migrants as messengers speaking through art nigeria

“From Agadez to Libya, I was sold six times to different people that I do not know and each time I was being exchanged for money, I realized that the worth of life is not all that valued outside one’s country”, says Queeneth Friday.

After surviving the horrific experience of being sold to different borgers (smugglers), Queeneth is stitching together a new life for herself through art painting. She is one of 10 Volunteer Migrants that participated in the Speaking Through Art training aimed at using basic art materials to facilitate communication and awareness on the dangers associated with irregular migration.

Like most of her colleagues, Queeneth adopts the use of coded narrative embedded in art paintings, to speak to the diversity and advances of the present to reduce potential risk that could befall potential migrants. Images created by Queeneth and other Volunteer Migrants under the program provide both conscious and subconscious information about migration to aid knowledge.

Aside she and her colleagues telling their stories through art painting, Queeneth sees it as a means of earning a living. She engages children of school age in paint and sip session to support her family.

“when we were told about the art painting training, I indicated interest, but I never knew that it would turn out to be a source of income for me and others who participated in the training. Since the training, I have organized a paint and sip session for children where I earned money to pay my children’s school fee.”


migrants as messengers speaking through art nigeria
Queeneth presenting a paint portrait to IOM Nigeria Chief of Mission during the Speaking Through Arts Exhibition held in Benin City. Photos @IOM/Elijah Elagwu


Recently, Queeneth’s painting was part of those auctioned at 70 dollars each during the IOM’s Nigeria @20 celebrations graced by the Deputy Director General-Operations Ms Ugochi Daniels alongside the Netherlands Deputy Ambassador and other dignitaries. “Watching high profile dignitaries demand for our paintings gives great pride and hope to me. We exhibited 23 paintings amounting to 1,680 dollars. We never imagined the skill we had acquired could be a part of our income.”

The Speaking through Arts training has inspired and provided hope to Queeneth and her fellow volunteer migrants. She understands the skill gap in Edo State and wants to contribute to bridging the gap. “I plan to give easy-to-pay training for people in art painting, knitting and shoe and bag making. This will create employment opportunities for youths and increase the number of services available to my community.”


migrants as messengers speaking through art nigeria
Queeneth painting during the Speaking Through Arts training held in Benin City. Photos @IOM/Elijah Elagw


Queeneth who struggled to move on with life after her return from Libya following the death of her son is delighted that she could finally tell her story through art paintings without fear of discrimination.

“I believe that the mistakes we made should not be the basis for our rejection but rather a call to action and I am glad that through our paintings, people are beginning to appreciate our contribution in shaping the world view of people about irregular migration.”


migrants as messengers speaking through art nigeria
IOM Nigeria Chief of Mission, IOM Deputy Director General-Operations looking at the portrait presented by Queeneth during the Speaking Through Arts Exhibition held in Benin City. Photos @IOM/Elijah Elagwu


Speaking Through Art is an awareness raising approach that involves the use of basic art materials to facilitate communication. It is a platform for returnees to tell and showcase their stories through visual representation and performance. The program is designed as a behaviour change communication strategy where victims of human trafficking and irregular migration who do not have the language needed to explain what they have been through or for those who might be afraid or ashamed to talk about their experience or story can do so through painting, crafted arts, spoken words or poetry, photography, graphics and community theatre narrate their ordeal to the wider society. Speaking through Arts is founded on the guiding principle that powerful art makes people talk and its therapeutic.