Visual Culture

Protestors around the world brought down racist, colonialist monuments.

Justin Kamp
Jun 8, 2020 5:39PM, via ARTnews

A statue of Edward Colston, a late 17th century slave trader, being pushed into the river Avon. Photo by Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

As protests over racial violence and police brutality continue around the world, demonstrators have begun to tear down controversial monuments that paid tribute to racist or colonialist figures and histories. While many of the monuments, statues, and buildings targeted were located in the United States, calls for removal have been felt worldwide.

Some of the earliest monuments to fall were those dedicated to Confederate soldiers, especially ones located in the American South. The removed monuments include statues of Confederate general Williams Carter Wickham in Richmond, Virginia; Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes in Mobile, Alabama; and multiple statues and memorials in Birmingham, Alabama. Other landmarks included the Market House Building in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which was once the site of slave auctions; as well as the Memorial to the Women of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, which serves as the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization dedicated to erecting memorials to Confederate soldiers. While some of these were taken down with the help and approval of city authorities, others were toppled by protestors themselves.

Two monuments to former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo— a mural and a statue— were also removed by city officials at the behest of protestors. Rizzo, who served as mayor of the city from 1972 to 1980, was notorious for his racist policies, including his opposition to desegregation and public housing developments, as well as his encouragement of police profiling and brutality toward Black residents of the city.

Meanwhile in Europe, protestors mobilized around statues that memorialized the continent’s role in colonial violence. On Sunday, protestors in Bristol, England toppled a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston and rolled it into the nearby river Avon. In Brussels, demonstrators targeted a statue of Leopold II, who served as the king of Belgium from 1865 to 1909, during which time he led a violent colonialist campaign against the Congolese people. While the statue still stands, a petition calling for its removal has garnered more than 60,000 signatures.

Justin Kamp
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