Education is Forbidden

by Rahima Gambo

“Boko Haram,” which loosely translates to “Western education is forbidden,” began an insurgency in the region in 2009 with the aim of creating an Islamic state purged from all Western influence, especially secular education.

The insurgents have directly targeted schools, universities, teachers and students with thousands of students abducted, displaced and killed by the group.

This series of images bring the focus back to the individuals most affected by this crisis, secondary school students in Borno State, the epicentre of the conflict. As the educational system has been altered into a dystopic nightmare by the conflict, these student’s narratives and individual complexity have been obscured by the often vague, violent and sensational media coming from the region.

The photographs attempt to permeate through this veil of generality to suggest an emotional complexity to these teenagers, who have often been described as powerless victims.

There was a schism in the way students were described in books and media and the current reality in which I encountered them. The use of illustrations from Nigerian school books in the diptychs and the double exposures seen here highlight this tension, pointing to a multi- layered ambiguous truth of who these students are. This abstract approach to the subject revealed themes of transience, memory, history and trauma that became reoccurring motifs in the project.

A pock marked blackboard exposed over a portrait of a school girl, can begin to communicate a lingering trauma and infrastructural decay that began decades before, but is now ultimately destabilised by conflict. Today, schools have become reservoirs of uncertainty and fear.