is practiced by certain minorities in Nigeria.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Alloysius Osagie 'Infibulation Stone' P1100960 (62)

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Alloysius Osagie 'Infibulation Stone' (detail) P1100960 (63)16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Alloysius Osagie 'Infibulation Stone' (detail) P1100960 (61)












#2 DEFIANCE OF PAIN 1 by Godfrey Williams-Okorodus. Oil on Canvas. 1998. Bio: Born in 1970, Mr Williams-Okorodus has participated in dozens of exhibitions, including the first and continuing collections specifically aimed at ending FGM, i.e. after Lagos (1998); in Germany (2000-2006); the USA (2006 -2008); Gent, Belgium, Vrowen en leven vol pijn, 13 – 28 July 2011 in St Stephanus Convent, and at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva (2012 & 2014). He has produced a series, Star Gazers, in honour of women and another devoted to the memory of pioneer activist, founder of FORWARD (UK), Efua Dorkenoo. He also paints covers for books on FGM published by UnCUT/VOICES Press and runs the Gallery Labalaba in Antwerp. About the work: Depicted in white, the hue of innocence, and clutching a rose, symbol of female genitalia, a small girl is dwarfed by a solid wall of grown-up women. The child’s head is tilted upward, her gaze resting on the sole jarring element, also white, a blade, whose holder’s visage is turned toward the others. What is she saying? Flowing lines of gowns evoke tranquillity – the security of habit, perhaps? – but the troop’s heads are bowed and features tight. The will to escape is clear, but its impossibility equally so. FGM is a social convention.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Godfrey Williams-Okorodus 'Defiance of Pain1' P1100960 (75)


#3 DEFIANCE 2 by Godfrey Williams-Okorodus. Oil on Canvas. 1998. Bio. See above. About the work: Her back turned to the village, a young woman with a questioning expression folds her arms across her chest, digging in. Hoping to break with tradition, to preserve the luscious, fat flower to her left, she finds the way forward blocked by imams to her right, ethereal figures that appear not only in front but also behind her. In the foreground, faded roses presage the worst, the youth’s defiance notwithstanding when the individual challenges the group.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Godfey Wliiams-Okorodus 'Defiance 2' P1100960 (76)


#4 OLD FASHION by Godfrey Williams-Okorodus. Water colour. 1998. Bio. See above. About the work: “Had this been your face, would you leave it as it is?” asks Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, evoking the aesthetic motive for altering the genital thought to be ugly, malodorous, and, ironically, the nemesis of ‘femininity’. With blades for ornaments – the earrings themselves, as Buchi Emecheta tells us, signifying marriage, hence sexual experience – we see portrayed the nexus between butchery and beauty. Though FGM performed on children always violates their rights, adults living by the French adage, il faut souffrir pour être belle, populate all continents.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Godfey Williams-Okoroduc 'Old Fashion' P1100960 (74)


#5 THE SCOURGE by Olubunmi Temitope Oyesanya. Oil on Canvas. 2008. Bio: Working mainly with oil on canvas, Ms Oyesanya has participated in numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally, for instance in Geneva, Switzerland; Gent, Belgium, and Dortmund, Germany. She has produced a second painting called “The Victim” specifically to protest against FGM. About the work: Chosen for the cover of the Gent exhibition catalogue, Vrouwen, een Leven vol Pijn. Genitale verminking. Een kunstzinnige confrontatie, “The Scourge” strikes the viewer not only with its bold, harsh pigments but its unequivocal symbols: the cowry (standing for both money and sex); the blade; the blood; and the perspective, foregrounding nether parts while reducing the head, organ of thought. The wasp waist makes a statement as well. Europe knew it, too, from the nineteenth into the twentieth centuries as a painful, health-destroying imposition on the female figure for (presumed) beauty’s sake.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM  Olubunmi Temitope Oyasanya 'The Scourge' P1100960 (73)


#6 THE QUEUE by Godfrey Williams-Okorodus. Water colour. 1998. Bio: See above. About the work: In Northern Nigeria, the clearly Muslim patients wait for treatment for vesico-vaginal fistula, VVF, which some believe is more likely to occur in young victims of FGM. Incontinence follows on the death of tissue between the vagina and the rectum or urethra and, although in many (though not all) cases repair is relatively simple, most sufferers lack sufficient funds. VVF is one of the most horrendous sequelae of excision.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Godrey Williams-Okorodus 'The Queue' P1100960 (72)

#7 MIDNIGHT ACT by Manasseh Imonikebe. Oil on canvas. 1998 and #8, WHAT IF I REFUSE? By Manasseh Imonikebe. Oil on canvas. 1998. Bio: A well-known Nigerian painter from Edo state, lecturer and head of the painting unit, Imonikebe teaches in the department of fine and applied arts at the University of Benin in Benin City and has many group and solo exhibitions to his credit. FORWARD – Germany hosted his canvasses in 2013 in Frankfurt. About #7: The painting’s sombre tones, befitting its title, suggest the omerta governing clitoridectomy in many ethnic groups whose initiates swear never to reveal what was done to them. Performed under cover of (figurative) darkness, the secret is, however, paradoxically public knowledge, for participants fill the stage, witness to cowardice or courage but always conquest and submission. About #8: Depicting a double-level of meaning, the literal surface answers the question with force. Male figures grab the candidate for cutting by the wrists as she powerfully tugs away. Have anthropologists recorded this, men interceding, applying physical restraint? Yes. But more often, documentaries show an escaping the child captured by women. But the query may remain a simple thought. “What if I refuse?” she asks herself and, foreseeing the weight of society against her, she goes along.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Menassah Imonikebe 'Midnight Act' P1100960 (70)

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Menassah Imonikebe 'What If I Refuse!' P1100960 (69)


#9 THE BURDEN by Midy Yves Midahuen. Oil on canvas. 2011. Bio: Born on 23 October 1967 in Porto-Novo Republic, Benin, Midahuen has taken part in multiple exhibitions in his native country as well as in Dakar, Senegal, and as part of the Harmattan workshops in Agbahor-Otor Delta State, Nigeria. About the work: As a recurring palimpsest, the razor appears as a major leitmotiv in the inter-generational image of children and adults. Of indeterminate gender, the group suggests the overt and covert influence of blades on body and mind.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM P1100960 (71)


#10 THE UNFULFILLED by Helen Idehen. Oil on canvas. 1998. Bio: Ms Idehen earned a Master’s in painting from the University of Benin, Nigeria. She teaches drawing and painting at Auchi Polytechnic. About the work: This autobiographical rendering depicts the artist’s sister’s suicide attempt. Born into an ethnicity that doesn’t cut, the prospective bride prevented a forced marriage that would have used the blade to satisfy the groom’s demand. Ms Idehen’s sibling survived.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Helen Idehen P1100960 (68)


#11 BLADES by Godfrey Williams-Okorodus. Oil on canvas. 2000. Bio: See above. About the work: Complicit in the practice as the blades cascade, the generations stand in solidarity, either all to be cut or all spared. The pivotal moment shows in the children’s expectant postures and the mothers’ noncommittal gaze.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Godfrey Williams-Okorodus 'Blades' P1100960 (6)


#12 TOGETHER by Godfrey Williams-Okorodus. Water colour. 2007. Bio: See above. About the work: Painted specifically to celebrate cooperation, the canvas depicts solidarity in fighting FGM wherever it occurs. Women and men of north and south celebrate success – that can’t come soon enough.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Godfrey Williams-Okorodus 'Together' P1100960 (67)


#13 INSTRUMENT OF THE ACT by Angela Japhet. Water colour. 1998. Bio: Born in 1962 in Delta State, Ms Japhet earned her H.N.D. at Auchi Polytechnic in painting. She has numerous solo and group exhibitions to her credit. About the work: An outsized blade superimposed on a screaming girl reminds viewers of the power of this normally tiny object to amplify distress throughout a victim’s life. Gentle pastel tones suggest betrayal by an overwhelming social force.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Angela Japhey 'Instrument of the Act' P1100960 (66)


#14 DISTORTED TRACKS by Sam Ovraiti. Water colour giclée print. 1998. Bio: Born in 1961, Mr Ovraiti was educated at Auchi Polytechnic and the University of Benin, finishing with the H.N.D. and a Master’s in Fine Art. As “Best Graduating Student,” he received numerous academic awards. Formerly a faculty member teaching drawing and painting at Auchi Polytechnic, he presently lives in Lagos and is widely exhibited throughout Nigeria, Europe and the USA. About the work: Attention is drawn to six women’s thighs, blood flowing down them in muted hues. The figures communicate postures of humility, perhaps a result of genital assault?

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Sam Ovraiti 'Distorted Tracks' P1100960 (64)


#15 THE WAITING ROOM by Duke Asidere. Oil on canvas. 1997. Bio: Graduating in 1988 with a First Class in Fine Arts and well-known in Nigeria, Mr Asidere specialised in painting at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria; he then taught at Auchi Polytechnic after completing his MFA. Researching the use of fabric off-cut collage, he has lectured on methodology, painting and art history. About the work: With legs outstretched, motionless victims await – either the cutting or the healing. Stiffness in their posture also evokes both the aftermath of cutting and its purpose, to suppress the spirit.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Duke Asidere 'The Waiting Room' P1100960 (65)


#16 AGONY – AN EXPERIENCE I WILL NEVER FORGET by Stella Ubigho. Oil on canvas. 1998. Bio: Born in 1969, a painter and graphic artist, Ms Ubigho earned a High National Diploma (H.N.D.) in painting at Auchi Polytechnic and has been represented in many group exhibitions in Nigeria. She works mainly in water colours, pastels, and oil. About the work: Autobiographical, the victim universalizes excruciating pain by adapting Edvard Munch’s Der Schrei (The Scream), superimposing the familiar European symbol of distress onto the mature form of an African woman. Note the emphasis on the well-formed breasts, youthful and attractive. The face in contrast is markedly aged.

16.06.14-6 Nigerian artists FGM Stella Ubigho 'Agony - An Experience I Will Never Forget' P1100960 (63)


#17 BARBARIC ACT by Wande George. Oil on canvas. 1998. Bio: Born in 1962, Mr George earned the N.H.D. at Auchi Polytechnic in painting and illustration and has been employed as an illustrator at Lintas, Nigeria’s best-known advertising agency. He has participated in several group exhibitions. About the work: In Nigeria, specific groups fear that should an infant’s head touch the clitoris, the child will die. Clitoridectomy is thus imposed during childbirth.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Wande George 'Barbaric Act' P1100960 (62)


#18 THE UGLY HAND THAT MAIMS by Wande George. Oil on canvas. 1998. Bio: See above. About the work: The sickle is specific to Nigeria, the curved knife used on a child bride’s vagina. Note the shadows ringing the scene, suggestive of the weight of community consensus and participation.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Wande Goerge 'The Ugly Hand That Mains' P1100960 (61)


#19 THE CHILD WEEPS by Wande George. Oil on canvas. 1998. Bio: See above. About the work: One of the most unforgettable and gruesome scenes of FGM takes place in the 1990 documentary, Beliefs and Misbeliefs, produced by the Inter-African Committee of Nigeria under the leadership of the esteemed Dr Irene Thomas who has insisted that men, especially, must confront – be confronted by – the horror which, once they have seen it, leads many of them to act. This painting derives from footage of a nine-month-old being cut by a barber on the sidewalk, shrieking, as passers-by proceed with nonchalance on their daily routines.

16.06.14-16 Nigerian artists FGM Wande George 'The Child Weeps' P1100960 (61)


Why art?

A paradox, the aptness of the medium lies in its non-verbal, multi-sensory appeal, especially suitable in an environment where not everyone can read and while confronting a controversial issue as painful and dangerous as FGM, able to trigger flashbacks not only in the excised but also in viewers. Emotional impact can indeed be great but may also turn into constructive resolve. The first display in Lagos in October 1998, consisting of 80 artefacts hosted by the Goethe Institute, attracted politicians, diplomats, students, the press, as well as victims, by-standers, parents and girls. Its appeal to decision-makers, too, has been significant. Shortly after the exhibition travelled to a number of regions in Nigeria, two states abolished the practice, and recently, former president Goodluck Jonathan, in his last act in office, banned FGM for the nation as a whole. Given Nigeria’s 120 million people –the most populous African country–, where few of the ca. 250 ethnic groups are free of clitoral excision, Nigeria may account for as much as 25% of FGM worldwide.

When the exhibition moved to Germany, it was welcomed by Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, then Cabinet Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2000, it attracted the attention of MP Christine McCafferty preparing to welcome passage of the renewed Female Genital Mutilation Act in a joint session of the Houses of Lords and Commons. On 22 November 2000, a selection of paintings displayed at Lady Margaret Hall (University of Oxford, 2016) were shown in Parliament for celebration of the enhanced legislation opposing FGM.

Once returned to Germany, the artworks travelled between 4 February 2000 and 26 February 2006 to more than 65 venues. They were displayed in federal, state and local ministries of health or city halls in all major urban centres. Expo 2000 presented the pictures; the GIZ – German counterpart to DFiD – invited the exhibition twice; women’s groups and civic organizations also found the canvasses appropriate, not only in raising awareness but in stimulating commitment to act. Most adept at breaking taboos, artists share their impressions, calling on intellect, feeling and heart. As Joy Keshi Walker resumes, art ennobles. About FGM, it is also about the artist, the viewer, and a future free from a harmful traditional practice that slows development, inscribes inequality, and causes untold suffering to generations of girls. The end is overdue.

Tobe Levin (June 2016)

~ ~ ~

Through the Eyes of Nigerian Artists Confronting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

6th – 16th June, Lady Margaret Hall, Jerwood Room, University of Oxford

Speaking events on 6th and 16th June (please see below).

Open Weekdays in the Jerwood Room


Vernissage (Introduction / Opening), Tuesday 6th June 6 p.m.

  • Godfrey Williams-Okorodus, artist and curator
  • Hibo Wardere,  educator and author, Cut. One Woman’s Fight against FGM in Britain Today
  • Holger Postulart and Elisabeth Wilson, The Global Alliance against FGM (Geneva)
  • Maggie O’Kane, a recipient of British Journalist of the Year and Foreign Correspondent of the Year awards and award-winning head of The Guardian Global Campaign to End FGM
  • Naomi Rosen
  • Kaddy Touray (Oxford against Cutting)


14:30 -16:30 Tuesday and Wednesday, 7-8 June

15:00-16:30 Thursday 9 June

12:00-16:30 Friday 10 June

12:00-16:00 Monday to Thursday, 13 – 16 June


Finissage 16th June 6 p.m.

Venue: Deneke Room, Lady Margaret Hall


Curators: Dr Tobe Levin von Gleichen.
Joy Keshi Walker in Lagos and FORWARD-Germany


Sponsor: Dr Maria Jaschok, Director, International Gender Studies Centre, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford

With support from Oxford against Cutting and 28 Too Many.


See also this discussion.


Ending FGM is everyone’s business. You can learn more (by reading and viewing); contribute (by volunteering and donating); or make things move via social media (blogging, twittering and more). Here are some useful tools.


Abe, Phoebe. Female Genital Mutilation: an A-Z guide. Dr Abe Foundation, 2015

Burrage, Hilary. Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective. Ashgate, 2015

Burrage, Hilary. Female Mutilation. New Holland, 2016.

Khady with Marie-Thérèse Cuny. Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims her Human Rights. Trans. Tobe Levin. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2010.

Kiminta, Maria and Tobe Levin. Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2015.

Levin, Tobe and Augustine Asaah, eds. Empathy and Rage. Female Genital Mutilation in African Literature. Ayebia, 2009.

Levin, Tobe, ed. Waging Empathy. Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and the Global Movement to Ban FGM. Preface by Elfriede Jelinek. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2014.

Momoh, Comfort, ed. Cut. One Woman’s Fight against FGM in Britain Today. CRC Press, 2005.

 Undoing FGM. Pierre Foldes, the Surgeon Who Restores the Clitoris. Foreword by Bernard Kouchner. Trans. and afterward Tobe Levin. UnCUT/VOICES Press, 2011.

Wardere, Hibo. Cut. One Woman’s Fight against FGM in Britain Today. Simon and Schuster, 2016.


Feminist Europa. Review of Books. Special issue on FGM.

Hilary Burrage


On the internet (The Guardian):
Guardian Global Media Campaign to End FGM

The exhibition (Facebook):

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2016 9:32 am

    Fascinating to read about this exhibition. The art is described as comprising very powerful images. I regret that I will not get to see this. My only reservation would be the need to emphasise that the practice of FGM does not just happen in Nigeria – nor even only in far-away places but that women in Britain, USA, Australia and Western Europe have been subjected to this, in addition to Africa, India and other Asian countries.


    • June 11, 2016 10:35 am

      Thanks Mary; and yes of course.
      There are around 140,000 women and girls affected in the UK alone (and about half a million each in continental Europe and the USA). You will see that Tobe Levin, a global expert and the curator of this specialist collection, has invited a range of speakers, most of them British -in fact including me (please see; FGM in the UK is my focus) – to talk about the wider and UK issues.
      So sorry you can’t make it; I know you have an active interest! But will try and post more when the exhibition has finished.
      Best wishes,


  2. June 19, 2016 6:16 am

    Thank you. Images which are painful to see.



  1. “I can still hear the blade slicing skin”: auditory trauma and FGM | UnCut/Voices Press

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