Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Destruction of Demas Nwoko's Mural in Ibadan

Interior of Teddar Hall, University of Ibadan. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu
This is what I saw earlier in the month when I went in search of Demas Nwoko's 1962 masterpiece mural The Gifts of Talent. A clean wall coated with fairly new sky-blue paint. I had to go outside again just to be sure that I was in Teddar Hall, where this painting had been for decades. I had a chill, when I realized that the mural was gone. When later I asked colleagues I was told that some university official gave the order to paint over the mural. Why? Who? I got no useful answer. Did someone want to "facelift" the hall by painting over the "old" work of art with new paint? Or did someone just decide that the nudity depicted in the painting was too pagan for the radical Christianity and Islam that is sweeping across the land? Or is it just simply an act of wanton philistinism? I heard sometime ago that the painting was not in good shape, with some of the paint peeling in some areas. But should the university authorities not have contacted the artist to negotiate the restoration of the mural? Did the university not know the value of this work; the fact that it is one of the few artistic landmarks in the entire campus? I went into mourning, and days later traveled to the east to see Nwoko who, to my relief, already heard about the vandalism. Shame to the University of Ibadan authorities. If there was a cultural hell, that is where I would send whoever it was that  approved for elimination of Nwoko's mural. Just imagine the cost of removing that unfortunate coat of paint to reveal what remains of the mural someday in the future, in a better Nigeria.

Church of the Resurrection, University of Ibadan. Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Ben Enwonwu's important wood sculpture, The Risen Christ at the Church of the Resurrection also on the University of Ibadan campus is in better luck, but not by much. You'd think that the church owners would take better care of the precious work. No. It is just sitting on the floor by the entrance door, with parts of it broken off, the surface coated with grime (I saw what might be a big rat hiding under the base!). The whole ensemble looking really miserable, like an abandoned child. If the church has no use for it anymore, perhaps they should send it to...oh, I just remembered that Nigeria has no art museum where the work or any other can at least be kept in better condition.  Shame.

1 comment:

Ngozi Achebe said...

Just posted the link to your story about the Demas Nwoko mural on trhe Facebook page of the Nigeria Nostalgia project. I hope youI thought it was a crying shame and maybe someone would do something.