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Statue Toppling - the Tip of the Iceberg?
Oct. 10, 2017
"If you shape the past, you own the present"
Image: Monumental cartoon from The Baltimore Sun by Kal
After the furore over colonial statue-toppling in the US the Guardian asked readers to nominate deserving figures yet to be carved in stone. In the article that accompanies the results Zoe Williams suggests that the whole argument over statues is a symptom of a deeper unease.
"Iconoclasm is, above anything, an attempt to bring to a head a debate that is operating at a subcultural level. Colonialism, good or bad? Slavery, good or bad? These questions are boiling under, like suppurating sores, poisoning issues from Brexit in the UK to police racism in the US. Coming out trenchantly against a long-dead enemy is one way of forcing the confrontation to the surface. Statue-crushing is not something that happens in an era of consensus".
It's another testament to the power of a civic statue. The article reveals the that "These Confederate statues aren’t carved marble; they are cheap bronze casts, and they went up not straight after the civil war, but in two waves, one at the turn of the 20th century, one in the 1960s, coinciding both times with a growing civil rights movement. Their sponsors – the Daughters of the Confederacy, standing $200 statues for towns with the will to memorialise the glorious old days, but not the means – are not a historical record of Robert E Lee standing among his peers. They are a propaganda history-grab many years after, undertaken on the principle that if you shape the past, you own the present".
These insights into the power and uses of the civic statue makes it even more important that new statues are erected of women whose roles have meaning and value for our society. We have enough naked, unnamed nymphs. See the article for the suggestions for new statues which include Mary Wolstonecraft, Ada Lovelace, Victoria Wood, Gina Miller, Zaha Hadid, Doreen Lawrence, J K Rowling and Jo Cox.
Zoe Williams in the Guardian Tuesday 12 September 2017 www.theguardian.com