A History Set in Stone & Fibreglass
Artistic creations in public urban spaces
They are cordoned off by rings of roadside commerce. They are fettered by moving chains of food hawkers, shoe shiners, public transport operators, newspaper vendors, airtime top-up card sellers, second-hand clothing marketers and foreign currency exchange traders.
They have been neglected, on the sides and at the entrances of half-century-old government buildings. They are artistic pieces of history, set in stone, metal and fibreglass, in Lagos Island, Lagos.
Fresh from the country gaining independence from its British colonial masters, Nigeria turned to art as a means of establishing its new identity of freedom, to celebrate anew its ancestry; to immortalize its heroes. The location for this is especially symbolic. Pre-independence, the Lagos Island municipality of Lagos was the administrative hub of colonial Western Nigeria. After independence, this continued to be the case as the Lagos Island municipality doubled as the capital of the state, as well as the country. In this time, the area also began to be characterized by high-rise buildings, –the first fruits of the nation’s financial services industry- big markets and civil service men &women- the milk of a nation in infancy. It stands to reason then that it was also to be the centre of artistic creation.
In front of the National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) building stands the statue of Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder, in fine form- hand clutching axe, thrust towards the sky- and in full garb. Sango is one of the lead characters offolk mythology. On the Old Prison Grounds, now Freedom Park (a public park administered by the state government) is a bronze sculpture of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe & Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1) , side by side; the three wise men of nationalism. Bordering the famous Balogun Market is the Tinubu Square (formerly Independence Square) in which is a sculpture of Madam Tinubu, an accomplishedslave trader and enemy of the British colonial government. On the side of the NECOM House (formerly NITEL Tower (2) ) is a life-size sculpture of a drummer and his instrument; the locally favoured musical accessory to jolly times.The NECOM and NEPA sculptures were produced by Africa’s gift to the world, the late Professor Ben Enwonwu (3) . There are more artistic odes to the reawakening of a culture long suppressed by imported traditions & relics of colonialism in Lagos.
However, public art, first initiated to record history, has become just that. Rare, now, are public artworks of any kind- especially those that capture the recent cultural, social & political zeitgeist & its heroes, as aforementioned. Why is there no monument of Chinua Achebe (4) , for instance? Also, the existing creations, though in busy, urban spaces are hardly seen as they are obstructed from full view by the logs & specks of the city’s informal economy. The connection between art (ist) and audience is interrupted. Also, they are badly maintained, or not at all.
We need new artistry.
1) Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria (1960-1966). He was killed during the 1966 military coup. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a politician, co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, a political party, of which he held the position of the secretary and later president. While having served among others as Senate President, Governor-General (1960-1963) and later President (1963-1966), he is now best remembered for his commitment to the nation. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, nationalist and political leader,was arrested in 1962 for allegedly planning the subversion of the government. Freed by General Yakubu Gowon, head of the military government, who appointed him the Federal Commissioner for Finance and Deputy Chairman of the Federal Executive Council, a position he resigned in 1971. In 1979, he unsuccessfully ran the presidential elections.
2) The tower was originally build as the central office of Nigerian External Communications (NECOM), which was bought out by Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). It is the tallest building in Nigeria and all of West Africa.
3) Odinigwe Benedict Chukwukadibia Bonaventure Enwonwu was on of the first African modernists.As anIgboNigerianpainter and sculptor, his career opened the way for the postcolonial spreading and increased popularity of Modern African art.
4) Chinua Achebe was a novelist celebrated for his unsentimental descriptions of the social and psychological disturbanceswhich accompanied the imposition of Western customs and values upon African society.