Former director of the British Museum looks at British statues

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A statue of the English merchant and slave trader Sir John Cass in central London on June 10, 2020. TOLGA AKMEN / AFP via Getty Images

Since the George Floyd protests ravaged the world last summer, conversations have been going on about the monuments that many countries retain that reinforce outdated ideas. Neil MacGregor, founding director of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin and former director of the British Museum, has just weighed in on the statuary debate in The arts journal. In the play, MacGregor jokes about the best course of action when it comes to problematic statuary. Should it be “kept and explained” or destroyed?

In the United States, for example, different towns in Virginia have started removing their respective statues of Robert E. Lee, albeit at very different paces and with very different processes when it comes to government bureaucracy. In Richmond, it has just been determined that Lee’s sculpture could be taken down despite two residents filing lawsuits to block the statue’s removal.

In the UK, meanwhile, the Bank of England announced it would be removing busts and 10 oil paintings of governors known to have had ties to the slave trade, going against the UK government decrees that such items should generally be “withheld”. and explained.

In MacGregor’s view, the UK should look to Germany for advice. “Their starting point is always the need to remember what went wrong in order to avoid repeating mistakes,” he writes. “A key way to encourage memory is to keep the error visible – by relabelling or drastically reassigning monuments rather than destroying them. ”

MacGregor argues that keeping now disturbing statues serves an important purpose: “Rather than just condemning the past, they ask the most uncomfortable of all questions: How could so many people like us think this was the way to go? run a company? ? And where are our moral blind spots today? “

The former director of the British Museum looks at the statues in the UK


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