Connect - Seminar on Monuments and Memorials

The readings for the seminar lead me to a few overall questions:

  • Is is justifiable (both legally and/or ethically) to have laws or statutes which prevent the removal or alteration of monuments and memorials? (For example, the law passed in Alabama.)

  • Do the memorials and monuments placed in our cities reflect the current values of the community?

  • How can art be used to replace or amend the monuments in creative and innovative ways?Might art be the answer to the question of what to do with the monuments by way of creative problem solving?

Image by ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/Times-Dispatc via  RTD Article

Image by ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/Times-Dispatc via RTD Article

There is no way to get around the fact that, as stated in The New York Times article “Monuments for a New Era,” confederate monuments in cities around America are, “…markers of our country’s racist and violent history…” It is interesting to think about how, growing up, I had no idea that these huge statues meant anything or what the history behind them was. We passed them on the way to school and looked up. People from other cities would oggle Monument Avenue and say how beautiful it was, how lucky we were to live in a such a gorgeous city. On the walk home to my friend’s house, we would run across the grass and climb up the steps to the statue. To us as kids, they were funny guys on horses. We had absolutely no idea. The part I find interesting is that no one thought to tell us either. The monuments to Confederates were and are so ingrained in the bedrock of the city that many do not even think to question them.

It has taken a tremendous effort to remove the Confederate statues that have been taken down so far. This is a great beginning.
— Dread Scott, from "Monument for a New Era" in The New York Times

I am quite glad that the time as come when the monuments are being questioned on a a large scale. Even if there are many perspectives and conflicting viewpoints about what to do with the statues, it is good that we are talking about it at all. In bringing this debate to a national level, front and center, we can begin to reckon with the past and how that past is memorialized around us. The Confederate statues that line cities around the US are not way to “remember” or “acknowledge the existence” of the history of The Civil War. By virtue of their design, these statues exalt the Confederate cause. The monuments are usually tall, with the figure placed high above those standing to view it. They are placed in prominent places and are often surrounded by signs stating to not climb the structures or walk on the grass. Despite what some may argue, they are celebratory concerning the racist and violent history. They do not acknowledge and inform concerning the history of The Civil War. Instead, they actively celebrate one side of the story.

Via  “Monuments for a New Era”  in  The New York Times ; Artwork by Dread Scott; Photograph by Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Via “Monuments for a New Era” in The New York Times; Artwork by Dread Scott; Photograph by Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

In this matter concerning the Confederate monuments, I believe that art is the best solution. The reimagining of the sites of monuments by various artists has proved to be the most interesting thing which I have viewed or read concerning the subject. Each artist asked to propose a plan had such a unique vision which was laden with meaning and interest. For example, artist Dread Scott’s plan which took the column and upended it across the road. As stated by Scott in the piece, “This broken and shattered ruin would be an intentionally inconveniently placed eyesore, disrupting travel and commerce.” If the monuments have, as argued by some, been simply a reminder of our history all these years, then what should prevent us from reimagining the monuments in ways that do not celebrate the racist cause, but rather call attention to the wrongdoing?

The longer Confederate monuments stayed up in a predominantly black city, the more they suggested an enduring power - you could call it white supremacy - that electoral politics could not touch
— Benjamin Wallace-Wells, "The Fight over Virginia's Confederate Monuments," in The New Yorker
This is what happens when we turn history into nostalgia.
— Christy Coleman, CEO of The American Civil War Museum