What should the fate of colonial public sculptures and statues be?
Although public sculptures fall outside the generic realm of galleries and museums, they are part of what shapes our experiences of art. They structure and define the identity of the country while reinforcing the hierarchy of commemoration.
Understanding the role this type of art has played in white washing the injustice and normalising the past shows that removing or destroying these monuments from public view will not erase history, in fact statues were designed to do just that by hazing their wrong doings and racism through a carefully curated landscape.
We as people have taken for granted the ideas these monuments reflect and the history they hide until the recent events. Protests for Black Lives have led for colonial statues to lose their explanatory power and have forced people to question their existence. The historical forces around us that have shaped our lives, like the colonial public sculptures along our drive to work, the streets we walk that were named after former slave traders or the buildings we work in that were named after former colonists, have become more visible to us. The Black Lives Matter protests have ignited a sense of unity throughout the world and the urban monuments we barely noticed have now become a symbol of these protests.
‘Much like history as a discipline itself, monuments are not neutral records but revisionist objects that mobilise art as a means to oppress.’
Monuments historically were never meant to be universal, someone carefully decided to give them a physical space of ownership in the landscape of the country’s identity.
But how do we make things right? How do we create a landscape of equality?
If monuments were left standing unaltered, they would never totally lose their power to threaten certain groups of people.
Why not let such monuments remain on the ground so that the ruins could decay slowly? This would be a fitting response to the horrors of colonial rule, a reminder that its ruins live on. Removing their trashed remains suggest that the end of colonialism and slavery was the end of the problem. Create something new from the wreckage, from that place of loss caused by the monument, offering a way for us to feel the grief and grow from it.
Imagine an innocent child picks up one of the broken sculptural pieces from Queen Victoria’s sceptre that she holds in her hand and repurposes it to be stump in a game of gully cricket or street cricket. The negligence of the power that these sculptures once held when broken to the ground shows that they are mere shapes of stone and not a depiction of history. The monument truly loses its importance and representation of dominance when it's degraded to the ground and transubstantiated. The game of cricket was one that was introduced to India by the British during colonisation and ever since, the game was reclaimed and was deeply embedded into the life of an Indian, from playing on the streets or the park to cheering in the stadiums. Cricket is a perfect metaphor for the modern impact of colonisation on India.
The Conversation. 2020. Britain's Monument Culture Obscures A Violent History of White Supremacy and Colonial Violence. [online] Available at: <https://theconversation.com/britains-monument-culture-obscures-a-violent-history-of-white-supremacy-and-colonial-violence-140370>