Statues – thoughts, what d’you think?

tall statue of white man against a blue sky

This morning my colleague was accused by an irate French woman of staging a protest against one of our statues. This lady must have had a very low opinion of London protests, since the event consisted of my colleague attaching a laminated sign to the railings next to the statue. (The sign announced some renovations about to take place.)

At a few of the gardens I work at, there are lots of statues. Some are, like I showed the other day, mythical white women. Others are historically famous white men in blackenedย  bronze, often on horses. Most of them are generals. One is a president of an allied country from the war. They are just like the statues that have annoyed so many over the last few months, and they’ve always annoyed me too. They are dull and completely removed from what matters to most of the people who walk past and most of the people who have ever walked past.

There are so many interesting and inspiring things we could celebrate: inventions, individual acts of heroism, creativity (I know statues to these things to exist, but they are rare.) Instead we celebrate the men who led others into battle, to their deaths. Men who were already celebrated in their lifetimes. And women who have never existed – these at least have interesting myths behind them, but still don’t mean much to people now.

I’ve seen a few arguments against changing statues. Here are two:

‘Ah, but it’s history! You can’t destroy history!’ people say. And of course I, and almost everyone else, agree. But statues aren’t about history, because nobody learns anything from a statue, except maybe the name and how the person died (it’s all in how the horse is standing, apparently). If you want history, then put the statues in a museum, where people can see them properly and read about them.

‘Ah, but we should keep them because these were often bad people. We should have statues up to remind people of the bad things that happened.’ Ok, so would you put up a statue of Hitler then? Or would that be disturbing? Of course it would be, because a statue is a celebration. These people are so important that they are looking down on us from their pedestals. Which is why it matters that these people did bad things and why it matters that they’re all rich, white men looking down on all of us, who mostly aren’t those things. (And to be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with being rich or white or a man, just a problem if those are the only celebrated characteristics.)

When people get upset about statues being changed, I don’t think it’s about history. In fact, I think the huge BLM protests that happened around the world were historic, and in the UK they led to a statue being thrown into the sea, which will probably go down in history. So if you like history, then you should be excited by these events. I think the upset is partly about change, which tends to freak people out. But without change we wouldn’t have cures and inventions and events. And secondly it’s about dominance, it is Why do THESE people get to take down OUR statues? Which doesn’t make sense either, because why don’t they?

Personally, I would like to see something in Postman’s Park style. Statues of ordinary people being heroic. Or maybe some of the nurses who’ve died during Covid – who gave their lives fighting the virus for us. (here’s a list with info about them, and unsurprisingly, they are a number of different races and lots of women. They look more like the London I know than the statues do. Picture below.)

heroes

Or Aztec statues! How fantastic would they be?

So what do you think? What statues would you like to see?

 

24 thoughts on “Statues – thoughts, what d’you think?

  1. I would like to see statues made of reshapable clay of present people for their contributions to making the world better. Researchers, first responders, inventors. Applaud these heroes of every color. After a month, reshape the clay into other heroes of the present. That would be cool.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That would be fantastic. There are so many people doing exciting and heroic acts, and we don’t get to know that they exist. It would be such a happy reminder of how many good people there are too – in the news we only ever get to hear about the bad or the famous (and usually quite boring).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We are surrounded by heroes atm – who knows who to choose; who knows whether they would want to be chosen. You’re absolutely right about statues being for museums – we can’t impose modern morals on past societies, but seeing Colston’s statue, broken and covered in paint, in a museum, might just show that we are making SOME progress. I really query whether looking up to anyone on the simple basis that they are looking down on us, serves anyone well in the end. Me? I’d go for Peppa Pig. My grandkids would think me a real hero if I could sort that one out.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. If it is to be a pig, then surely it has to be Esther the Wonder Pig and her two Dads. There is such an image now, perhaps include a broken into fridge, taped up to stop the door falling off.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. ‘Only Fools and Horses’ featured a block of flats where the Trotters lived called Nelson Mandela House. It was supposed to be a mild joke about Labour councils being right-on and PC back in the day, but actually it was in retrospect a magnificent gesture. (Though the actual tower block featured is due for demolition, if it hasn’t already gone.)

    Meanwhile where I used to live in Bristol, in the former Regency suburb of Montpelier, there is a road called Picton Street named after one of the cruelest generals in the Napoleonic wars; and Pembrokeshire is debating removing a memorial to him, one of its most notorious sons, right now.

    So here’s my two ha’penceworth: by all means remove or rename things now rightly seen as offensive but keep a record: this is what history is really about. Removing or renaming is not erasing history if the act is recorded and the knowledge made accessible.

    I am reminded of the various Grape Lanes in England, innocuous now for their renaming, but actually recording where prostitutes were groped. If records weren’t kept how would we ever know that a few quaint olde worlde thoroughfares originally had nothing to do with vineyards?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally agree with you there. Written history is great and I’m all for keeping the stories alive – in books, museums, word of mouth, these are all important. I work on historic sites, and I love all the little details that I come across and find stories about. And honestly, some of it is fascinating.

      It can get a bit daft though – arguments that we should only use plants that would have been available at the time when the buildings were built (which is almost none that are available today) or fights going on for years between councils, historic organisations and residents over who is allowed to do what. It all seems too abstract to cause so much drama. Instead of being about history it ends up being about egos and money and arbitrary rules that everyone pretends make sense.

      But if that’s what others want to do, then that’s up to them. They pay me to make gardens look good, so I’m happy. Plus, give it a few more years and they’ll be able to preserve all history in AR. You’ll be able to take a walk around London and see all the old buildings. Beautiful!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I would like to see my own statue for being a woman, raising a child, cooking and cleaning every day, and so many other things along with handling a job…but well, as a close second, I would take Pluto (the dog), or Goofy, or Tom and Jerry for making people happy.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. We are all our own hero. Each one of us to live in this crazy world, this miraculous enchantment of a place, where we are attracted and attached upon a speck of dust, floating and speeding upon the nothing, within a vast universe of wonder and breathtaking beauty.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. God, this is quite complex! Personally I enjoy the traditional materials built to last for scupltures and the traditional styles too – statues that are worth the money they cost. There’s a big block of granite in a local border town – a monument to the area and the old cobbled square of kelso. But the block of stone was imported from India, cost thousands, and the artist can charge a couple of hundred quid a time to etch local town names into the sides of it. Nice job!

    Councils, driven by certain elitist individuals (probably the same kinds of people who insist on your contemproary plantings) can fall for the hype and ‘creative’ persuasions of artist sculptors and end up making something no-one likes and no-one wants to look at. (the residents of kelso think the big cobble is a joke and a waste of money.)

    So let the people decide what they want, including the tearing down of ‘magnificent’ power driven men on their strutting horses), and may the historians record any significant changes that are made. Celebrate diversity, celebrate women for a change, and celebrate values instead of victories. No wonder your bloom muse looks a bit fed up!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a powerful reply, you should run for mayor! (or mayoress? Women should just be mayors now, I think). Anyway I believe you’re right – that the wrong people make these decisions. I don’t think I’d want a totally populist decision, they can be a bit boring, but a populAR decision. And maybe my muse statue can be the one to fight the men on horses off their pedestals. Along with Boadicea and Joan of Arc. Battle of the Statues. I reckon the men would be too shocked to fight back! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

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