More than 15 talented Ghanaian artists, have planned to display their handworks as part of a countrywide campaign to combat open defecation, which kills nearly 4,000 children every year through diarrhoea. Works of the local artists of different mediums are expected to rouse public discourse in market squares, public transport [trotro], offices and airwaves, and further the mission of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the matter.
The move seeks to inspire traditional authorities and policy makers to place the debate into government and institutional circles.
The artists are working around the project titled: “Let’s talk shit”, which is fronted by Alliance Franciase in collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development;
Various mediums of fine art such as painting, sculpture, photography and video would be used to display how shitting outside designated toilets threaten public health and balloon government budget on dealing with poor sanitation.
The artists would seek to create a conversation with people through visual arts by exhibiting pieces of their works at the national level and in communities.
Their models are to challenge existing Ghanaian social and cultural norms that perpetuate activities of free range.
“The intended programme is to involve Ghanaian artists in talking about issues pertaining to open defecation,” Mr Fabrice Laurentin, Communication for Development Specialist at UNICEF told journalists during a visit to the shops of six of artists.
The tour enabled the media to interact with the artists expressing their views on issues concerning open defecation through the use of visual arts.
The team visited Nana Afari Darko, a sculptor, based in Koforidua in the Eastern Region and Bright Akwerh, Satirical Illustrator, Mohammed Awudu, Graffitist, Fiona Aku, Videographer, Henry Obimpeh, Photographer as well as Kwesi Botchway, Painter, all based in Accra.
“We really are looking at challenging the cultural norms and see how we can say things differently using Ghanaian artists [working with different mediums],” Mr Laurentin said.
About one billion people, or 15 per cent of the global population, practice open defecation, and in sub Saharan Africa, 39 million people shit outside in Nigeria while in Ghana, over five million people defecate in the open.
According to education management information system, more than two in five basic schools in Ghana have no toilets while the World Health Organisation states that 3,600 children under five die annually in the country from diarrhoea.
Ghana has also been ranked seventh with the lowest sanitation coverage, and officials say it would take the country 500 years to bring an end to open defecation, if the current pace of fighting the problem is not redoubled.
Mr Laurentin said: “In fact, people are shocked when we use the word shit but people are not shocked by the fact that five million Ghanaian people do not have access to toilet or that two out of five basic schools do not have toilet and to water.”
The “let’s talk shit” programme, Mr Laurentin explained, is to create a buzz around issues of open defecation that make people talk about it more often and challenge social norms that perpetuate the act.
It is to create a dialogue with communities using visual arts by exhibiting pieces of art to people in their local areas and to make a case of how visual art could contribute to raising social and public health issues.
“I think “let’s talk shit” is a big project that I really felt in love with because it is the first time it gives artists the chance to be able to talk about open defecation,” Kwesi Botchway, Painter told reporters.
“It will help to inspire people and also put them on the level where they can keep good sanitation to reduce some of the issues such as cholera and diarrhoea,” he added.
He explained that his work would touch on how elderly persons visit public toilets and fail to direct their faeces into designated holes by ending up to soiling the entire place, making it nauseating to other users
“The work I am going to talk about is shit in the hole, it is really crazy sometimes to see how elderly people visit the public toilets and do not keep it clean, public toilet is not for people who do not have toilet in their houses but for everyone,” Botchway said.
The artists are due to submit more than 15 pieces of art depicting issues of shitting in the open at an exhibition on September 28, followed by showing it selected communities.
A public debate would be raised through the display of about 20 pieces of art in public spaces like durbars, universities and parliament as well as a five minute video documenting process of producing the pieces of art.
Kanika Thakar, Founder of #ToiletTalk was quoted as saying: “Let’s make the conversation more accessible by saying what we mean.
“Even among those working in the field, we constantly hide behind clean-sounding words like sanitation, latrine, Wash [water sanitation and hygiene], open defecation.
“These words don’t mean anything to the masses, so how can we drive action if we can’t even talk about what we are doing? “Let’s replace words like sanitation and open defecation with toilets and shitting outside.”