Art@Site Sokari Douglas Camp Bus London

Sokari Douglas Camp



Living Memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9 (known as the Bus) is a new monument to writer and activist Ken Saro Wiwa, executed 11 years ago in Nigeria for his campaign against the devastation by oil companies of the Niger delta, was unveiled outside the Guardian's offices in central London on November 10, 2006. The "Living Memorial" is a sculpture in the form of a bus by the Nigerian‐born artist Sokari Douglas Camp, and will tour the UK over the coming year.
The memorial is a sculpture of a bus made in remembrance of the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni environmental rights activists who were sentenced and killed by a military tribunal in November 1995. The Bus calls attention to the environmental degradation and economic deprivation in which the Ogoni people live, despite being naturally blessed with enormous deposits of crude oil.
Battle Bus, created by Nigerian-born, London based sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp CBE (b. 1958) is a massive steel sculpture and living memorial that commemorates the execution of Nigerian writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995). As the president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) founded in 1990, Saro-Wiwa led a powerful nonviolent campaign against the environmental exploitaon of the Niger Delta by the petroleum industry. The campaign was violently ended by the Nigerian military government, when Saro-Wiwa, along with eight other activists, was arrested and controversially executed in 1995 for allegedly masterminding the murder of four Ogoni chiefs. The brutal hanging of the activists attracted global media attention and widespread outrage by the public.
To mark the 10th anniversary of Saro-Wiwa’s execution, a competition was launched by the United Kingdom-based art, activism, and research organization Platform, in collaboration with Amnesty International, the Arts Council, and Greenpeace, to create a memorial. The winning project was a mobile memorial by Sokari Douglas Camp CBE, consisting of a life-size replica of a Nigerian bus made of steel and loaded with oil barrels, which marked the names of the nine activists. After its completion in 2006, the bus was exhibited in front of The Guardian’s London offices, to then travel to Bristol, Hull, Liverpool and Birmingham—ahosen due to their historical links to the slave trade. In 2015, to mark the 20th anniversary of the brutal execution, Nigerian environmental organizations attempted to bring the memorial to Nigeria. Unfortunately, once Battle Bus arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, it was impounded by the country’s customs officers. Claiming that its presence would “cause havoc” due to its political message, they have kept Battle Bus in captivity for the past five years.
This essay aims to highlight the aesthetic, political and environmental significance of Battle Bus, and argue that the political tension the memorial has generated in present-day Nigeria points to the neocolonial control of multinational oil corporations such as Shell, and the Nigerian government’s complicity in exploiting local communities as well as natural resources. The impoundment of Battle Bus is an attempt to erase the violent history of the country and to keep the Niger Delta’s communities under control amidst the drastic degradation of their en To contextualize the Delta’s ecological crisis, this essay builds on the writings of Kathryn Yusoff, who argues that our current geological era, the “Anthropocene” was founded on slavery in the 15th century and is still silently fueling the genocide of black, brown, and indigenous communities—as toxic hazards, landfills, and petrochemical sites still endanger bodies along color lines.
The people of Ogoniland continue to fight for remediation and restoration of their lands and compensation after the devastation caused by oil multinationals led by sHELL.
After being on display at various places in the United Kingdom for 9 years, at the request of Ogoni Solidarity Forum-Nigeria and a few other Civil Society groups, the Bus was shipped from Tilbury Port outside London to Nigeria via Lagos Port. On arrival in Lagos, it was impounded by Custom officials who claimed that it had ‘political value’ which is capable of threatening national peace in Nigeria. They saide to Saro-Wiwa’s words which are inscribed on the side: ‘I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni’.
The Bus also displays the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa on a white steel banner, and the names of the other eight Ogoni men on sculptural barrels, currently stowed inside the Bus for transportation purposes.
Not a Traditional Memorial
The Battle Busis a full-scale replica of a Nigerian bus, coated with cold sprayed copper and gold. At first glance, the idea of a locomotive object might seem ironic to commemorate the execution of an activist against oil exploitation, but Camp chose it to symbolize the connection between Nigeria and Britain and as an educational tool that could provide space for lectures and activities, transforming the sculpture into a “living memorial”:
Sokari Douglas Camp: I thought of a bus, because Platform weren’t keen on a figure, and neither were Saro-Wiwa’s family. And I thought, well, what’s this man e’s about education, he’s about information and oil and transport and all the things that we use daily with trying to catch up with the West. [...] What I find amusing is that quite a lot of these vehicles in Nigeria are second hand from the West and so it’s that sort of thing that ties Nigeria and Britain together. A bus is a good tool for all of that, but it has specially to do with Ken Wiwa and his love of educating people. In this bus, you can have lectures [...] and you can have workshops, and the idea behind the commission was that it should be a living memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa.
With the announcement of the open call, Platform aimed to move away from traditional memorials that dominate the streets of London, commemorating the aristocracy and figures of the colonial empire. They wanted to provide space for provocation, to challenge the fossilized notions of what a memorial is. The bus, exhibited around the United Kingdom, diverges from traditional, static memorials, and displays a clear messag Camp hopes will raise the curiosity of viewers to learn more about its story. The windshield of Battle Bus is covered with a banner that displays Ken Saro-Wiwa’s name in capital letters—as if carved out by spring bullets—while the eight barrels sitting on top of the vehicle mark the names of the other eight activists. Yet, even more dramatic is Saro-Wiwa’s famous phrase “I accuse the oil companies of practicing genocide against the Ogoni” written across the bus. Camp chose to work with Saro-Wiwa’s heavy words as they deeply resonated with her experiences growing up in the Niger Delta:
Sokari Douglas Camp: Those words still strike me hard now, just because basically we’ve had to leave our homes, we can’t feed ourselves or breathe in the Niger Delta, because of the way oil has been extracted there. So, there was a kind of quiet, silent genocide.
Camp claims that oil extraction has had disastrous effects on the entire Niger Delta. Her Battle Bus became the symbol of not only the executtivists, but also of the ongoing genocide and ecocide of the area. The political power of the work is clearly demonstrated by the fact that as soon as the memorial arrived in Nigeria in 2015 upon the request of local organizations, it was seized by customs and has not been released since.
Battle Bus stands out as an antidote to the colonial, figurative monuments, and is one of Camp’s most recognized works. She was born in Buguma, a town in River State, Nigeria, that is part of the Kalabari Kingdom (an independent traditional kingdom state of the Kalabari people) and was sent to a boarding school in Great Britain at an early age. Camp then studied at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California (1979–80), at the Central School of Art and Design (1980–83), as well as at the Royal College of Art in London (1983–86). Even though Camp has worked and lived in London for over 20 years, her practice is still deeply influenced by Kalabari culture. Her metal sculptures often depict figures ori masquerades. In addition to Kalabari culture, the main focus of Camp’s oeuvre is the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta. In many of her sculptures, just as in reality, the two concerns are “welded” together. For example, in Close to My Heart (1998) a Kalabari woman, dressed in traditional costume, is holding a photograph depicting an oil well and flames. The use of the photograph, along with Camp’s choice of materials, brings together references of Kalabari culture and the environmental disasters her community continues to endure due to oil drilling:
Sokari Douglas Camp: It is the emotional content of holding such a photograph which is also my home (I am Kalabari) which inspired this work. My peoples’ health is being damaged and our environment is being polluted by the extraction of oil in this manner. As a piece of work, I like the combination of old and new. Acetate, oil, glass added to a traditional African woman. This combination is very real for me as an African living in thesetimes. Nothing stays still.
Sokari Douglas Camp was born in Buguma, an island town in Rivers State, Nigeria. She studied Fine Art at Central School of Art and Design and then the Royal College of Art. Camp has represented Britain and Nigeria in national and international exhibitions and has had more than 40 solo shows worldwide including at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute and The Museum of Mankind London. Her work is in permanent collections at The Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C., Setagaya Museum, Tokyo and the British Museum, London.
In 2003, Camp was a shortlisted artist for the Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth. In 2005, she was awarded a CBE in recognition of her services to art. In the same year, she became an Honorary Fellow of the University of the Arts London; she also recently became an Honorary Fellow of SOAS. Her public artworks include Battle Bus: Living Memorial for Ken Saro‐Wiwa, 2006, a full-scale replica of a Nigerian steel bu which stands as a monument to the late Niger Delta activist and writer. Battle Bus travelled to Nigeria as part of Action Saro-Wiwa, a campaign to clean up the Niger Delta Summer in 2015.
In 2012, her work, All The World Is Now Richer, a memorial to commemorate the abolition of slavery, was exhibited in The House of Commons before travelling to Bristol Cathedral, Norwich Cathedral and St George’s Hall in Liverpool. The sculpture was exhibited in St Paul’s Cathedral London, 2014 and the Doge’s Prigioni Venice, 2016. The work is presented as part of the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2017.
Sokari Douglas Camp is a sculptor. Her work consists of steel, supplemented with oil drums, aluminium, gold leaf, copper and acrylic paint. Nigerian cultures and in particular the Kalabari heritage of her native land and life in the United Kingdom are important sources of inspiration.
She was raised in England by her brother-in-law, the anthropologist Robin Horton. After hhool, she studied at the California College of Arts in Oakland, she continued her studies at the Central School of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art in London, where she still lives and works.
She borrows the poses of human figures from famous paintings in Western art history. An eighteenth-century print by William Blake was a model for three female figures that symbolize as many continents. Old Europe stands in the middle, tired and dependent on her companions who keep her afloat.
Douglas Camp received many commissions for public memorial sculptures. Famous were the Battle Bus: The Living Memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa (2006) and All the World is Now Richer (2012), a sculpture memorial commemorating slavery. For Green Leaf Barrel (2014) she was inspired by the heavily polluted Niger Delta. The female figure depicts a goddess, who ensures growth, which comes from an oil barrel split in two. Douglas Camp focuses on the positive because the negative often wrongly determines the public discussion.
Camp has received a working grant from the prestigious Henry Moore Foundation. Her works are in the collections of major museums in Europe and Japan and in private collections around the world. Her Blue Head / Pink Head at Artzuid (2013) is representative of her oeuvre. Listed below are major African artists who have impacted the world of sculpture... many are still practicing today having had long, celebrated and illustrious careers. Edoardo Villa, SA (1915-2011)
Ben Enwonwu, Nigeria, (1917 - 1994)
Stella Shawzin, SA (1920 - 2020)
Ibrahim El Salahi, Sudan b 1930
Sydney Kumalo, SA (1935 - 1988)
Francis Nnnggenda, Uganda, b 1936
Arthur Azvedo, Zimbabwe b 1935
Ousmane Sow, Senegal (1935 - 2016)
Percy Konqobe, SA b 1939
Sunday Jack Akpan, Nigeria b 1940
El Anatsui, Ghana b 1944
Elkana Ongesa, Kenya b 1944
Wilma Cruise, SA b 1945
Norman Catherine, SA b 1949
Anton Momberg, b 1951
Anton Smit, SA b 1954
William Kentridge, SA b 1955
Willie Bester, SA b 1956
Tapfuma Gutsa, Zimbabwe b 1956
Deborah Bell, SA b 1957
Sokhari Douglas Camp, Nigeria b 1958
Guy Pierre du Toit, Sa b 1958
Speelman Makose Mahlangu, SA (1958 - 2004)
Olu Amoda, Nigeria b 1959
Brett Murray, SA b 1961
Jems Koko Bi, Cote D'Ivoire b 1966
Adeola Balogun, Nigeria b 1966
Angus Taylor, SA b 1970
Marco Ciafenelli, SA b 1970
Wangechi Mutu, Kenya b 1972
Claudette Schreuders, SA b 1973
Sanell Aggenbach, SA b 1975
Peju Alatise, Nigeria b 1975
Michelle Mathison, SA/Zimbabwe b 1977
Niyi Olagunju, Nigeria b 1981
Dylan Lewis, SA b 1982
Mary Sibande, SA b 1982
Lionel Smit, SA b 1982
Nandipha Mntambo, Swaziland b 1982