Black History Month: Honouring past heroes

Nigerian artist Fred Martins has created a new series using symbols of butterflies and fists to represent soul and power in Black History Month.

Glory and Freedom Africa by Fred Martins

The butterfly in these images, Nigerian artist Fred Martins explains, symbolises life or the soul in many cultures: "I grant that it expresses hope, change and freedom". The fist, on the other hand, represents power, bravery and unity. 

“It all defines the suffering inflicted and the strength exhibited by the African ancestors who were ardent and concerned about protecting the future of Africa, and the message they tried to communicate to the present and future Africa.”

Glory and Freedom Kenya by Fred Martins

According to Martins, mankind can only understand their future through an honest and clear understanding of the past. 

“A great number of Africans today have no real idea of what their past looked like. The culture, values and the great men and women that devoted their lives lighting a path for the people of today are unrecognised,” says Martins. “The story of our ancestors resisting colonisation should not be neglected, their bravery and mistakes should be revisited and taught in our schools so people know about the challenges that brought us to our knees and how they can be fixed. History is essential.”

Glory and Freedom Congo by Fred Martins

In Nigerian schools, history has been taken out of the curriculum as a subject. Many artists and designers now believe it is part of their duty to pass down the history and traditions of their country through their work and then stories embedded in it. 

It is a case of suppression and moral depravity to deny the Nigerian or African child a knowledge that is supposed to shape him. I had planned an art installation (a history classroom) at the ministry of education this February to protest the cancellation of history as a subject and adopting the British and American study curriculum. As a school boy in Nigeria, we were taught mostly European history in schools. I grew up with so much admiration for Europe, and did not really liked the fact that I am not from there.” 

Glory and Freedom Tanzania by Fred Martins

The study of history helps contextualise a people and provides an understanding of how societies have developed. Even an understanding of your own family history (as well as national history) can make a difference to your perception of the world. 

“A bullied schoolchild who lacks the knowledge that his grandfather was once a warrior king may only stand up to face his oppressor when he is told of his legendary linage.”

Glory and Freedom Namibia by Fred Martins

Honouring past heroes is a subtle way of teaching history, claims Martins. Last year, his project “Afro-Artivism” focused on how new media and art can improve the sense of pride amongst Sub-Saharan Africans. 

“Visual work is deep, powerful and controls the subliminal framework of the people. I hope that these works stir a hunger to know more.”

We've featured work by Martins that challenges climate change and a series that used the afro comb to celebrate black consciousness