Jelili Atiku, a Nigerian multimedia artist whose performances are concerned with issues of human rights and justice, was today honored by the Netherlands with the 2015 Prince Claus award. The award, which acknowledged Mr. Atiku’s outstanding work and the creation of a new artistic language, was bestowed on the artist at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Lagos.
The artist, who was recently detained by the police after a traditional ruler complained about his performance, received the prestigious award for combining Yoruba traditional art forms with international performance practice. The award paid tribute to his thought-provoking performances that challenge assumptions and stimulate dialogue in an unconventional and dynamic form of community education. He was also cited as an artist who takes personal and artistic risks in order to open new possibilities and reach wider audiences, and as a pioneer dedicated to establishing space for contemporary performance art in Nigeria.
Ambassador John C.M. Groffen of The Royal Kingdom of Netherlands stated that the award presentation “was a re-presentation of the award in the awardee’s home country.”
Other highlights of the ceremony included dance performances, poetry readings, and goodwill messages from various artists and dignitaries.
The citation described Mr. Atiku, who hails from Ejigbo community in Lagos as “an imaginative performance artist whose provocative spectacles use striking attire, unsettling body language, and unusual props to open up dialogue and influence popular attitudes. He drops himself right into the heart of Lagos, into the realities of the streets, of densely populated, poor areas, and entices people to interact and respond to his visual presentations.”
The statement continued: “Rooted in Yoruba performance traditions, Atiku brings local elements to international performance practice, creating an extraordinary mix of action, symbolism, storytelling, disguise, costume, color coding and theatricality. A rigorous researcher, his subjects include commentary on Nigerian human rights in the ‘Assassination of a Political Prisoner’; politically charged critiques of the ruling class and Boko Haram; site-specific interventions on climate change, e-waste and fuel subsidies; and ‘Araferaku’ (loosely translated as ‘A Part of Me is Missing’), a moving personal eulogy to his father.”
The award praised Mr. Atiku for “breaking new ground in contemporary performance art in Nigeria,” adding that his sustained experimentation was pushing the boundaries of artistic communication and strengthening public understanding, participation, and appreciation. The Prince Claus Awards, which honor outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development, hailed the laureate as “an inspirational figure for younger generations and a voice of the future.”
The awards are presented annually to individuals, groups and organizations whose cultural actions have a positive impact on the development of their societies.
In keeping with the Prince Claus Fund’s idea of culture as a basic need, the awards highlight significant contributions in regions where resources or opportunities for cultural expression, creative production and preservation of cultural heritage are limited. The awards, which are given to individuals, groups and organizations based mainly in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, recognize the excellent quality of work done by artists and intellectuals, and the recipients’ significant impact on the development of their society.
The Prince Claus Awards recognize artistic and intellectual qualities, experimentation and innovation, audacity and tenacity. In addition, they seek to foster inspirational leadership and to enhance the positive impact of cultural expression on societies.