By Seun Sanni

Nigerian artist Fela Keko sets up an exhibition of fresh pepper motive at a gallery in Iwaya, Lagos © Reuters/SEUN SANNI Nigerian artist Fela Keko sets up an exhibition of fresh pepper motive at a gallery in Iwaya, Lagos

LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian artist Olufela Omomkeko carefully arranges fresh peppers on wooden boards hanging in a bare room. Instead of providing spice in a meal, he wants them to encourage people to obey measures that will stop the spread of the coronavirus.

His pieces, comprising of red, yellow and green peppers mounted on boards and tomatoes hanging from nets, will rot during the lifespan of the exhibition in Lagos. The decay reflects the food wasted during lockdowns last year, said the 30-year-old artist.

"I created this art space as a reflection of the scarcity... and numerous challenges that we experienced at the early stage of the pandemic," Omomkeko said.

Lockdowns were imposed from late March until early May last year in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial hub, and the capital, Abuja. The restrictions, coupled with a ban on nationwide interstate travel, disrupted supply chains which led to widespread hunger, while food rotted in fields or at depots.

"I don't want us to go back to that stage again and my only advice is for the masses to use their face masks just to avoid another lockdown," he said.

He fears authorities may enforce more restrictions as the country grapples with a second wave of COVID-19 infections that has seen the number of cases rise sharply in recent weeks.

Public health officials have repeatedly warned that Nigerians are failing to heed guidance on observing social distancing and wearing masks. Many opt to wear masks around their chin, rather than over their mouth and nose.

Omomkeko hopes the sight of his rotting peppers, oozing liquids and giving off a pungent smell, will provide a visceral warning of what may happen if safety advice is ignored.

"I'm not wasting this material," he said. "I'm using it to raise the consciousness of the masses."

(Reporting by Seun Sanni in Lagos; Additional reporting by Abraham Achirga in Abuja; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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