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Lest We Forget.
Aug. 7, 2021
This Year marks the 10th annual Re-Veiling ceremony of the H M Stanley in Denbigh. The ceremony has been performed annually by a band of supporters from Denbigh, North Wales and further afield since the H M Stanley statue by Nick Elphick was erected in 2011. And the two artworks – the Elphick statue, and the annual Re-Veiling of the statue - are now irrevocably combined, each meaningless without the other.
The Elphick statue on its own celebrates Stanley without questioning his role in the colonial history of the Congo as agent for the brutal regime of King Leopold II of Belgium during which 10 to 15 million Congolese people died. Documents from the period provide proof of Stanley’s own cruelty, and his approval of abuses by others. The Re-Veiling ceremony includes covering the sculpture with a giant rubber condom in a symbolic attempt to contain ideas and actions that lead to obliviousness of the suffering of others.
The Re-Veiling of the HM Stanley ceremony is part of a world-wide movement challenging public statues of figures of slave owners and colonialists. It aims to draw attention to the legacy of exploitation in countries like the Congo that were colonised for the extraction of natural resources and people for building imperial wealth. Black Lives Matter has shown us how the inherited wealth, values and guilt from that terrible period are still influencing our culture, our institutional structures and our deeply held beliefs today.
“Lest we forget”: Not just a question of keep or remove
This year, following the raising of awareness by the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent Welsh government audit of commemoration relating to the slave trade, the people of Denbigh are being asked their opinions on the fate of this statue. Some of the protestors think the statue should be removed completely, but others, particularly the artists in the group, think it is important to keep visible the true history of those times, with all its conflicts, contradictions, illusions and horror. As the artist Wanda Zyborska says
'the people of Denbigh and visitors to this historic town deserve to be told the whole truth'.
Remembering our history helps us to change our future. The artists protesting in Denbigh believe that when this statue is combined with the funeral performance it becomes something more nuanced, and thought provoking. That is why they think that if the statue is removed OR remains in place, it should include the full visual history of the statue, as is currently happening with the Colston statue in Bristol Museum, toppled and recovered from the sea.
Battered, paint spattered and fallen, the Colston statue tells a different and many would say more accurate story of the history of the man and his influence. It helps us remember, and change. The fate of the HM Stanley statue in Denbigh will symbolise what kind of society and future the people of Denbigh want to see.