2015 marks twenty years since Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed, alongside eight colleagues, for crimes he did not commit. They were campaigning against Shell’s exploitation and environmental destruction of the Ogoni land which twenty years on, remains unchecked. Peckham is at the heart of London’s Nigerian and Ogoni diaspora so to coincide with this important anniversary, Peckham Platform has commissioned artist and writer Michael McMillan for a commemorative exhibition that will take place at the gallery from 17 September – 22 November 2015.
In June, the global Action Saro-Wiwa tour (organised by Platform London) brought Sokari Douglas Camp’s Battle Bus to Peckham Square – the living memorial created by the Nigerian artist in 2005. The Battle Bus is a large-scale mobile interactive steel sculpture topped by oil drums and etched with the words of one of Saro-Wiwa’s final speeches. Working with Theatre Peckham, McMillan created a performance piece that used The Battle Bus as a site and took place on the square on Saturday 27th June. It triggered memories for Nigerians and local people in Peckham of Ken Saro-Wiwa as a symbol for ordinary people resisting oppression and fighting for freedom across Africa and the world.
For the exhibition, wallpaper made from large-scale photographs taken inside and outside The Battle Bus will line the gallery evoking a sense in visitors of being present in the sculpture. Kiosks will display materials form Nigerian shops and communities in Peckham including food and ‘Nollywood’ videos such as 70s sitcom ‘Basi & Co’ which was written by Ken Saro-Wiwa. Film of the performance of McMillan’s work on Peckham Square and a montage of passers-by reading passages from Saro-Wiwa’s final speech ‘I Accuse’ inside The Battle Bus will be projected into the gallery, creating multiple layers that reflect the impact of The Battle Bus’ presence now it has departed on its journey to its permanent home in the Niger Delta.
Michael McMillan said:
“Buses and vehicles have a long tradition as symbols of collective solidarity, resistance and freedom through mobility in many protest movements around the world. We all remember Rosa Parks not sitting at the back and the march on Washington DC in 1963. The same year saw the Bristol Bus strike, and now we have The Battle Bus revived in 2015.”
Emily Druiff, executive director or Peckham Platform said:
“We are excited about the potential of Michael McMillan’s commission to reflect the challenges faced by multiple communities around issues of displacement and change. The visit of the Battle Bus was a powerful, relevant and inspiring moment locally and I hope Michael’s exhibition will offer further opportunities to reflect on Saro-Wiwa’s impact and the relevance of his work in Peckham in 2015.”
Born in the UK of Caribbean migrant parents, Michael McMillan’s practice is interdisciplinary using mixed media as part of a creative collaborative process working with other artists and engaging with local people on a performative level. Doing Nothing is Not an Option commissioned by Peckham Platform takes place inside the gallery and outside in Peckham Square and includes a number of public events.