Why we screened ArtPrize documentary – Aruna Amirthanayagam

More art Upstairs, is a documentary produced and directed by Jody Hassett Sanchez. It chronicles the stories of four accomplished artists who travel to compete for $500,000 at the ArtPrize. Aruna Amirthanayagam, Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy, Abuja, speaks about the widely celebrated documentary which was screened at the Thought Pyramid Art Centre Abuja and what similar plans there are for Nigeria.


What was the idea behind screening this particular documentary, ‘More Art Upstairs’?

This documentary is designed to create a forum for dialogue. We believe that film is a tool for fostering understanding and cooperation, dialogue and debate. This particular film ‘More Art Upstairs,’ takes the audience on a journey to experience ArtPrize, one of the most attended art shows in the world, which takes places in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We hope this inspires a vibrant conversation amongst artists and art enthusiasts on the subject or art: what it is, how it is interpreted, and how it influences our everyday life.

Beyond generally targeting visual artists, are there other groups you hope will benefit from this?

The American Film Showcase (AFS) is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of State and the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and brings award-winning contemporary American documentaries, independent fiction films to audiences around the world. Through the U.S. Embassy partnership with IICD Centre, we have screened more than twenty AFS films in the last year, covering a broad range of subject areas from environment, health, performing arts to entrepreneurship, technology and disability rights. For example, a couple of months ago, we screened ‘Black Women in Medicine,’ a documentary film that highlights the challenges and success stories of black female doctors in America. The target audience was healthcare professionals, which included the incoming president-elect of the Medical Women International Association and members of the Medical Women Association of Nigeria. The film sparked conversations about experiences of female medical doctors in Nigeria in a male dominated field and the need for proactive policies that encourage more female participation in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics careers.

What kind of reactions, impacts are you expecting for this to have?

We hope the films inspire dialogue, cooperation, and action. By sponsoring the screening, we are creating a platform for like minds to meet, connect, and we hope, forge collaborations. We thank organizations like IICD Centre and Thought Pyramid Art Centre, that open up their spaces to host screenings of AFS films and film professionals.

I would like to share a particular story of a young female documentary photographer, Etinosa Yvonne Osayimwen. In 2018 Ms. Etinosa attended IICD Centre screening of the AFS documentary film, ‘Salaam Neighbor,’ which offers insights into the personal lives of Syrian refugees. Ms. Etinosa, deeply moved by the film, was inspired by an interview with one of the refugees to launch a documentary photography project titled, ‘It’s All in My Head,’ where she tells the stories of Nigerian survivors of violence and terrorism. Today, Ms. Etinosa has won two international awards and was recently selected as a participant in one of the largest public photo exhibitions in north America, The FENCE.

Are there plans for something similar in Nigeria?

Yes, the U.S. Embassy is collaborating with IICD Centre to host Abuja Open House. This was first launched in 2017 and the inspiration for it was to demonstrate that artists in the city of Abuja are at the forefront of giving life to the nation’s capital. The Open House features art exhibitions of contemporary Nigerian artists and themed panel discussions. This year it will take place from October 25-27, and like ArtPrize we hope that it stimulates conversations on arts across the city, promotes the works of local artists, and inspires participants to support the arts. We are also happy that Thought Pyramid Arts Gallery and IICD Centre are two of the twelve art spaces that will be opening up their gallery to audience members during the Abuja Open House.

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