By Maruthachelvi K.
Fireflies and Ibi
One of Ibi’s most famous paintings is the Story of the Firefly, created in 2006 . Being someone who loves to paint I was curious how Mr.Ibi had interest in fireflies rather than the convenient butterfly which would have been very captivating and much easier to make on a canvas.
Mr.Ibi answered - "It is just about how you are growing up, where you are . It depends on where one's comportment is.” For children in his town, it was very interesting to catch fireflies. A lot of African skies, especially Nigerian skies are sufficiently dark. “I see many children are fascinated by the idea of looking up at the beauty of the night sky. That was some kind of entertainment for us. Can you imagine if you didn't have electricity? No TV nor electronic devices. How are you going to entertain yourself? So you look for the appearance of light in the deep dark sky and the starlight is warm, and also the firefly's light. Many of us as children would run out and catch them. Especially this adds sweetness to the evening after we hear stories from parents or grandparents. I also love to catch butterflies on a rainy evening and in this painting too you can see butterflies.
In 2016, this painting's story was published by Scholastic after it won that year's gold prize in their Kids are Authors writing contest. The book was written and illustrated by third grade students of Willow Lane elementary school in Macungie, Pennsylvania. We also have a movie of Ibi’s fireflies . In 2019, Ibi completed a live action and animated movie about this story. This movie, simply called “MY FIREFLIES” opened on April 20 and is currently being shown at some film festivals.
Ibi has also created a musical based on the firefly that relates an incident with his hero, his only hero, his father. He wrote most of the songs for his movie's soundtrack. "Fireflies" was the last song he wrote for it. It was published by I-Tunes, Spotify and other major music streaming sites on October 8, 2019. The story narrates how one evening, Ibi was accompanying his dad (who has served as Mayor of their city) during his visit to the village to meet people. During their drive back home on this specific night, like any child fascinated by fireflies, little Ibi said in an elated tone “Daddy look! Fireflies.” It was just an expression of his excitement but to his surprise his dad, a busy man, stopped and backed up the car to where they had seen the fireflies. To an already surprised little Ibi, his dad opened the trunk and pulled out a glass jar, which he had no clue how and why it was there. Then his dad took Ibi and went into the bushes to catch the fireflies for him.
This specific incident stays like a fresh memory for Ibi as he narrates it again. It is quite clear why this evening and line of events sparked the development of a significant masterpiece that is busy travelling across the world now. The very busy mayor, Ibi’s father, took that moment to hear his child and pay attention to what the child was experiencing and live the moment with the child. In a busy world, a lot of busy parents now have less and less time to hear what their child has to say. Something as simple as excitement for a firefly was not ignored then by Mr. Ibi's father, which has created a strong memorable impact - the feeling of being important when least expected. How fascinating, isn't it? I struggled to hold the tears that welled up in my eyes. It touched my heart and I thank Mr. Ibi's father for not disregarding his child's feelings and driving past the fireflies.
The story doesn’t stop here though. What comes next is proof of why it is important to spend time with children. When ibi was looking at the fireflies and enjoying the moment, his father said, "Ok now it's time to let them go Iyinka” (that's how fondly he was called by his dad).
Ibi was surprised that he had to release the fireflies. Little Ibi's face frowned upon hearing this and he tried to hold the jar as close as he could to his heart. His father said, " Iyinka, would you rather prison those fireflies and have an empty sky or would you release them now to go high into the constellation and become your night stars?"
This thought of seeing a clear black sky shook little Ibi and made him realise that the right thing to do was to release the fireflies for he loved looking at the night sky with all the sparkle. He immediately looked at the sky and then back at his fireflies in the jar, saw no big difference since both were twinkling and decided that the right thing to do was to release them. He realized that the small things that they were would become big if he released them, not being greedy to possess them for himself.
In Ibi's words, “The moral of this story is that If I love anything or anyone as much as I love those fireflies, the best thing to do is let that thing or person be free. Let them go and they would become something so much better. Let's not love to the extent that we damage the fabric of that love by not letting them be the best version of themselves.” As a parent, I should let my child be free so that one day he would become a star and not be restricted to being a firefly. It is now evident why this painting's story was published by Scholastic after it won that year's gold prize in their Kids are authors writing contest, in 2016.
A 10 minute incident has impacted Mr. Ibi to speak about such a deep philosophy and the power of letting go. He also sees this as a way to see the bigger picture of something small that you hold today. Never underestimate even the smallest of work done by someone is what he preaches to the big corporations. With the firefly artwork he beautifully explains this philosophy and connects with all age groups, from small children to huge corporations.
As always, Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance put together an amazing show highlighting the stories from Ibi's paintings and also a grand finale at the end of the event. The students showcased their talents to a variety of music and contexts highlighting their training at the school. Artistic Director, Megha P. Rao's efforts were appreciated by Ibi with much awe and respect for her expertise. Lakshmiamulya and Ashwin helped with the narration of Ibi's stories and with conducting the event. Shreya and Matangi helped with supplies and snacks for all the events in the series.
The last and final show is on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021 at 6pm with a special performance by Trike Theater. Event is free but registration required. Don't miss this chance to see the painting and meet Ibi.
By Maruthachelvi K.
This being my first experience in an interview asking questions, I was quite excited and nervous. I did my little homework about Mr. Ibiyinka Alao, an artist, ambassador, filmmaker who went to navy school but studied architecture based on advice of his Commandant. He later became an architect and author who won first place in a United Nations International Art Competition amongst 61 countries in 2001. His paintings are primarily about redemption, peace and love. Along with John Lennon, Alicia Keys and 2 other artists, he is noted among 5 Artists Who Have Spread Messages of Peace Around the World by Global Citizen.
I had to share a joke with Mr. Ibi to give him an insight on what made me nervous (but now absolutely comfortable) about his interview. Once a reporter was trying to interview an artist and he got a response to the email after almost 3 years saying " I am now ready for your interview". The artist had been that involved with his masterpiece and got engulfed in his own world , disconnecting from the rest of the world. I was so thankful that I could catch a hold of Mr.Ibi right away - through his very convenient calendar system that helped me block an available time for this interview. Ibi had a hearty laugh and told me that it was amusing to learn about this.
We connected on Zoom and the first thing I noticed was his very calm and happy face. This was followed by a constant kind and pleasant tone of voice. No wonder that he is a Peace Ambassador with the United Nations. What I gathered about Mr.Ibiyinka's name is that Nigerians also have names with significant meaning similar to my own Indian culture. His name means - "to be surrounded by family" . A world traveller that he is now, he is living up to his parents' expectations. He has a big family all over the world - touching hearts of many and creating impact through his paintings and insights.
My first question was: " What made you start painting?"
Mr. Ibiyinka responded with possibly more than one reason but he strongly felt that when he was a little child he started drawing and painting spontaneously . He enjoyed it whenever he created art. However, a stronger reason was as a middle schooler, he was very shy to speak to others and one of his teachers encouraged him to use art and start painting when he had difficulty communicating his thoughts. So he found more comfort in painting than speaking. He could tell stories more comfortably through his art. Ibi says this could be one of the many possible causes that made him become an artist. His melancholy is a major reason for how he started making some amazing art.
Our conversation then moved on to food. He made it very clear that he loves food . He mentioned that every artist thinks and executes in unique ways but his way is as much about food as it is about painting. Whenever he gets hungry he has to take a break to help himself fulfill his hunger. He possibly couldn't get that lost while creating his art without also giving some attention to his personal needs.
There are two more events with Ibi at Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts on June 19th and June 23rd. Click here to register. Our first event was on June 12th with the energetic and amazing Afrique Aya group of drummers and dancers. Click here to learn more about them. Our next two events will feature Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance and Trike Theatre. Don't miss this experience!