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Posts Tagged ‘monuments’

Photo: Gavin Sheridan
Built in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, this sculpture memorializes the aid given by the Chocktaw Nation during the Great Famine.

Whether you say Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day, the Monday holiday is a good time to address our current problem with statues.

Are the ones getting removed all equally troubling? Take Columbus. Many Italians honor him as an explorer from their homeland. But to indigenous people, the history of his violence against their ancestors and of the diseases and exploitation that contact with Europeans brought is as painful to contemplate as Confederate statues are for the descendants of slaves.

That’s why in Boston, a frequently defaced Columbus statue is being moved to the private property of the fraternal order called Knights of Columbus.

Lately I’ve been wondering if our statue problem derives from honoring an individual. Individuals — and contemporaneous attitudes toward individuals — are more likely to be flawed than, say, a concept. Even Boston’s Abraham Lincoln statue is being removed because of the grovelling way the slave he’s freeing is depicted.

Conceptual monuments like the one to the seagulls that saved the Mormon crops from locusts could be better. Or how about the monument Ireland put up in gratitude to the Choctaw Nation for assistance in the potato famine?

But concepts can be offensive, too. Consider the Spirit of the Confederacy statue. The interesting thing about that one is that the Houston Museum of African American Culture, having decided to preserve it for teaching purposes, has actually given it a home, according to an article at Hyperallergic.

I guess my idea about avoiding monuments to individuals doesn’t really solve anything. As scientists say, “More study is needed.” Fortunately, there’s a group that’s on the case.

Philip Kennicott at the Washington Post reports, “The Mellon Foundation has announced that it will make rethinking this country’s landscape of monuments and memorials a major institutional priority, with a $250 million ‘Monuments Project’ over the next five years. …

“Says Elizabeth Alexander, president of the foundation … ‘This is not a Confederate monuments project; it is a monuments project.’ …

“That means addressing the larger issue of what values and ideas about identity are embedded in this country’s public architecture of history and memory. What is preserved, what is forgotten and what is suppressed?” So there’s that.

What do you think? Is the problem too many militaristic statues? Should public monuments focus on traits we want to encourage, like kindness, generosity, service to others? I invite you to ponder.

Photo: David McConeghy/ Flickr
The Seagull Monument located in front of the Salt Lake Assembly Hall on Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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