Showing posts with label statues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label statues. Show all posts

11 June 2020

Some Thoughts on Monuments


Art certainly doesn’t need to be pure. But public statues invite public admiration, and if we can no longer admire them, it’s right to wonder if they should remain.

— Bendor Grosvenor, PhD, art historian, and presenter, The Art Detectives, on BBC4

So monuments have been having their moment in the news this week. Well, to be honest, they've been having their decade.

And not in a good way.

More in this kind of way:


Yep, that's a pic of a statue of Iraqi "strongman" Saddam Hussein toppling, shortly after Hussein himself was toppled from power way back in 2003. But in reality it could have been any of hundreds of "great" men (and it's nearly always men, the likes of Evita Peron notwithstanding.) whose day of reckoning eventually came: Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Hitler. Mussolini. The list of the leaders of failed regimes, brought low by their own hubris and overreach.

And close on their heels: the monuments they erected, testaments of their enduring power. So many of the iconic moments surrounding the end of a regime involve the destruction of the talismanic physical testaments of that regime's power. It's a cycle as old as human history, and has been memorialized time and again by great artists, such as the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his immortal poem Ozymandias:

Percy Bysshe Shelley
  I met a traveller from an antique land,
  Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
  Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
  Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
  And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
  Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
  Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
  The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
  And on the pedestal, these words appear:
  My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
  Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
  Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
  Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
  The lone and level sands stretch far away.



The point, of course, being, that all such sacrifices on the altar of human vanity are doomed to eventually come crashing down.
Of course it goes without saying that where there's a rule, there's an exception. And not surprisingly, with the way Americans tend to view themselves as an exceptional people, the exception I'm thinking of to this particular rule is definitely an American one.

So let's talk about all of these Confederate monuments arrayed throughout (but not limited to) the American South. You know, the ones we've seen recently being pulled from their pediments by protesters, when they're not being removed by public workers at the order of local municipalities or state governments.

The ones that were mass-produced for profit not in the South, but in New England. Heads special ordered and matched to a previously cast body, either standing, or mounted on horseback. Losers of a brutal war which left over half-a-million Americans dead, memorialized over a thirty year period, beginning a generation after the end of that war. And all as part of a largely successful, long-running attempt to stave off many of the long-term impacts of that war: a movement romanticized as preserving the memory of a glorious "Lost Cause."

...and Ron Reagan too!?!
Whoever said, "The winners write the history,"never read anything by the likes of two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Historian Douglas Southall Freeman. The defeated secessionists of the American South might have lost the war, but for over a century afterward, they and their spiritual descendants worked diligently at winning the peace. And they got terrific press for it.

Think Gone With The Wind, or Hollywood heartthrob Errol Flynn playing future Confederate cavalry leader J.E.B. Stuart, in the top-grossing 1940 western, Santa Fe Trail. Or go back further, to (Southerner) D.W. Griffith's ground-breaking 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, the first film shown in the White House for President Woodrow Wilson: Southern-born and raised, progressive in most things save race relations, single-handedly responsible for reversing the racial integration of the federal bureaucracy which had been carried out by his predecessors.

Not like they were trying to hide anything.
The film was truly innovative in its approach (first use of close-ups, a musical soundtrack, and "a cast of thousands") and utterly antediluvian in its subject matter. Based on a novel called The Clansman: a Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (And you can guess how the Klan comes across in that one.) by a former Baptist minister and life-long bigot named Thomas Dixon, Jr., the film paints the Klan as the Good Guys, preserving the virtue of their swooning (and utterly helpless) women by wresting them from the clutches of a number of ridiculously drawn racial stereotypes of underintelligent, overly sexual blacks played by white actors in black face.

So, you know. Pretty much an early example of spin-doctoring, in service of white-washing (pun very much intended) the despicable practice of lynching.

This is the background against which the statues currently being pulled down or placed in storage across this country were financed, constructed, shipped, mounted, raised and dedicated. Art as propaganda, in service of a monstrous composite lie: the notion that the Civil War wasn't fought over slavery (it was), that the South didn't really lose (it did), and that society did not need to change in order to reflect the status of newly-freed former slaves.

As a nation we are still wrestling with that last part. And the conversations being sparked by the current round of protests are long overdue. Either we as a people will address the wounds inflicted by the vile practice of slavery and the on-going systemic oppression which sprung up in its wake, or we may well find ourselves in the same position as the great and powerful Ozymandias.

Feet of the Colossus of Ramesses II, Ramesseum, Luxor (Thebes) Egypt, the Ozymandias of Shelley's poem.

25 August 2017

About Hate


by O'Neil De Noux

Hate breeds hate. No need for me to preach this. We all know it.

How the hell do we have people in America proudly going around waving the Nazi swastika, spewing Nazi slogans? Why are we returning to the great divide of our civil war?

How did we end up with a neo-confederate president from New York? How did we end up with a president so consumed with anger, a president so ignorant of history, a president lacking the intelligence to grasp international relations? I wish him no malice. I hope he is OK and not as crazy as he seems. My biggest worry is the 65+ million Americans who voted for him.

I know a lot voted against Hillary rather than for him. It seems Hillary was too polarizing to the elected. But this anger, this hatred seething in white-males-who-did-not-go-to-collage, is so divisive. I'm old enough to remember how it started. Nixon reached out to them, calling them the silent majority. Goldwater had tried but he was flat-out crazy (sound familiar). Then Reagan brought it all together, the anti-Washington loathing, the gosh-darn-it's-OK-to-be-uneducated and the nation has never recovered. How many times have we wondered why our best and brightest aren't leading us? Barack Obama excepted.

How the hell do you drain a swamp when the swamp is what the foundering fathers designed? The US Government was constructed to be inefficient, to move slowly, to have checks and balances, for the women and men running the show to negotiate, compromise. The dunces McConnell and Ryan are the antithesis of compromise.

Hate breeds hate.

When I started in law enforcement in the late 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan (also known as the Knights of the White Camelia* here in Louisiana) was listed as a terrorist organization by the US Justice Department and the FBI vigorously investigated, infiltrated, disrupted, indicted and broke them up. Why isn't the FBI doing the same against right wing organizations today? How the hell did we end up with Nazi swastika flags waving in Virginia (and other places).

*Not a typo. That's the French spelling of camellia. In Louisiana we have Vermilion Bay not Vermillion.

One final thought about the confederate battle flag. For a short time in the early 1990s, I lived in beautiful Oregon. One day my wife and I entered a rustic mountain cafe and found a huge confederate flag nailed to the wall. Being a southerner, I asked about it and was told by a fiery-eyed, foaming saliva-mouthed cafe owner that the flag wasn't there to honor confederate soldiers. It stood for white supremacy. He was right. The flag has been absconded by white supremacists much as the swastika had been absconded from ancient India by the Nazis. It is a symbol of hatred.

So when you see the old stars-and-bars, it's not about honoring the confederate dead, when you see statues of confederate leaders, it's not about honoring the old south - it's about white supremacy.

When I posted my feelings about confederate monuments towering over New Orleans here on SleuthSayers and on my personal blog, I thought I put up a quiet, sincere, thoughtful piece. Many of my friends and family did not think so. They act as if I'd spit in the face of Robert E. Lee and the great Louisiana French Creole Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard.

When will the white majority ever try to understand the horrible legacy of slavery? Racism has never gone away. What's happened to our compassion? My God, people are railing against Jews. It's Hitler and Goebbels all over again. Blame someone else for your problems, then attack them.

Are we strong enough to find our way out of this? I have to believe we are. I have to.

Enough preaching.

29 August 2012

Limitation of Statues


by Robert Lopresti

I don't know if you have seen this picture of the statue Boston is planning to erect near the birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe.  It appears to show the founder of our field going for a stroll with his giant pet raven.

People have disagreed on the quality of this work.  I won't say more than this: it will never be my favorite statue of a bird in Boston.

But it got me wondering which other mystery authors have statues in their honor.  Frankly, I was surprised at how few I was able to locate.  But take a look:

This is Arthur Conan Doyle in Crowborough, England.  It's surprisingly recent, having been created by David Cornell in 2000.
 
And here is Dorothy L. Sayers standing opposite her home in Witham.  I like the cat, don't you?

This bust of Agatha Christie stands in her birthplace of Torquay (which I will forever remember as the location of Fawlty Towers).

Here is Georges Simenon as seen in Liege in Belgium.



And below you will find the creator of Father Brown standing proudly in Chesterton Square.  Can you guess what city this piece by David Wanner can be found in?  Would you believe New Orleans?

And now that we have made it to the United States I would like to show you some photos of sculptures of American mystery authors.  Unfortunately I can't because a search of the web turned up no statues or even busts of Hammett, Chandler, Gardner, or Stout.  What likely candidates am I missing?

I suppose creating sculptures of authors may be more of a European thing than an American, but frankly I was expecting to find at least a bust or two created by schools that had been honored with the archives of one or another author.  If anyone knows of some, let me know.

Meanwhile I have a pedestal just my size if anyone is feeling inspired.  And let me close with what has to be the most coveted sculpture of any mystery writer...