A different approach to statues

The Congo, I Presume? is a sculpture group by Tom Frantzen in the garden of the AfricaMuseum in Brussels. Zoey Poll writes in Lapham’s Quarterly:

It’s hard to imagine that a passerby would pick up on the work’s supposed anticolonial message, particularly given the regal setting… At most, a generous visitor might note that the composition elevates a Black person for once, with the “African warriors,” outfitted with spears and feathered headdresses, positioned above a European colonizer.

But the “African warriors” stand on “peg legs” (Pell’s expression) — “the strong warriors have chopped-off feet” according to the sculptor. Seen from the back, their silhouettes look like this (taken from the article by Matthew Stanard in Trigger). This sight may seem offensive to some and bizarre to others. At any rate, it is indecorous enough to prompt visitors to ask why the warriors are depicted in this fashion.

Inevitably, someone would tell them about the history of the Congo Free State – the personal domain of Leopold II.

Speaking of statesmen responsible for bloodshed and violence, perhaps it would be wise – in some cases – not to remove their statues but to complement them with depictions of their victims and opponents. Perhaps to pair them with a visual representation of the damage or suffering they caused.

Monuments to particularly bloody killers, like Felix Dzerzhinsky, should be removed unconditionally. On the other hand, controversial actors – those whose lives can’t be reduced to black and white caricature – deserve controversial memorials.

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