Interview with Obayomi Anthony on His Project 'Blue Letter’.
Obayomi Anthony is a Visual Artist from Lagos, Nigeria who explores lens based arts and storytelling techniques, He combines the use of art and technology in traditional, immersive and experimental media.
After experiencing unexplained rejections to some visa applications (despite being invited by a global institution to participate in an event), he took note of not only the physical implications of such rejections, (spending money on a visa and having it go to waste), but also the psychological and emotional affects such rejection, can have on an individual. A study data released by the US Department of State, has revealed a high reduction in the number of Nigerians that received the US non-immigrant visas in the last three years. There are many power dynamics that interplay in regards to the application process, interview stage and then the final verdict of whether one will receive their visa or not.
In this interview, Obayomi goes a little more into detail on his project and the inspiration behind it. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarification.
Anne: The first question I have for you is what inspired your project?
Obayomi: This project was born out of a personal experience. For years I have had friends who have tried to travel but were unsuccessful. Depending on what country they were going to, maybe they couldn’t get the required documents and the process of acquiring such documents was rigorous with some things being uncalled for. There is also the issue of application fee’s which seems like it is even meant to discourage people from travelling, and these fees keep on increasing. I believe that travelling as much as I can will expand my understanding especially in regards to the the kind of stories that are available out there that I can tell. Travelling opens your mind, the same way that books do, because it is a much more intimate experience, it takes you outside of what you are familiar with. This visa system was set up by the West and even black nations have taken some of the devices set up by them and are using it against themselves. This has a psychological effect because now every time you want to travel as a black person you wonder whether this is something that is obtainable or not.
Anne: Its kind of like a desensitising thing, you're not even humanising that person you're sending the rejection letter to! Everyone has their own story as to why they need to travel, but a form of dehumanisation happens with not even personalising the letter or offering a reason (as such as in the case of obtaining a US visa), just a simple ‘you can appeal your case’. It gets to a place where you feel locked in, you feel boxed, like you can’t broaden your horizons and expand because of this restraint. The thought of ‘am I worthy to enter into this country because of the belief that I will steal jobs and commit crimes’ is a constant occupant in ones mind! My next question is, why did you decide to approach the project in the way that you did?
Obayomi: Basically, it is my interpretation of how I felt thinking about this problem. These people were all interviewed in different settings, and I am not trying to communicate this as
something that just happens. It's something that is dark and depressing and I try to make that as a part of the visual setting. It is easy to misrepresent a story such as this, so I try to communicate as much as possible such as the sombre mood of the topic itself. There is no support group for people who face such rejection, it’s something very lonely and dark that people go through. I went to two interviews at the US embassy and I observed how people got rejected, the rejection was open in front of others with no one waiting outside to speak to, its very brief and abrupt so I attempt to capture the emotions of the process itself.
Anne: What are the forms of privilege that interplay in regards to the whole visa system?
Obayomi: A very clear way to look at this is that the visa problem is something that is easily escaped with money, it's not really something that rich people face unless if there were issues with past travels. I received recommendations to use agencies, but they were quite expensive. The separation between the wealthy and those who are trying to get by is noticeable. Generally, when it comes to the relationship between countries, applying for work outside your country is easier if you don’t have to apply for a visa. One of the ways that I think countries see themselves better than others, is when a person from the US can travel to Nigeria easily, compared to a Nigerian travelling to the US. I know people who have not seen their families in years, despite being able to afford to travel there but not being able to afford all the extra fees pertaining to getting a visa. I have friends that have moved to the US 5 to 6 years ago that I have not seen, today, with technology and all, it’s easier to communicate but it’s been a long time and it’s not the same, I even have a God-son that I have never seen.
Anne: What would your advice be to a creative making work about a personal experience that has caused frustration.
Obayomi: If its too much for someone I don’t think they should bother with it, especially if it is too traumatic for them. But for me, making this project was a solution to a problem. Instead of just traumatising myself again with the entire process, it generated hope that creating this project would do good for me and others who have faced the same experience. I would not say that I am the type of person who can make work on traumatic experiences immediately, it takes time. For some people, sharing their stories is enough, its therapy for them, but I don’t believe in sharing trauma for traumas sake, but if there is a solution that adds to it, then why not!
To view Obayomi’s full project visit his website