The issue of public vandalism of statues has once again resurfaced, with London Mayoral candidate Lawrence Fox promising in his manifesto to ‘scrap plans to tear down London’s statues and replace street names’. Fox exhibited his commitment to this policy by launching his mayoral manifesto in Parliament Square in front of the statue of Churchill. Fox is running as a part of the Reform UK party which was formerly known as the Brexit Party – founded by Nigel Farage and Catherine Blaicklock. Although still a right-wing party, their agenda has now shifted to protecting free speech, preserving British culture and increasing police power to reduce crime. The party’s policy on cultural preservation directly opposes Sadiq Khan’s ‘Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm’ which was set up earlier this year, in reaction to the protests in the capital.
The racial protests of summer shed light on the growing issue with the vandalism and destruction of various statues, most notably those of Churchill in Parliament Square and Edward Colston in Bristol. These events forced the public to question the role which statues play in our society and how we view them in a contemporary setting. Activists targeted these statues as they believe the individuals depicted represent a bygone era of racial supremacy due to their intrinsic links to imperialistic slavey. It is an uncomfortable reality that our country’s wealth owes a great debt to the global slave trade, and therefore how are you able to preserve a culture without offending minority groups? Many have criticised the methods of the Black Lives Matter movement, due to the brutality of the defacements which occurred on such significant monuments, although it is easy to comprehend the offensive nature of these statues also.
Known as Iconoclasm, the destruction of art due to religious and political reasons has for a long time been used as a way to censor culture, although only recently has the stigma changed to reflect the progressive policies of modern political movements. Historically Iconoclasm, for political motivations was seen either as suppressing a culture, such as in Nazi Germany with the destruction of modern abstracted art, or as a form of social rebellion as seen in Revolutionary France with the defacement of monarchical art. When looking at the actions of the BLM movement this summer, their intentions were ones fuelled by social change, which subsequently led to state intervention, likening the events and responses to ones of the past.
When looking to the argument in question, considering the statues as a piece of high art is significant since the status of the work changes from one of celebrating a figure, to one of historical prominence. One way which this could be achieved is by placing these monuments in museums or galleries, in order to alter the provenance and interpretation of the pieces. By placing the works in a museum, you would therefore be allowing the statues to be used for educational purposes, thereby distancing ourselves from our Imperialist past and embracing our diverse contemporary culture. At present it is uncertain about the future of these monuments, although the protests of this year have undoubtedly pushed the issue forward, meaning action is inevitably around the corner, yet the solution is still ambiguous.