Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Nostalgia Nigeria – Hassan Aliyu – An Artist’s Story

Hassan Aliyu

*Hassan Aliyu is a British Nigerian artist whom I first met at the 198 Gallery in Brixton, London, UK. Behind his vibrant and colorful paintings, some featured on Saachiart.com.

Hassan has a touching story to tell so, I thought I’d share his awesome story here. You will be moved.

Hassan Aliyu
Hassan Aliyu

The first of a set of twins, my parents had emigrated from Nigeria to the UK before independence. Whilst studying to be a doctor, mum worked as a cook and later as a nurse in Barnet General Hospital. Dad, a Law student, had recently lost his job as a street sweeper.

They lived in 84 Huntingdon Road, East Finchley London until the day they brought their twins home, whereupon they were summarily evicted. Giving them no notice, the live-in landlady had decided that she didn’t want babies in the house – as she summarily hurled the family’s scanty property over the balcony whilst yelling, “Esther I told you no children in this house and you’ve gone and brought two.”

Nigerian artist - Children, Iyere, Hussaina
Hassan’s family in 1973: Lyere (younger brother), Hussaina (twin sister), Hassan and mother

Our parents took us newly, prematurely born and after weeks in incubators, right back to the hospital at which we arrived on this earth. And there, we spent a few nights sleeping on top of desks in offices – into which my mum had access as it was her place of work. Dad spent the nights on the floor – barricading the doorway.

A Nigerian High Commission employee and a family friend came to our rescue days later – and provided temporary shelter in Hackney. During this period of instability, my twin sister and I were placed with a childminder until the day the minder was arrested for shoplifting. Following this, our parents were forced to send us to Nigeria to live with grandparents in Auchi, Mid-Western State. Unemployment, lack of housing and a hostile British public left many a black family with too few options besides fostering or sending their young children home – while parents finished studies and returned to newly independent Nigeria as professionals occupying the white-collar jobs hitherto the reserve of colonials.

Months later, the civil war broke out (in Nigeria) and soon enough, the Mid West fell to Biafra and Auchi had to be evacuated – endless throngs of people marching through the bushes to hide in farms or other less important hamlets off the strategic route that Auchi was (the route to a Northern invasion by Biafran forces). My memory of this march is vivid as my twin sister and I clutched tightly to grandma’s drapes, trekking all the way into the wilderness. To this day, my sister and I are still referred to as “the twins who were sent from London.”

Nigerian artist - Hassan Aliyu
Hassan Aliyu

My family was not fully reunited until we were 11 years old and that had its own stresses – without the benefit of therapy! In 1982 while away at university, dad was diagnosed with Acute Renal Failure. He returned to the UK immediately and received treatment at Queen Marys Paddington. Coming back to Nigeria nearly a year later, he lost the fight for his life in 1983. He died stretched out on the main road just after Onitsha on a futile journey to Olumba Olumba Obu (a spiritual healer in Calabar). I never saw his body. I haven’t recovered from the trauma of his passing in this way – in his 40s. I never got to know him properly!

After a highly successful artistic career in Nigeria, I returned to the UK in 1990. My twin sister returned 2 years later. The UK was still grappling with race relations issues at the time of my return. Rectal examinations at airports were commonplace for migrants from Nigeria who were also often presumed to be “illegal aliens” and drug mules. As a black artist, racism manifested in the form of cultural prejudice that bestowed a sense of otherness and exclusion – as such the subject of RACE became my forte.

Thank God mum is still waxing strong at 82 and has had to play the role of mama and papa for many years. Notwithstanding their tremendous contributions in post-WW2 Britain, fast forward to the Windrush scandal!!! Mum receives a pension from NHS yet the Theresa May government refused to let her back into the U.K. because she has a historical record of the use of the NHS!!! Thank God and David Lammy, MP. Common sense prevailed and mum’s rights as a returning resident have been reinstated and she now lives with me. We have come a long way from a desk-top at Barnet General Hospital – Hassan Aliyu / saatchiart.com/hassart

TAYO Fatunla
TAYO Fatunla

TAYO Fatunla is an award-winning Nigerian Comic Artist, Editorial Cartoonist, Writer and Illustrator. He is a graduate of the prestigious Kubert School, in New Jersey, US. and recipient of the 2018 ECBACC Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award for his illustrated OUR ROOTS creation and series – Famous people in Black History – He participated in the UNESCO’s Cartooning In Africa forum held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Cartooning Global Forum in Paris, France.




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