In his travels to schools all around the United States and all over the globe, Ibiyinka Alao encourages youths to view the world through a window instead of a mirror.

Wednesday, July 13, students in the Searsport Elementary School summer school program spent the day with Alao, Nigeria’s ambassador of art, who taught the youths about art, music, and the way the arts can bring people together.

Alao’s artwork, which often depicts colorful scenes from his life in West Africa that carry his own observations about the world around him, earned a first-place win at the United Nations International Art Competition in 2001. The winning piece, according to Alao’s website,, is titled “Girls and a Greener Environment” and depicts the life of a woman from infancy to adulthood, and the lessons she acquires along the way.

In 2003, Alao was named the art ambassador for his home country, Nigeria, and since then Alao has traveled to schools, universities and community centers to offer lectures, workshops and art exhibitions in communities.

Wednesday, several SES students were seated at a long table among palettes of watercolors, paintbrushes and their own colorful versions of a painting that Alao brought in to the art workshop. Alao’s painting carried a sunny sky in bright orange and yellow hues over a long, seemingly endless road that was lined with trees on either side. A flock of birds flew above the watercolor horizon.

As part of Alao’s art workshop, he encouraged the youths to use his painting as a springboard for creating their own versions of the same image, and to come up with a unique title for their works of art.

“It is better to look at the world through a window than it is to look at it through a mirror,” Alao told the students. “Otherwise all you see is yourself and what is behind you.”

When the mind is open to seeing the world that surrounds us, Alao said, the opportunities for meeting new people and learning new things present themselves readily, and with those experiences come inspiration.

“There are so many possibilities,” he said. “It is more important to look at where you are going, and where you have not been yet.”

After the painting workshop, Alao gave a PowerPoint presentation showing some of his own artwork, and told the children a bit about himself and the place he calls home.

Standing in the center of the youths, who were seated in a circle, Alao called attention to his attire, which included white pants, shirt and an ornate white robe.

“Do you think I got this at Walmart?” he asked the children, a comment that prompted laughter from some of the youths.

“No!” exclaimed the children in unison.

Alao explained that because the weather is very warm in Africa — temperatures can climb upwards of 100 degrees — it is more comfortable to wear loose-fitting clothing. He told the youths that the robe he was wearing was called a Babariga.

He said his name, Ibiyinka, means “there is family in everyone that I meet.”

One of Alao’s works, titled “Mortal Feelings,” depicted dancers and a drummer. Alao explained the piece shows a common feeling about the arts in his native country through his own use of colors.

“Art is frozen music,” he told the youths.

After the presentation, Alao taught the group a traditional African song, offered each child a hand drum and instructed the youths how to play along with the beat of the music. The sounds of the drums thundered through the music room and over the stage, as did the sounds of laughter and singing.

Alao said his role as his country’s art ambassador has allowed him the chance to visit many of the states in America over the years, and has given him the chance to learn a lot about American culture.

His favorite part about visiting elementary schools, he said, are the questions children ask him. While at SES Wednesday, the students asked Alao about everything from whether there are female warriors in Africa — Alao said there are — to whether he can bring his pet monkey with him on his return trip to Searsport schools this fall.

“That is why I like doing this so much,” said Alao with a smile.

The general idea of what he does during his visits to schools, Alao said, is to widen the window through which he encourages young artists to view the world.

“It’s using the arts to show what life is really like in Africa,” he said. “It’s using art as a cable to bind people together around the world.”