Apology after Benjamin Zephaniah mural painted over in Birmingham | Birmingham

Apology after Benjamin Zephaniah mural painted over in Birmingham | Birmingham


A council contractor has apologised after painting over a mural of the late poet and actor Benjamin Zephaniah in Birmingham.

The artwork appeared on the wall of an underpass in Hockley, central Birmingham, last month after Zephaniah’s death in December at the age of 65.

A spokesperson for Kier, the council contractor tasked with removing graffiti, said: “We accept the upset caused by our actions. Crews were carrying out their standard duties and there was no ill intent.”

The Benjamin Zephaniah Family Legacy organisation said it had received assurances from the council that the mural would be protected and was not happy to see it disappear and replaced with a blank wall.

Zephaniah’s brother Tippa Naphtali said the artwork’s removal “showed little respect for him or the community that held him dear”.

“This mural was a carefully constructed piece of art that took hours to complete and probably just minutes to destroy,” he told BirminghamLive.

He said Zephaniah’s family would be making representations to the city council about having the artwork “installed somewhere more prominent”, because it was an “absolutely beautiful piece of art” wasted in the underpass.

The Birmingham historian Carl Chinn said the removal was “disgraceful” and a “negative action indicative of a council disconnected from and disinterested in its working-class neighbourhoods”.

Jagwant Johal, from the Birmingham Race Impact Group, said it was “outrageous and further erodes the lack of trust communities have with the city council, which is already at an all-time low”.

Birmingham city council said Kier was contracted to inspect subways across the city and remove graffiti every month.

It said the Hockley subway, which is also home to Grade-II listed concrete artworks by the sculptor William Mitchell, was covered by a protection order to preserve art, but the Zephaniah mural was on a wall not covered by the order.

Some of the work of the sculptor William Mitchell on the Hockley subway. Photograph: James O Davies/Historic England/PA

A spokesperson for Kier said: “We are working with Birmingham city council to review the graffiti removal process with a view to ensure more sensitivity is demonstrated moving forward. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the artist and provide supplies in order to recreate artwork to represent Benjamin and his life.”

Zephaniah, a poet and campaigner from Handsworth in Birmingham, died eight weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumour.

On Wednesday his wife, Qian, issued a statement thanking the public for their messages of support after his death. “Last year I was very ill and almost died. Benjamin stood beside me and helped me fight my illness, I stood beside him to fight his,” she said.

She said he “left a huge legacy wrapped in love” and the public would be kept informed of the “many wonderful things that will be happening in the name of the man we love”.

Next week a major official mural celebrating Zephaniah’s roots and activism will be unveiled in Handsworth Park.

Commissioned by the Black Heritage Walks Network and created by the graffiti artist Bunny Bread and the cartoonist Hunt Emerson, the work will depict Zephaniah as “the people’s champion”.

Speaking about the Hockley mural, Bunny Bread told ITV: “Someone has just been given some orders to paint it out with no information on who the person is. It’s quite sad.

“I think it should be redone, because I think he deserves more than one mural. But I think it’s a shame that it was even taken out in the first place, it’s ridiculous.”



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