Benjamin Zephaniah’s family lobby for new mural after original painted over in ‘error’

Grafitti removal contractors Kier have apologised and said there was ‘no ill intent’

Kevin E G Perry
Friday 05 April 2024 18:51 BST
British writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah dies aged 65

The family of Benjamin Zephaniah are hoping a mural of the late poet and writer can be repainted in a new location after the original was erased in error by graffitti removal contractors.

The artwork had been painted in an underpass in Hockley, Birmingham, after Zephaniah’s death in December at the age of 65.

The unidentified local artist who created the piece notified The Benjamin Zephaniah Family Legacy Group about the work in March, and they were so impressed that Zephaniah’s brother Tippa Naphtali made arrangements with city councillors Sharon Thompson and Waseem Zaffar to have it protected.

However, this message was seemingly not communicated to council contractors Kier, whose graffitti removal team painted over the mural to leave the wall blank.

Naphtali told the Birmingham Mail: “Given the very recent passing of my brother, and the significant contributions that he had made artistically, politically and culturally in this city over decades, this removal showed little respect for him or the community that held him dear, not just in Brum, but internationally, as the people’s poet.”

He added: “This mural was a carefully constructed piece of art that took hours to complete and probably just minutes to destroy. There clearly was a breakdown of communication between Birmingham City Council and Kier.”

The colourful mural of poet and activist Benjamin Zephaniah, before it disappeared under a layer of beige paint
The colourful mural of poet and activist Benjamin Zephaniah, before it disappeared under a layer of beige paint (The Benjamin Zephaniah Family Legacy Group)

In a statement, a spokesperson for Kier said they were sorry for their error: “We apologise for any hurt or distress we have caused by painting over this mural, crews were carrying out their standard duties and there was no ill-intent, but we accept the upset caused by our actions.

“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.”

The Benjamin Zephaniah Family Legacy Group are now pressing for the artist who created the original mural to be allowed to recreate it in a more prominent location.

“It is an absolutely beautiful piece of art which is kind of wasted in the Hockley underpass, which most members of the public seem to actually avoid using due to poor lighting and sanitation, as well as a reputation for anti-social behaviour,” said Naphtali.

After Zephaniah’s death, academic and activist Kehinde Andrews wrote for The Independent that Benjamin Zephaniah was the heart and consciousness of Black Britain.

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