48_OdM_Augustine-Okoye

#048 A Strong Man Indid: Firing Squad (Detail) by Augustine Okoye aka Middle Art

Undated, Oil on Hardboard.

A Strong Man Indid [Indeed]: Firing Squad is a cartoon-strip painting by Augustine Okoye (whose business name was “Middle Art”) in the post-civil war 1970s in Nigeria. The painting conveys the story of three armed robbers who are tied to trees for public execution by a “firing squad” of soldiers, and among them some observers, a doctor and a journalist. While the dominant scene is the story of the execution, which curiously turns out problematic due to the invincibility of two of the robbers (one of which is labelled “strong man indid [indeed]”), there are two minor strips by the lower right corner, presented in form of a flash-back, that tell the story of one of the robber’s previous operations and their eventual arrest by security forces. In the main picture, the artist has used texts to draw out meaning from the figures’ gestures and expressions. For example, while the yielding body of the clean-shaven robber at the extreme left drips with blood as he mutters “Oh! My Lord”, the invincibility of what appears to be the gang-leader is conveyed by his defiant mien and boastful utterance _ “You all are wasting your time and bullets, because this is 31 year[s] I started this business so I am not afraid [of] your bullets”.

A Strong Man Indid [Indeed]: Firing Squad is one of the series (see Object of the Month #37) of paintings that demonstrate Okoye’s sense of humour and commitment to the social history of his time. Like the authors of the Onitsha Market Literature, popular painters such as Okoye commanded the masses’ respect and admiration for creating an art form that they could readily relate with, in spite of spelling and grammatical errors that attend the texts.

Ozioma Onuzulike
Professor of Ceramic Art and African Art/Design History
University of Nigeria, Nsukka
October 15, 2017