Marcus Omofuma (1973-1999) was a Nigerian asylum seeker who in the early 1990s sought refuge in Europe. He is believed to have entered Austria via Germany in 1998, but his application for asylum in Austria was rejected and an appeal proved unsuccessful. Shortly afterwards, he was detained and held in custody awaiting deportation. On 1 May 1999, Omofuma was escorted onto a deportation flight under the supervision of three police officials. Following a struggle, a decision was made to use mechanical restraints and duct tape was used to cover his mouth. Upon landing, Omofuma was pronounced dead due to suffocation.
Omofuma’s death sparked a series of protests and played a role in uniting anti-racism movements in Austria. A week later, over 3,000 demonstrators turned out to demand justice and, a candlelight vigil was held outside the Austrian Interior Ministry headquarters. The protests generated national debate regarding the experiences of police brutality towards Black people in Austria and led to the creation of an independent Human Rights Advisory Board (MRB) in the Interior Ministry, which came into force in September 1999.
In 2002, the Austrian artist Ulrike Truger received an enquiry from a fellow human rights activist regarding a memorial for Omofuma. According to Truger, funding via official channels proved unsuccessful so she decided to fund the memorial via the sale of ten small limited-edition bronze memorial cast models. For the memorial itself, Truger chose Nero Zimbabwe, a characteristic African granite, to represent the journey from Africa to a new home in Austria.
As completion neared, Truger’s efforts to get approval for a site reached a dead end, but she decided to proceed nevertheless. In October 2003, Truger placed the memorial next to the Vienna Opera building and unveiled it without approval from Viennese authorities. In December 2003, the memorial was relocated by the authorities to an approved location at the Human Rights Plaza near the Museums Quarter.
The memorial is an imposing sculpture, weighing five tonnes and standing three metres high. It contains a plaque written in German with the following text:
MARCUS OMOFUMA STONE
African Granite 2003
In memory of the Nigerian Marcus Omofuma who died during deportation due to shackling and suffocation
In 2009, protestors gathered at the memorial to mark the 10-year anniversary of Omofuma’s death. Protesters returned once again in 2019 to mark the 20-year anniversary, and they continued to demand greater action to protect human rights. The memorial has remained a focal point for such activism, so it was no surprise when the Black Lives Matter protests of solidarity gathered nearby, following the murder of George Floyd in the USA in 2020. The Marcus Omofuma memorial stone remains a symbol against racism and xenophobia in Austria and, in doing so, demonstrates a state torn between its sombre history and a willingness to learn from past injustices.
Source: Manfred Werner, Marcus Omofuma Stein (25 December 2006) via Wikimedia Commons.
The Marcus Omofuma Memorial in Vienna (2003) by Patrick Edore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.