Posts Tagged ‘statues’

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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Photo: Tim Tai/The Inquirer
Lifelike statues by Seward Johnson mysteriously appeared in a West Philadelphia parking lot this year.

Although parts of West Philadelphia are lovely (consider the campus of the University of Pennsylvania), other parts have been rundown for decades. Many approaches to lifting up West Philadelphia have been tried. Maybe the attention drawn by a new, mysterious art project will be the key to success.

Stephan Salisbury has the story at the Inquirer. “It seems as though a wormhole in time has opened up on West Market Street, and 10 figures from midcentury America have tumbled out right into the center of an empty lot beneath the Market-Frankford El.

“There is a strolling professor, in a suit, reading an open chemistry text as he walks, utterly oblivious to the bikinied woman in a lounge chair over his left shoulder. Nearby are some besuited businessmen wearing black cordovan wing tips. A hot dog vendor holds a bun in his hand for no one in particular.

“Around them – there are 10 figures in all — is a rubble-strewn lot between 47th and 48th Streets. …

“As unlikely as it may sound, it appears that the 4700 block of Market Street has been targeted by a somewhat reclusive private foundation — the Daniel Veloric Foundation — as the site for a museum sometime in the future. The figures are all sculptures by Seward Johnson, the New Jersey-based artist of ordinary folks doing ordinary things.

“A check of city records indicates that the Veloric Foundation acquired the entire block along Market Street in 2017. Two lots at the corner of Market and 48th were sold to Philadelphia Community College at ‘below market value,’ according to the college, as part of a 63-acre parcel Veloric dealt to PCC. The college intends to use the land to expand its Automotive Technology Program.

“But the rest of the block, now studded with the Seward Johnson figures, Veloric sees as a spot for ‘a museum, classroom, and public meeting space and other community activities in West Philadelphia,’ according to the foundation’s 2017 federal tax return. …

“Veloric is the sole manager and trustee of the $84 million foundation, according to the tax return, which states no mission, an unusual omission according to nonprofit officials. (The Veloric Foundation is registered with the government as a nonprofit charitable foundation.) …

“Veloric, who is 91, referred questions to his attorney, Albert S. Dandridge, III, a partner in the law firm of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis. Dandridge was a bit vague.

“ ‘It’s an opportunity zone,’ he said of the location along Market Street. He said the statues are ‘sort of a holding spot for now,’ and may not end up at that precise location.

“I don’t know exactly how they were acquired,” Dandridge said.

“Dandridge characterized Veloric as an entrepreneur who has labored in West Philadelphia his entire life, running multiple businesses, in the health-care and financial services industries. …

“Dandridge said that Veloric wanted the sculptures out in the open to be seen. ‘It gives the neighborhood hope’ he said, describing Veloric’s thinking. ‘People walking by are going to say: “Oh my god. Somebody wants to do something here. All these years it’s just a vacant lot.” ‘ ”

Read more here.

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Photo: Alamy
Binghamton University researchers have found that Easter Island’s moai statues were built close to sources of fresh water. A new study adds weight to the idea that communities competed through monument building, not violence.

There’s always something new that research can reveal, even in parts of the world that seem to have been endlessly studied.

Consider this report on the Easter Island statues by Nicola Davis at the Guardian. “The huge stone figures of Easter Island have beguiled explorers, researchers and the wider world for centuries, but now experts say they have cracked one of the biggest mysteries: why the statues are where they are.

“Researchers say they have analysed the locations of the megalithic platforms, or ahu, on which many of the statues known as moai sit, as well as scrutinising sites of the island’s resources, and have discovered the structures are typically found close to sources of fresh water. …

“ ‘What is important about it is that it demonstrates the statue locations themselves are not a weird ritual place – [the ahu and moai] represent ritual in a sense of there is symbolic meaning to them, but they are integrated into the lives of the community,’ said Prof Carl Lipo from Binghamton University in New York, who was co-author of the research. …

“It is thought the monuments represent ancestors and were linked to ritual activity, forming a focal point for communities, but the reason for their locations was previously a mystery. … The team focused on the east of the island, where various resources have been well mapped …

“After finding no link to the proximity of rock used for tools or for the monuments, they looked at whether the ahu were found near other important resources: gardens spread with stones in which crops like sweet potatoes were grown, sites linked to fishing, and sources of fresh water. The island has no permanent streams, and there is little evidence that residents relied on the island’s lakes.

“However, fresh water passes through the ground into aquifers, seeping into caves as well as emerging around the coast. … The results of the new research, published in the journal Plos One, reveal proximity to freshwater sites is the best explanation for the ahu locations – and explains why they crop up inland as well as on the coast.

“ ‘The exceptions to the rule about being at the coast where water comes out actually are met by the fact there is also water there – it is found through cave locations,’ said Lipo, adding historic wells were found to explain some ahu locations apparently without fresh water. …

“He says the study also adds weight to the idea that communities competed and interacted through monument building, in contrast to the idea that islanders engaged in lethal violence over scarce natural resources – something Lipo says there is little evidence for. …

“And community and cooperation, stresses Lipo, were crucial in construction of the monuments. ‘Anything that brings you together is going to make you stronger and allow you to survive,’ he said. ‘I think that is the secret to Easter Island.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: Joe Carter/British Ministry of Defence
A moai stone statue at the Hanga Roa quarry, Easter Island.


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