Recently, the Lagos State Government unveiled a memorial for the victims of the June 3, 2012 Dana Airlines Flight 992 plane crash. On the face of it, yes, it is a noble gesture for the State Government to memorialize the victims of this terrible accident (although the festive unveiling drowns out news of neglect of the victims' families, and owners of property destroyed or damaged by the crash). But, I have to say that the memorial, or Cenotaph, as the government prefers to call it, is a most unfortunate, macabre construction. It quite likely achieves the very opposite effect of a befitting memorial, which is to re-traumatize families and friends of the Dana crash victims.
The so-called Cenotaph consists of a massive three-tiered platform covered in marble on which sits a crudely sculpted airplane painted in the white and red colors of Dana Airlines, its front-end fuselage broken and pointed downward. At the base of the platform are etched the names of the passengers who perished in the crash; inexplicably, the names of the dead crew members are excluded). Apart from the stupidity of just recreating the crashed plane, did it not occur to the "artist" and commissioner that the use of red color on this monument re-states the violence of the crash, and reminds us of the blood of the victims?
The first time I saw this dumb confection, I thought it was a joke pulled by some sadistic fellow bent on provoking the outrage of decent people. But on seeing photographs and Youtube videos of the Governor Fashola at the Cenotaph's unveiling, I could not but despair.
This Cenotaph says so much about everything wrong with Nigeria today. I cannot imagine, and certainly did not hear, that there was an open call for design proposals, which would have allowed interested artists and designers to compete for the commission. There is no way, in a competitive process, this "thing" could have emerged as the winning entry, except of course if the jury consisted of shameless philistines So, it seems to me that it is the culture of cronyism, so endemic in public and private sectors that produced this obdurate monstrosity. Incidentally, none of the news reports tells us the name of the "artist" responsible for the Cenotaph--which is probably in the "artist's" best interest, because this is one work the maker should be ashamed of, as long as it stands.
Criticism of this Cenotaph may not be as vociferous as I would wish; but that says something about the state of contemporary art criticism and discourse in Nigeria. One important exception is this response by Abimbola Adelakun--a former arts writer in the Lagos-based Punch Newspapers--who wrote:
I have not quite seen anything so prosaic, so unimaginative and so tasteless. What is the idea behind this artistic choice that places a crudely sculpted airplane on the names of those who lost their lives? If it is the artist that has a taste for the macabre, why did the commissioners of the work allow this? (Read the article here).
Simply put, this monument is an eyesore, a scab on our memory of the Dana Crash victims. After the so-called emotional speeches by government functionaries, what remains is the marbled monument to bad taste. This monument, moreover, is a waste of space and funds (no one has said anything about the cost of this project). This, unfortunately, is what happens in a place where bureaucrats and conniving "artists" dream up, without due process or consultations, projects meant to satiate their inflated egos, and line their porous pockets, all in the name of remembering a collective tragedy.
There are many ways to deal with this scandalous monument. But perhaps the simplest of them all is the best. Pull the entire thing down, and turn the site into a public garden with the names of all the dead (passengers and crew) visibly and permanently listed somewhere as part of the landscape design.