Friday 19 October 2012

Stakeholders to battle destroyers of public space art

By Tajudeen Sowole

From what seemed like a sidon-look posture, artists and other stakeholders appeared to have woken up to confront the recurring denigration of public space art works.

Spurred by the pulling down of master, Yusuf Grillo’s frieze and defacement of Late Prof Agbo Folarin’s mosaic at the ongoing renovation of Muritala Muhammed Airport (MMA-1)’s lounge, Lagos, artists, connoisseurs and other stakeholders have set out on a journey to draw the attention of relevant government agencies to the insensitivity and stop further destruction of similar heritage across the country.

Three organisations Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF) and Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi-led Yusuf Grillo Pavilion met with representatives of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) to strategise on how to confront the raging disregard for monuments and historical values. Held at OYASAF’s office in Maryland, Lagos, the gathering which had the Secretary of SNA, Chuka Nnabuife and sculptor Olu Amoda in attendance resolved to meet with the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah and the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke.
 Few months ago, a hint from Amoda over the fate of some art works had prompted a visit to the airport. The report from the visit, published on this page and led to reactions from artists showed that some art works at the arrival lounge, which have been identified with the edifice’s 33 years history, could be missing in the expanded space. Such works include Flight, 5-piece frieze (on each side of the arrival lounges) produced by 78 years-old Grillo and a glass mosaic mural, Spirit of Man in Flight, by late art academician Folarin (erected at the entrance.) In fact, Grillo’s ten works have been reduced to one while Folarin’s mosaic was defaced by the new, though opaque aluminum panel, which concealed the colourful 1981 work from its original position.  Grillo’s works were in concrete, and about 12 feet in height, 8 in breadth for each of the 10 friezes mounted in two parts of five at both ends of the lounges.

Commissioned on March 15, 1979, the MMA-1 have works of other artists such as Demas Nwoko, Isiaka Osunde, Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya and Sam Uchendu.

The convener of the gathering, Prince Yemisi Shyllon noted that aside the works of Grillo and Folarin at the airports, there are other art pieces in public space being destroyed or removed across the country. He cited mosaic work by Grillo at the new Adeniran Ogunsanya Shopping Complex Surulere, Lagos. Shyllon noted the importance of the meeting as a vehicle to alert the “Nigerian people about the danger in destroying cultural value,” which the art in public spaces represent. 

Also, Onobrakpeya drew the attention of the gathering to another work at a roundabout in Effunrun, near Warri, Delta State. Onobrakpeya whose work is presumed ‘safe’ among that of the masters at the MMIA said he was not happy when he visited and saw the state of Folarin’s work. “I went to the airport and was not pleased when I saw Folarin’s works,” he lamented, and wished that there was a law in place, “which protects public art, so we can invoke it to correct this insensitivity.”

Nnabuife argued that works of art in public space belongs to the people and should be protected by those in government. He described destruction of art in public space as “horrible and unacceptable.”

Aligning with an earlier observation that  an act or statue to protect art in public was crucial to the agitation of the stakeholders, Gbadamosi urged that in the meantime  something urgent need to be done “to preserve the heritage value of the works.” He recalled a National Gallery of Art (NGA) bill in process at the last national assembly, which if passed into law could have been used to seek redress.  

Currently, there is no bill before the new National Assembly, so disclosed sources from the government as there were indications that a fresh process of enacting laws on art practice, including protection of art in public space would have to start all over.

At the end of the deliberation at OYASAF, an ad hoc committee was mandated to visit the airport and get he current state of the remaining works on which the delegation to the ministries of Aviation and Tourism, Culture and National Orientation would work. 

So far, the official response of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) was that “there is whole aesthetic plan to the remodeling program.” This much was extracted from the office of the General Manager, Public Affairs, FAAN, in July when the denigration was exposed.  

Observers had argued that if indeed, the “remodeling” would accommodate another set of art pieces, living artists of the original works affected by the expansion should be retained for the new works.

Describing the concept of his work, Grillo recalled that “the idea was to represent, in abstract term, flight in nature.” The work, he disclosed “took two years, from conception to installation.”

However, Gbadamosi, a former minister alerted stakeholders at the gathering to be ready for a tough battle, noting that “it is not easy to confront officialdom.”

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