The Fall of Statues

In Bristol, after three hundred years of contemplation, Edward Colston, a white slaver took to diving. Robert Milligan, Colston’s bronze buddy from London, went into hiding. In Belgium, King Leopold had a facelift and was speedily removed from public view before he might lose his head altogether.

The iconoclastic list is growing daily.

Reliable sources from the spiritist community report captain James Cook was heard thanking the Lord he was killed and cooked by savages before he had the chance to take their king hostage. Columbus wasn’t that lucky, posthumously. St.Peter has been giving Columbus evil looks lately while playing twister with the Key. Everyone up there knows Columbus’s position is tenuous – he got a pass because a lot of white people prayed him in, while the indigenous girls he was enslaving couldn’t pray him out in time.  Churchill is nervously thumbing his cigar in a clear sign of discomfort. He famously said once that “a fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”, and is watching the army of fanatics encircle the platoon of his fans. Mahatma Gandhi is trying to convince Brahma’s secretary that he needs to get on Twitter to denounce his past disdain towards African blacks, but the celestial bureaucracy of a polytheistic religion is a way more resilient and resistant than the English colonial rule. Racist Karl Marx is clasping Friedrich by his Engels in fear the white proletariat wouldn’t protect him against the wrath of their black and Slav comrades.

Monuments are falling, common sense is failing, authorities and intellectuals are debating where the lines should be drawn.

Here’s the problem with the lines. Revolutions don’t draw lines, they map territories and mop dissenters. A US football (soccer) team fired a player whose wife posted a racially charged comment about looters. Hell has strict rules on giving candy to the inmates, but Stalin has been seen smirking. He had concentration camps filled to the rafters with Family Members of the Enemies of the People. He is happy his ideas have survived his toppled statues, and he had more than a Roman emperor.

History never tires of repeating itself.

Early Christians were knocking down noses and penises of Greek statues. Communists were tearing down monuments to Tsars, then other commies were removing Stalin’s statues, and then Jeremy Corbin put a pin with Stalin back on his lapel. Islamists blew up Buddhas. All of them believed they had a legitimate reason and even a moral obligation to destroy idols of the past that were – in their opinion – either imperfect or completely in the wrong.

If there is a difference between young people with diplomas in gender studies and early Christians, point it out to me. I couldn’t see one when I was reading an op-ed by a young PhD in this field on the need to remove sexist Titian, Renoir, and Gauguin from museums and galleries. I am waiting for demands to exclude Greek philosophers from the curriculum because they didn’t protest against slavery, and most of them had slaves. Aristotle had 13 of them! it’s time to beat his nose to a pulp.

Bust Aristotle’s Busts!

Should the toppled statues stand? I think yes, and here’s why.

I am not a big fan of Leopold. He committed genocide. Perhaps, it was long overdue for the Belgian nation to admit to it and collectively decide that his statue had to be moved over to a history museum’s backyard. If the nation can’t decide that the statue needs to be taken down, it means it is not ready yet to own up to the problem. And if so, forcibly taking it down doesn’t solve the problem, it only puts it under the carpet, where it quietly festers and mutates until one day, seemingly out of nowhere, it makes a powerful comeback.

Remove de Gaulle by force and get ready for the National Front to form the government. Deface Churchill and get UKIP running the show. Tear down Columbus and stand by for Mike Pence. I am not saying that may happen next morning, of course, but for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

That’s why I believe there must be a consensus in society first, even if it is a frustratingly slow and painful process. I don’t really care for Columbuses or Churchills, but I care for Titian. I want the National Gallery to know I’m offering free storage for its Titians.

In the meantime, I am a bit surprised that I hear no riotous news from Italy. Two monuments are so obviously racist there, and no one seems to care. I wonder why? Is it because Italians are more likely to have a long-term view as heirs and successors to the civilisation that invented Damnatio memoriae (condemnation to oblivion) which they know doesn’t really work as intended? Or is it because for them message comes second to beauty? Or is it the food?

What would you do about the Monument to Ferdinand I Medici, dated back to 1624, that celebrates his victory over North African Pirates? The sculptor for the black men at Ferdinand’s feet used real slaves as models and set two of them free after the work was completed. I wrote about it here. 

Or, take Doge Pesaro tomb in Venice, in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the same church that houses two Titians and a Bellini. Quite a literal reference to black people supporting the wealth of Pesaro family.

Should the two monuments be smashed to pieces? (I hope not – even though the statue of Ferdinand by Bandinelli is not good sculpture – especially contrasted against the conquered pirates, sculpted by a pupil of Giambologna).

17 comments

  1. If they ever want to get rid of a Titian, Renoir, or Gauguin, I hope they send it my way.
    As for the statues, they are part of our past and perhaps we should look them with a bit of shame? You can’t undo things that have happened already.
    Leslie

  2. one thing more: not just christians knocked noses of statures. In ancient Egypt this also had happened. Interesting to read why. A statue represents a force of life. If you want to take over power, you must diminish strength of older powers. Nose breathes life in (and out). Thus, smashing the nose reduces power of earlier rulers…
    Now who said ‘art is destruction’?

    regards, Drager

  3. You forgot Der Kaiser. Look at his role in Namibia genocide. The officers appointed under his rule in Namibia and able to eliminate 40% of the population, later became the chiefs in concentration camps im
    Reich.
    Context is of extreme importance. In Southern ( U ) SA statues are in central squares, raised by white power to demonstrate the importance in the battle to keep slavery working. In 20th century whenever a federal law trying to reduce discrimination was introduced, more such memorials were raised in the former confederate states. Each was a statement.
    The Medici should be lifted and put in museum garden, with explanation of his role on a plate. There are still several people enthousisiastic about religious and literary praise in the bible of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha. So what about a statue of DT holding a bible? Weird that new immigrants are blocked in the ( U ) SA, and some citizens who are critical to ‘the leader’ are being told ‘return to Africa’, while the immigrants and their off-spring who forced indigenous people of the americas almost to extinction are not expelled and returned to the old world. Perhaps all peoples should return to the country of ancestors, on the date of year 1000, and take their statues with them. Would make nice documentary.

    1. I am not arguing for not removing controvercial statues. I am saying that their removal, in a democracy, needs to be based on a societal consensus. Until this consensus is reached, removing a statue exacerbates the underlying problem instead of solving it.

      1. democracy is not necessarily based upon consensus. and one may consider when a democracy is a democracy. When a majority votes for specific issue, that does not produces certificate of democracy.

        1. It is an interesting point, actually. Consensus, by its defenition, is an agreement, not a majority decision. But what makes a democracy different from a totalitarian system, is that in order to reach that agreement, all voices are heard and discussed.

          1. Consensus is everybody in agreement, usually over compromise. Sometimes at gun-point.
            A true democracy hears all voices, discusses opposite views, and decides while keeping fundamental rights – also of minorities – in place.
            Meaning that after having heard all opinions, I do uninamously decide to raise 200 m statue of Trump holding Mao’s booklet in St Petersburg, One of Putin with daffodils behind his ears in Houston. Proposal about Xi Jinping will follow after obtaining advise from Huawei.

  4. In Italia non ci preoccupiamo delle nostre statue: sono finiti i tempi in cui Savonarola bruciava opere d’arte e libri e alcuni papi mettevano le brache ai nudi di Michelangelo. Abbiamo altri problemi da risolvere che riguardano la nostra sopravvivenza quotidiana. Gli italiani non sono mai stati razzisti, intolleranti sì, spesso, con chi cerca di imporci regole poco accettabili e con chi cerca di affamarci. Del resto, siamo famosi per essere contradditori e ribelli. Se proprio dobbiamo buttar giù qualcuno, sarebbe meglio che buttassimo giù il nostro governo, anzi tutti i governi che abbiamo avuto e che avremo in futuro. Siamo un po’ tutti un pochino anarchici, noi italiani, ma nella nostra terra, abbiamo accolto tutti, ma proprio tutti quelli che qui ci sono passati, dai tempi di Odoacre fino a oggi.
    Scusa se non ho scritto in inglese, ma solo nella mia lingua, in questo caso, sono riuscita a scrivere ciò che penso. Il mio inglese non è abbastanza buono per esprimermi a fondo.
    Ti auguro una piacevole serata.

    1. Thank you, I had it translated, no problem – totally agree – you, Italians, have seen it all: the sack of Rome (several times) and not just Rome, Savonarola, early Christian vandalism… Sometimes history does make a lesson stick in the collective mind.

  5. Alors toutes les grandes fortunes qui se sont faites grâce à l’esclavage devraient redistribuer , on devrait commencer par cela et non pas détruire sinon , une ville comme Bordeaux devrait être rasée de par son passé du commerce des êtres humains …!!!

    1. Yes, quite a lot of old money has an ugly past. But I am afraid any retribution is as possible as a world without mechanical friction or zero electrical resistance. It is, perhaps, ideal, but unattainable

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