Allure Interview: Ten min with Dr. Stella Awoh-Mofunanya
By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Multi-talented artist, and lecturer at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, Dr. Stella Awoh-Mofunanya is all set for her solo exhibition that will unveil 30 pieces of her works including her recent research findings on the benefits of ginger starch.
The research which was part of her Ph.D project, challenged her to look at food and arts and through her research, she found that the nagging pains which has become a common occurrence with most artists, can be addressed with the use of her researched ginger starch.
The exhibition themed, “A New Dawn: A Synthesis of Ginger Starch & Creativity” is slated for September 6-11, at Didi Museum.
Here, she talks about her research breakthrough and more.
How did it all start?
” I worked with ginger because I discovered that a lot of artists are coming down with ailment. I remember that about 12 years ago when I went to Agbaraotor, we call it our town workshop, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya drew my attention to the health hazards of the paints we use and also, told me about his friends in the US who ended up with arthritis because of the chemicals they inhale and the ones their skin absorb. So I was looking at how to save artistes, designers, textile designers from the health hazards of the chemicals they use.
Even our mothers who do the local tie and dye at Oshogbo, most of them end up with lung problem, lung cancer. And in Nigeria, nobody is telling us the truth; what you hear is that it is an attack. It is not an attack. Unfortunately, a lot of artists are keeping quiet, even the ones that have done surgery and are trying to manage their health. They are not telling the youths the truth.
Fortunately, I got two of them who opened up to me. One of them have some thing passed through the spine and can no longer stand upright for a long time to paint. So there is a lot of health hazards involved in painting, ceramics, sculpture etc; those things they inhale. But if they have ginger in their Labs or studios, it will decrease the toxins that they inhale because they must inhale it. So, since ginger has anti-inflammation and anti-cancer properties, it will go a long way to help them. And of course, if people take it for a long time, you will discover that you won’t have problem with inflammation anymore. That is why you see the Chinese and Philippines they are rugged; they take ginger and garlic.
So what is it about our ginger?
My research took me outside the country. If you go to south Africa, their ginger is very big; as big as potatoes but not as potent as our own. If you go to London and the USA, it’s the same thing. Our ginger is very good more potent than all other gingers. The Chinese even come in here to export our ginger, refine it and we import again to drink which is wrong.
While I was working on ginger, I also worked on coconut oil. I grew up with my mum using coconut oil. You will all agree that every one is going on coconut oil now. Coconut oil is good but what a lot of people are taking in is poison. I have been producing coconut oil for my own personal use. And for the past one year, I have been cooking with it. I also use it for my hair, you can see this is my natural hair, which replaces the use of gel. So I want the public to know about the health hazard of coconut oil. How many coconut trees do you see in America? What most of them use is flavouring. It’s just like the olive oil we use: The genuine olive oil is light green, what you have is vegetable oil that they add coconut flavouring to. They don’t even add enough, so you can see it is flat. There is nothing there. Even the white coconut people buy as organic oil that has been on the shelve for three months is dangerous.
Think about it: when you leave your coconut at home for one week without preservatives, spirogyra will grow on it. So when people go and buy imported canned coconut oil as organic coconut, it is dangerous. I pity them because that is why we have cases of cancer or one skin problem or the other.
For artists who work everyday inhaling all these chemicals, in what ways should they consume or administer the ginger?
It’s not for consumption only. If you mix it with your paint it will reduce the toxins. Some Nigerians would tell you, “I don’t like ginger, I don’t like garlic” but they will take Ibrofane or any of those strong pain killers. At the end of the day, they have ulcer because that is the side effect.
So it depends on the individual, they can brew it like tea with honey and drink, or you can use it to cook but when you use it to cook, a lot is lost. It is better to brew it. You can have a lot chopped in your tea pot, brew it and try to inhale the steam. We now have ginger in capsule just as we also have garlic in capsule.
Another thing I discovered during my research is that, anybody taking my ginger will need to stop taking aspirin because, aspirin has preservatives which is also not healthy.
For the event, a New Dawn, what are you exhibiting ?
There is this campaign about the use of made in Nigeria products…
Are we serious about the made in Nigeria campaign?
Yes, the government is serious but it is about you and I. Enough is enough of brain washing us. Enough of telling Christy that what she is putting on is our indigenous fabric, it is not our indigenous fabric, it is imported. Which is why when you ask students: what is our indigenous fabric they will say Ankara, what about our Akwete, Aso-oke, adire, all those are our indigenous fabrics? That is why I respect the Ghanaians: every function, even in their House of Assembly, even if it is a strip of their kente, you see them using it.
Back to your question, in Nigeria, people are not encouraging us because, it is cheaper to import these things from China. Remember that Ankara started in Netherland with Hollandis.
But for some of my works, I use African symbols and signs to produce Ankara. If you produce it here, how many Nigerians are willing to buy?
I will be having a metaphor, painting, mix media, fabrics that I produced over five years ago during my research on Aso-oke. We all know that Aso-oke is no longer the plain fabric it use to be. We have embellished our Aso-oke, I am still working on it, so those are the things you are going to see.
How many works?
I have in all, 30 works. They include; Adire, craft, fashion accessories, home accessories from Adire, paintings, motifs etc.
Do you expect from Art patrons from this exhibition?
My hope is on God, I respect the Art patrons, I respect the collectors, I expect them to come but I know that God will bring the right ones. They don’t have to be the known collectors.
What are the major challenges that female artistes face in Nigeria?
Number one will be marriage! It’s not easy coping with your home and also being a creative person, but I got married and I still myself.
Another thing female artists must do, is to have a source of income if you don’t want to have any problem in your marriage or with your husband.
My husband is excited, he consumes all these with his oats morning and Night. He doesn’t have problem with cholesterol.