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Voice for African artists
A collector of Nigerian art displays the works and tells the plight of villagers she's visited.
By LOGAN NEILL
Published June 27, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - For Elaine Carnette, the beautifully carved figurine offers a simple yet elegant statement about everyday life in western Nigeria.
The highly polished tiger ebony statue that Carnette has dubbed, "Mother Doing Hair" captures the tender task of a woman wrapping braids upon the head of her young daughter. Of the dozens of pieces of original African art she owns, Carnette says the familial theme makes this carving one of her favorites.
"There is such joy and love in it, " Carnette said of the statuette, which is on display at the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery. "To me, it captures the strength of family, which in Nigeria, always brings hope."
Although Carnette knows neither the subjects nor the artist who created them, she does know the region where the figurine originated. Three years ago, she was part of a missionary group that visited the inhabitants of the Igbo tribal village of Alike, near Nigeria's western coast.
Carnette, who is president of Color Purple Ministry in Brunswick, Ga., spent nearly three weeks in 2004 living among the impoverished residents, helping to build and repair homes and schools. For Carnette, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and has spent much of her adult life involved in youth and elderly outreach programs in poor communities, it was an eye-opening experience.
"These were people who had nothing, no electricity, no running water, yet they were extremely kind and giving, " she said. "They had far less than most poor people in this country. Somehow they've learned to survive it."
During their stay, Carnette and other ministry members spent much of their time working with children in the village. She found many didn't own a pair of shoes to wear to school. And more than a few suffered from inadequate health care. Still, she said, they were eager to learn.
Said Carnette, "It was sad to see a child whose only want in life was to have clothes so that they could go to school. It made my heart ache."
Despite the deprivation, Carnette found a soothing beauty in the way the Nigerian people celebrated their culture and creativity. She was enchanted by the depth of spirit that the artisans put into their intricate carvings, which is not only a source of tribal pride but an income producer as well.
An avid collector of original Nigerian art, Carnette has accumulated dozens of wood sculptures and paintings, several of which come from the Igbo artisans she met during her stay. Among them are sculptor Michael Maghiro and his sister, Peace Udochukwu Nwoke, herself a talented painter. Both currently live in Philipsburg, St. Maartens, and are natives of Benin City, Nigeria.
A portion of Carnette's collection, which includes an array of paintings and wood sculptures plus an assortment of Nigerian tribal jewelry, is currently on display at the Brooksville City Hall Art Gallery. The exhibit, which includes an album of photos from her Nigerian journey, will run through Aug. 13.
Carnette hopes that the exhibit will help build interest in an African art gallery she hopes to open in Brooksville in the future. Meanwhile, she looks to return to Alike at some point to continue her ministry's work.
"There is so much more to do, " she said. "They are blessed people with good hearts and spirits. If given a helping hand, they will do the rest."