Africa/Middle East/Europe, 30 October 2023 – Fasilat Omolola Eletu's mural, in her hometown of Lagos, is a powerful testament to the transformative potential of art. The piece portrays Rita Abu, a returnee from Libya who found her path in technology with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and serves as a beacon of hope for migrants and young girls alike. Beside her stands Adaora Nwodo, a multi-award-winning software engineer, pioneering mixed reality technology.
Fasilat's artwork beautifully captures their essence with a striking blue background, combined with vibrant colors that draw the eye and tell the inspiring stories of Rita and Adaora.
With 140 million women and girls on the move, accounting for half of the world's migrants, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) recognizes that gender inequalities manifest differently depending on where women find themselves in the world. Although they share common aspirations, the paths they take to achieve their dreams are unique. Many women have been able to turn migration challenges into strengths, using their specific knowledge and skills to chart their own paths.
In her own words, "Art is therapeutic for me. Just the same way I want to make it therapeutic for others too." This mural is a vibrant ode to women in tech, featuring two remarkable individuals who have broken barriers and inspired countless others.
Fasilat’s work is just one of nine from the ‘Women on the Wall’ collection – a street art visualization of achievements of migrant women by female artists. The competition called by IOM saw nine artists from seven different countries participate, each paying tribute to a remarkable migrant woman, known and celebrated for her achievements in technology and innovation, through visual art in a public space. What follows is an overview of each artist’s motivation for their choice.
Nadia Adam Chamsedine's mural is a heartfelt homage to Salma Khalil Alio, an accomplished alumna of Nadia’s former high school in Chad. Skillfully painted on the same school's walls, her mural celebrates Salma's remarkable journey from a student to versatile artist, excelling in photography, painting, and graphic design. Nadia's artistic portrayal not only captures Salma's physical features but also her dedication to preserving Chadian culture.
In Nadia's own words, "I am very honoured to paint her portrait because she had fought hard for the Chadian culture." This mural stands as a testament to Salma's inspiring legacy and her enduring impact on the school and the wider community.
Resistance Against Oppression
Afraa Alashab, from Libya, drew her inspiration from the historical figure of Medusa, a symbol of women’s resistance against oppression and exile. She chose the color violet to represent the vastness of the universe and women’s empowerment. Using copper wires and connections, Afraa symbolized the cyber age, highlighting how women can now expand their influence and mend their paths, inspiring others along the way.
Afraa explains, “In the shades of violet, I’ve immortalized Medusa’s legacy, paying homage to the oppressed. With copper wires and gold repairs, we bridge the digital era, empowering women to brighten their paths and guide others.”
Resilience and Unity
Also from Libya, Sundus Kushad’s artwork is a striking fictional art piece that beautifully captures the resilience and unity of women worldwide. Within this captivating creation, she skillfully combines vibrant colors and recognizable shapes to convey her message. The painting centres around a dynamic and interconnected woman figure, surrounded by flourishing and flowing lines that represents the ever-evolving landscape of technology.
“In the face of adversity, the success of migrant women resonates as a triumph for women worldwide. This portrait celebrates their strength and the enduring connection between women and technology, shaping a brighter future for us all,” says Sundus.
Technology and Entrepreneurship
Manon Sessi Zannou from Benin painted a captivating mural inspired by Mohamed Haweya, a passionate entrepreneur of Somali and Djiboutian origin dedicated to fostering collaboration between technology players in Africa and Europe. In her own words, Manon explains that “With my mural, my desire is to draw attention to the importance of technology in today’s society.” Her artwork highlights the significant influence of technology, emphasizing its impact on communication, innovation and economic diversification in Africa. Moreover, her mural pays tribute to Mohamed Haweya and all women who have contributed to the scientific and technological revolution, symbolizing progress and the positive impact of their ongoing commitment.
Melanie Saggs, popularly known as 7th Pencil, a talented artist from Oxfordshire, UK, has created a stunning mural in Banbury that pays homage to Dr Joy Buolamwini, the Ghanaian-American-Canadian computer scientist and digital activist. As Melanie explains, “My technology champion is known as the ‘poet of code’. Working to create a world with more ethical and inclusive technology.” Her artwork skillfully captures Dr Buolamwini’s inspirational work in founding the Algorithmic Justice League, an organization challenging bias in decision-making software and highlighting the social implications and harms of artificial intelligence.
Mentorship on Digital Skills
Nelly Bradbury's mural, which can be found in her hometown Nairobi, is a tribute to Nelly Cheboi, the CNN Hero of the Year 2022. Her artwork is a celebration of Cheboi's remarkable dedication to mentoring students from rural areas in acquiring essential tech digital skills. As Nelly Bradbury herself put it, "Nelly Cheboi''s work in monitoring students from rural areas is exemplary." The mural captures Cheboi's iconic status in the tech community, and it stands as a testament to her inspirational impact on the lives of countless young learners.
The Right to Choose
Eolia Ahouansou Dembele's remarkable artwork, titled "The Right to Choose", is a portable art piece created on wood board, designed with the purpose to spread awareness across various locations in her home country of Mali. The mural is a profound homage to Sadya Toure, a prolific writer, blogger, and dedicated activist from Timbuktu, Mali. Eolia beautifully encapsulates Sadya's mission of empowerment by portraying her as a symbol of strength and resilience. The artwork is covered with uplifting messages, mirroring Sadya's unwavering commitment to championing women's rights and choices.
As Eolia herself eloquently states, "This artwork is called 'The Right to Choose', which refers to the rights of women to choose their profession, their role, and consequently, their destiny."
The “Women on the Wall” street art contest was part of IOM’s Road To Equality campaign.
The artists’ achievements were evaluated by an impartial committee of gender, audiovisual and community engagement experts based on preset criteria, with Pamela Chablis emerging as the winner.
Pamela Chablis chose to portray Annie J. Easley, an African-American computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist, responsible for many great achievements at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She picked a public area in her hometown Cotonou to create this portrait, where many young people meet and interact.
“As Annie Easley famously said, ‘My head is not in the sand. But my thing is, if I can't work with you, I will work around you.’ In the same spirit, we are determined to establish our place as female street artists in our country and beyond.”
This activity was organized by IOM as part of the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships to Achieve Sustainable Solutions (COMPASS) programme, with the generous financial support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For more information on COMPASS, visit: www.iom.int/compass