Monday 23 January 2023

Sculptors’ Association demands return, restoration of TBS gate

A section of the 1972 sculpture designed by Paul Mont, but pulled down recently.


Being a Press Release of the Sculptors’ Association Nigeria as official response to the pulling down of Paul Mount’s Sculpture Gate located at Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos.

 Once again, the art community is in tears over another organized fatality orchestrated by the state on one of its highly prized intellectual properties. As has happened to many artworks (private or public) over and over again from Delta state to Bornu State, Cross Rivers state to Sokoto state, the regretful, dehumanizing and devastating hammer of the art executioner has landed on a monumental gate which once prided itself as a product of artistic ingenuity, intellectualism, definition of historical landmark and national pride. This elegant functional artwork which classifies the essence of modern Nigerian art at its early development like a burnt library has received the nod of the state actors and thus the art assassins of the state have visited without a guile of humanity. Tell it to the world, tell it to the mountain tops, our pride, our jewel and treasure, our art practice patrimony, our definition of modern art which in national evolution and development prides itself as the connections between traditional and the modern society, is no more. Alas the sculpture that necessitates this loud wail is the monumental art gate that once warmly welcomed the world to the Tafawa Balewa Square in the heart of Ikoyi, Lagos state. See Theo Lawson:2023 “They Destroyed Paradise” for a graphic view of the pulled down sculpture gate. 

That piece produced in c.1972 by Paul Mount (1922-2009) during General Gowon’s administration served amongst other iconic relics of symbolic essence, the story of our national independence and unity. Paul Mount is the founding father of the Art department at Yaba Technical Institute (now YabaTech), Lagos between 1955-1962. The piece is a definition of Nigeria as a democratic state and celebration of the Nigerian military prowess. It is this rich heritage that would have been the visible history for future generations that has come down mercilessly without the blink of the eyes. Can our national leaders be so blind, dumb and physically deformed to aesthetics? When our leaders, go to the Americas, Europe, China and most recently to Dubai on summer holidays, what do they go to see and take pictures with, at their leisure for which they inflate their travel estacodes?     

As artists, sculptors and Presently Executive officers of the Sculptor’s Association of Nigeria, we are grief laden, traumatized, embarrassed at this iconoclasm and the pain will not go away soon. Many things thus come to mind about the misconceptions and contradictions that plague us as a people. Just recently the art community and of course the stakeholders in the humanities, applauded federal government’s rethink of introducing the subject History to the secondary school curriculum. The reason being an attempt at reversing the glaring gap observed in students lack of knowledge of their heritage. As truly envisioned through that curricula policy, a robust self-esteem, pride and national patriotism can only be groomed through indigested knowledge of one’s past, and his/her present reality. It is the inculcated virtues in the sense of history that guarantees sustainable social and technological growth. Then the question resonates, how can a system that wants to promote history bracingly and heartlessly destroy its visible historical archive? Secondly, the issue of repatriation and reparation of stolen art works to Europe and America has been on the burner for some time. The federal government through its MDAs has spent billions of naira on the project. The euphoria and celebration of the yet not significant number of returned bronzes to Benin has been applauded to the high heavens. Within the ongoing conversation on the subject, the unthinkable malaise to the arts, its heritage, sustainability and preservation has now happened. Does this action not justify the opposers of the repatriation project who believe that Nigerian society is not ready and may never be prepared in the near future for possible security and preservation of the rare pieces as they have been in Europe and the Americas? How can we on one breadth be seeking a repatriation of pieces which our unpatriotic smeared mindset due to modern religious belief systems have rejected as objects of idolatry, and on the other hand pulling down the ones that are both modern and do not taint or abuse our new found religiosity profile? 

One can dare say that our perceived modernity still exists in the most dastard and barbaric salvage age. In a colloquial parlance, one in a defeatist sigh can only intone “who do us this kin tin?”. Indeed, who has encharmed us so badly that the very same things we all go to Europe to see during our leisure as tourists are the same things at home that we do not value. One can only imagine the economic gains of national treasuries that accrue from a Leonardo da Vinci’s, Picasso’s, Van Gough’s, and the other likes if their society’s creative pieces. At the time Paul Mount, died in 2009, he had risen to such high profile of creative essence that profiled him as contemporaneous of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and the likes. One cannot forget the great traditional art collections of Kenneth Murray upon whose vision the National Museum prides itself today. How did it not occur to our art administrators that, a piece by Paul Mount in the future would be a valid object of diplomatic negotiation, just as we are now with Europe over reparation of Benin Bronzes? Truly, it is the product of the visual arts that is the valid and tangible instrument that documents a people, preserves their culture and launch them into technological growth and advancement. The West knows this and while perpetuating the gains of history, the product is also converted into an economic product. One can only imagine the economic wealth generated in Paris from the millions of tourists that visit the Louvre annually. In Nigeria, what we do is pull them down and destroy them. What even aches one’s heart is that the perpetrator of the heinous “articide” is government instruments. The same government that has spent billions in erecting them. This is so, so sad.

This release from the stable of Sculptors’ Association of Nigeria (ScAN), is premised on three things. First it is a protest from the art community over the pulling down of the metal gate at TBS. Secondly it is to sensitize and educate government and its agencies to understand the import of the gains of heritage, and thirdly to proffer a solution to the present condition and possibly salvage the pulled down gate. Whereas the treatise above has dwelt on the first two objectives, the third is thus presented.

No one can be averse to government policies relating to the use its public space, its design and possible redesign. However, in government’s planning, it must be sensitive to the peculiarity of the environment and interface with the different stakeholders for meaningful or purposeful dialogues that averts situations of breach of trust. The TBS space may be going through government new city planning policies. The art community welcomes such urban development and renewal strides but seriously frown and seriously takes exception to a willful pulling down and battering of its rare piece. Arising from this, ScAN demands government commitment to the arts and its promotion through,

The Sculpture Gate that has been pulled down should be restored and mounted in a space without delay, where it does not interfere with developmental policies of government. That the piece should be treated as a national treasure in character, form and content, as it is an object of respect in the art historical heritage. Government and the public must see every art work (private or in public space) as intellectual property that has the potentiality of providing immeasurable and limitless gains to society both now and in the farthest future.

The art community (practicing artists) should always be represented in government Boards and committees. This is to provide ideas and suggestions to government and its agencies, when faced with situations that must have led to the unfortunate incidence that has necessitated this release.

The Visual Art is a social instrument for national integration, promotion and preservation. Government must always consider and satisfy the 5% quota for the arts in its public construction projects. Anything outside this is shortchanging the future generations that will fall back on such visual data for understanding the society of their forebears.  

Dr. Kukoyi Shola PProf. Edewor U. Nelson 

Secretary General (ScAN) President (ScAN)

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