In 2016, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago founded the SMO Contemporary Art, an art consulting company. The inspiration was her passion for art. “My parents collected pieces of design and art in our home. Furthermore, my husband and I always collected art, and we have strong ties with the artistic community,” she says. Photographer, Filmmaker and poet, she defines art as “a form of expression of creativity and that strengthens the identity of each individual and of a community.” And, she adds, “If we do not know and appreciate our history, through the best of our art, painting, sculpture, literature, music and poetry, we will never advance as individuals.”
Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Sandra pursues an extensive curriculum that goes from production in conventional television to travel from one end to the other around the African continent. Degree in Liberal Arts and Literature in English and German at the University of Manitoba, Canada, she earned her master’s degree in telecommunications in the area of educational television from the State University of Michigan in the United States.
Her career began in the Swiss television. Sandra remained in the production of television contents for three years until becoming a photographer for the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). For eight years she travelled around the African continent, photographing the Sub-Saharan region and dealt with different situations that marked her life. “I have had many memorable moments like being chased by an unhappy and partially tamed elephant in the National Park Garamba, hunt duikers with a community of pygmies in the Ituri forest, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The list is huge,” she recalls.
Once, when she went out to an environmental reserve, Sandra met a boy who ran behind her car. The boy held a sculpture of a Buffalo, when Sandra asked him the value of the artifact. In response, the Child said it was a rhino, and not a buffalo, and insisted. “At that moment I realized that, if we hadn’t focused on the needs of the people who lived in the vicinity of the environmental park, and who have never had the chance to make exclusive and expensive visits like tourists, we would have lost the battle of conservation to protect the incredible biodiversity of Africa,” regrets.
After this episode, Sandra found the Communicating For Change (CFC). According to her, is “a social enterprise that tells stories about the environment and development of an African perspective and human.” The CFC began its activities with the production of documentaries and radio programs, but the target population was far from being reached. Thus, the organi-zation began to work side by side with the most popular broadcasters and communications companies of Nigeria. “We have become important providers of content for television and radio stations in the public and private sectors of Nigeria,” she explains.
Sandra currently works full time at SMO Contemporary Art, a company that works to promote the development of Nigerian art. Among the offered services are consulting, exhibitions in unconventional places, besides curatorships, representation and incentive to the new and consecrated artists.”My goal is to reflect how we move Nigeria from a focus of extractive industry to knowledge-based creative industries,” she says.
The next step
One of the most emblematic works of the CFC was a campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM). Sandra has produced a documentary telling the story of a circumcised, where this woman, realizing the traumatic effects of the practice of FGM, vowed never to run it. “She was so thrilled that promised never to cut another girl and joined a local campaign against this traditional harmful practice,” recalls Sandra.
During the fourteen years of existence of the CFC, Sandra has produced documentaries and fictional films in partnership with filmmakers of Hollywood that dealt with issues such as youth development, democracy and good governance, female empowerment, etc. Also contributed with the growth of the creative industry of Nigeria and the training of young people for the labor market.
Today, dedicated to hers artistic consultancy, innovated in the branch with the production of artistic exhibitions in unconventional places. An example is the Wheatbaker Lakes, a boutique hotel that now has a space of curators of art. “We were the first hotel in Nigeria to make strategically exhibitions, especially with curatorship for local and international clients,” she says. For her, art is something that brings light and joy to the lives of people.