The Von Auersperg Art Gallery is home to a new, cutting-edge exhibit by Nigerian-American artist, Imo Nse Imeh. Forgotten Girls: Black Heroines on the Edge of Darkness and Hope stems from Nora Case’s 1907 children’s book and nursery rhyme about ten African American girls. Mr. Imeh’s exhibit features pieces reflecting ten “forgotten” girls, with each piece aiming to explore the unique story of a girl who has been quieted and neglected by society. Imeh chose to use pencil, charcoal, and India ink for his pieces in order to represent peril. The majority of the exhibit is composed of black and white series of the ten girls; however, he also includes color pieces from a series still under development. The exhibit being shown is the Chibok kidnapping series, based upon the 2014 abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls from the Nigerian village known as Chibok.
In some of his pieces, Mr. Imeh includes musical notes derived from “coon songs,” which hold derogatory messages regarding African Americans. The artist’s goal in incorporating these drawn lyrics, either on the bodies of the girls or in the background, is to stand up against negative stereotypes and demonstrate the importance of these young Nigerian girls despite the color of their skin. The universal message of his series is that it “shows the amazing beauty and resilience that these and so many other young women around the world demonstrate in times of great pain and challenge” (according to a plaque in gallery).
Mr. Imeh is a Nigerian-American artist and a professor at Westfield University in Massachusetts. His work reflects his perception of our culture at large, as well his personal struggle, as he explores language, history and the appalling realities of race in America. Mr. Imeh is a multi-medium artist; he has not only created visual art but also written a book about the ideals of feminine power. He notes that the process of creating a piece is just as important to him as the finished work of art itself due to the revelations he has while working and revising.
On Sunday, January 28, the tour guides for this exhibit came together for their initial training. Tour guides are there to be facilitators of conversation. In preparation for touring, they created poems describing each piece. Visual and Performing Arts Teacher Mercedes Taylor explained the purpose of this exercise: “The poems were meant to allow them to work in unison to connect directly to the image and the labels given by the artist. When the artist gives you something, you bring your own perspective, and you make it happen.”
Henry Pan ’19, a leader of tour guides for the “Forgotten Girls” exhibit, also spoke about the experience of being a tour guide. When asked what he hoped people would get out of his tours, Pan noted, “The ‘Forgotten Girls’ exhibit is at its core a thought-provoking series. I hope that through the confronting imageries people can have conversations about the issues at large, and ultimately become more aware of these issues intuitively.”
Mr. Imeh has created an artistic series that helps give a voice to the unheard, allowing them to finally be recognized as the individuals that they are. He acknowledges that, while this series focuses specifically on Nigerian girls, the issues they face are universal. “Forgotten Girls: Black Heroines on the Edge of Darkness and Hope” is an exhibit which calls into question society’s treatment of the minority and honors girls who have been disregarded. The exhibit will be open until March 2.