A world-renowned Nigerian artist is in Missouri – and paid a visit Wednesday to inmates and other prison workers at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Ibiyinka Alao has quite the fan club at the institution on No More Victims Road. He shook hand after hand and talked to many admirers during his visit behind prison walls. Some Nigerian workers even prepared food from their native country and shared a meal with him.

Ibiyinka Alao (Photo courtesy of Garry Brix, Missouri Department of Corrections)

Alao was named Nigeria’s “Ambassador of Art” by the President and Commander in Chief of The Armed Forces in 2005. He won first place in the United Nations International Art Contest involving participants from 61 countries. You might even find some of his artwork on greeting cards and other United Nations material.

Since winning the contest, he has traveled the world spreading messages of peace. Why is this his message?

“There were these children that I used to teach art to,” he tells Missourinet. “They were refugees. Some were child soldiers that were rescued from Nigeria Republic, the war that happened in Sudan. I would use art to just have them be children again. And so, that was when I started noticing there’s the power of art to heal.”

During his visit Wednesday, he gave a presentation about his work and led an art therapy workshop with offenders, focusing on messages of peace, forgiveness and community.

Missouri prison inmates participate in art exercise Wednesday in Jefferson City (Photo courtesy of Garry Brix, Missouri Department of Corrections)

According to Aloe, forgiveness is one of the strongest things you can do for redemption.

He credits one of his teachers for getting him involved in art.

“I’ve always been a kind of shy to speak in front of an audience and I know it doesn’t seem like because radio is what we are doing now, but it’s not always been my strong point. So, in school, your teachers notice who you are. And this particular teacher, she knew that I always just became afraid anytime we have to come read the story to our classmates. So, she kind of told me one day that, ‘You don’t have to.’ So she said that, I can just draw or paint a picture. And that will be she will accept it, as my speaking in front of the class. I felt very free when she told me that – I felt relieved that I didn’t have to stand in front of the class to speak.”

He says even today, he still uses this technique.

Painting made by Ibiyinka Alao (Photo courtesy of Garry Brix, Missouri Department of Corrections) (Photo courtesy of Garry Brix, Missouri Department of Corrections)

“Anytime something is really important to me, I first expressed it by painting a picture or drawing, then I will find the words later. So we can never tell how important a teacher can be in our lives. That thing that teacher did help me to realize myself in this way, the impact of teachers and students life is immeasurable,” he said.

Alao says he gets more fulfillment out of these visits than the guests do.

“It does something special to me. I’m always very humbled to learn that they would tell me that they’ve not seen something like this before. They’ve not experienced anything like this before. For them to say things like that to me, it touches me in a very special way,” said Alao.

On Friday, Alao will unveil a canvas he’s been working on for a few years that is considered to be the largest painting in the world made of a single piece of canvas. The unveiling will be at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

To view some of his art, click here.

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