Saturday 13 June 2020

On toppled statues, Shonibare warns 'It’s more dangerous to erase history'

Statue of Edward Colston being dumped into Bristol Harbourside by protesters in the U.K.
At the last count, nearly all the statues of trans-Atlantic trade in slave symbols across Europe have been toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters.

The mob actions against Confederate and slave trade statues have been giving policy makers and historians concern about public space monuments.

Nigerian-British artist, Yinka Shonibare whose work, most often, satires British aristocrats has also shown concern about erasing history. Shonibare argued that whatever the eventual solution in addressing the issues raised by the protesters against the statues, preserving history should be paramount.

“I don’t believe that you can erase history. It’s more dangerous to erase history,”  Shonibare said. He noted that as much as the agitation of the people is important, perhaps museum space could be an alternative home to the rejected statues.

 “If the community wants monuments to be removed, then they should be removed, but they should remain in public view, by creating museums for them, as a reminder so that we don’t make the same mistakes in the future,” Shonibare told Artnet News.

In the English port city of Bristol, a statue of the 17th century slave merchant, Edward Colston, was pulled off its plinth and dumped into the city’s harbor by Black Lives Matter protesters.Colton (1636-1721) supervised trafficking of 80,000 African men, women and children into slavery. Another slave trader, Robert Milligan's statue was removed. Milligan (1745-1809), a Spaniard was also a slave merchant whose ship played major part during the obnoxious era.

Also, reports showed that in Belgium, a bust of King Leopold II was defaced by protesters and his statue attacked by mobs who chanted “reparations” and waving the Democratic Republic of Congo’s flag. Leopold (1835-1909) reigned exploiting millions of Congolese people in the late 1800s.

In the U.S where the Black Lives Matter protests started after a video showing Minneapolis police
strangling unarmed African American, George Floyd, to death went viral, monuments to controversial figures have been attacked by protesters. For examples, in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Virginia, reports showed how protesters have targeted statues of Christopher Columbus, beheading one and pulling down three.

Images showed how demonstrators toppled a ten-foot-tall statue that stood in front of the Minnesota state capitol; in Richmond, protesters pulled down an eight-foot-tall statue in Byrd Park, moving the sculpture away before setting it on fire; and in Boston, it was reported that a marble statue of Columbus was toppled.

Indeed, Shonibare's suggestion of a museum for unwanted people is perhaps the solution in preserving history. Every history matters too, even in their ugly trajectory. However, no public space art is sustainable if the community protests against it. With a museum for such statues and symbols, it becomes a matter of choice to see them.
 -Tajudeen Sowole.

1 comment:

  1. I see the point of the protesters in pulling down statues that are reminder of how blacks were subjected to oppression which still continues as racism. Those statues were erected to celebrate and honour those individuals for committing crime against humanity that was acceptable in those days. It's like erecting a statue to celebrate Jack the Ripper or each of those involved in the 9/11 attack on the WTC. You don't preserve what is a reminder of evil.