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 blackened 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.)
Or Aztec statues! How fantastic would they be?
So what do you think? What statues would you like to see?