Nigeria's Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram honoured in exhibition

Nigeria's Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram honoured in exhibition

The faces of the 108 Chibok girls who are still missing nearly nine years after their abduction by Islamist insurgents, Boko Haram, are being remembered in a new exhibition in Lagos.

Their portraits were sculpted in clay in a collaboration between French artist Prune Nourry, university students, professional potters and the families of the victims.

Inspired by ancient Nigerian Ife terracotta heads and titled "Statues Also Breathe," the sculptures recreate their faces, facial expressions and hair patterns.

In 2014, 275 girls were seized from the Government Girls Secondary School in the Chibok community in northeastern Nigeria.

It sparked the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign - a slogan used by protesters too - that involved celebrities worldwide, including former US First Lady Michelle Obama.

Sunday Alamba/AP
Sculptures created by French artist Prune Nourry - Sunday Alamba/AP

Since then, about 160 of the girls have been released, some after years of captivity, but the story has long faded from the headlines.

"It's a permanent reminder that it happened, we had a period in our history in Nigeria where women, boys, men, children were taken away, some were recovered, some are still displaced till today, some are still in captivity," says Habibat Balogun, the Bring Back Our Girls Lagos Coordinator.

Nourry met the Chibok families and asked for photos of their missing daughters.

The artist designed eight heads, drawing inspiration from the portraits, and a further 108 were created by students at Obafemi-Awolowo University.

"People who see the show I hope will remember the importance of girls' education, then the fact that sculpture can personify someone and catch the breathing life and the symbol of someone, of life," says Nourry.

Sunday Alamba/AP
Inspired by ancient Nigerian Ife terracotta heads, titled "Statues Also Breathe," and representing the remaining 108 Chibok still in captivity. - Sunday Alamba/AP

"Then it's also about the collaboration, how together we can make more and maybe the fact that it will travel around Africa but also around the world and how we can keep bringing the light on something that might be forgotten and shouldn't be because it will always be a priority."

Nourry hopes the sculptures will remind the world of a largely forgotten tragedy.

Sunday Alamba/Copyright 2017 The AP.
Bring back our girls campaigners chant slogans during a protest calling on the government to rescue the remaining kidnapped girls - April 2017 - Sunday Alamba/Copyright 2017 The AP.

A year after the girls were kidnapped, now-President Muhammadu Buhari rode a wave of goodwill to power after promising to rescue them.

In early December, the nation's national security adviser, Babagana Monguno, said the military remains committed to the cause but said that it involves an "intelligence-driven process, which means it is going to be, unfortunately, painstaking".

Many parents, however, are beginning to question the government's commitment to the girls' freedom.

And the Chibok community continues to suffer attacks from Boko Haram and its breakaway faction which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

The sculptures exhibited in Lagos, Nigeria, are set to go on a world tour in the future.