This paper discusses the recent backlash against public monuments spurred by Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in North America and elsewhere following the killing by police of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man in the United States. Since this event, protestors have taken to the streets to bring attention to police brutality, systemic racism, and racial injustice faced by Black and Indigenous people and people of colour in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and some European countries. In many of these protests, outraged citizens have torn down, toppled, or defaced monuments of well-known historic figures associated with colonialism, slavery, racism, and imperialism. Protestors have been demanding the removal of statues and monuments that symbolize slavery, colonial power, and systemic and historical racism. What makes these monuments problematic and what drives these deliberate and spectacular acts of defiance against these omnipresent monuments? Featuring an interview with art historian Charmaine A. Nelson, this article explores the meanings of these forceful, decolonial articulations at this moment. The interview addresses some complex questions related to monumentalization and the public sphere, symbolism and racial in/justice. In so doing, it suggests that monuments of the future need to be reimagined and redefined contemporaneously with shifting social knowledge and generational change.
- gendered representations,
- monumental recontextualization,
- public space,
- racial in/justice,
- toppled monuments
Download the article in PDF to read it.
- Aljazeera News, 2020. “A Timeline of the George Floyd and Anti-Police Brutality protests.” June 11, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/6/11/a-timeline-of-the-george-floyd-and-anti-police-brutality-protests
- Altman, Alex. 2020.“Why the Killing of George Floyd Sparked an American Uprising.” Time, June 2020. https://time.com/5847967/george-floyd-protests-trump/
- Atter, Heidi, 2021. “Sir John A. Macdonald Statue removed from Regina’s Victoria Park” CBC News, April 13, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/john-a-macdonald-statue-1.5986074
- Barker, J. Adam, 2009. “The Contemporary Reality of Canadian Imperial Settler Colonialism and the Hybrid Colonial State.” The American Quarterly 33, no. 3 (Summer): 325-351.
- BBC News, 2020. “Cecil Rhodes statue in Cape Town has head removed.” July 15, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-53420403
- Bellentani, Federico, and Mario Panico, 2016. “The Meanings of Monuments and Memorials: Toward a Semiotic Approach.” Punctum 2, no.1: 28-46.
- Bennett, Dalton, Joyce Lee and Sarah Cahlan, 2020. “The Death of George Floyd: What video and other records show about his final minutes.” The Washington Post, May, 30 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/05/30/video-timeline-george-floyd-death/?arc404=true
- CBC News, 2020. “Activists Topple the Statue of John A Macdonald in Downtown Montreal.” August 29, 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/defund-police-protest-black-lives-matter-1.5705101
- Cheung, Helier, 2020. “George Floyd Death: Why US protests are so powerful this time.” BBC News, June 8, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52969905
- Cho, Lily, 2013. “Redress Revisited: Citizenship and the Chinese Canadian Head Tax.” In Reconciling Canada Historical Injustices and the Contemporary Culture of Redress, Eds. Jennifer Henderson & Pauline Wakeham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press
- Dickerman, Leah, 2018. “Monumental Propaganda.” October 165 (August): 178-191.
- Draper, Robert, 2020. “Toppling Statues is the First Step towards Ending Confederate Myths.” National Geographic (July 2). https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/07/toppling-statues-is-first-step-toward-ending-confederate-myths/
- Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne and Gilio-Whitaker Dina, 2016. “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Elgersman Lee, Maureen, 1999. Unyielding Spirits: Black Women and Slavery in Early Canada and Jamaica. New York: Garland.
- Farrar, Martin, 2020. “Who was Edward Colston and why was his Bristol statue toppled?” The Guardian, June 8, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jun/08/who-was-edward-colston-and-why-was-his-bristol-statue-toppled-slave-trader-black-lives-matter-protest
- Garneau, David, 2019. “Extra-Rational Indigenous Performance: Dear John; Louis Riel.” Canadian Theatre Review 178, (Spring): 72-76.
- Hochschild, Adam, 1998. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. Basingstoke, UK: Pan McMillan.
- Johns, Christopher M. S. 1998. Antonio Canova and the Politics of Patronage in Revolutionary and Napoleonic Europe. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- MacDonald, David, 2020. “Canada needs to reckon with the relics of its colonial past including racist statues.” The Conversation, (June 24, 2020). https://theconversation.com/canada-needs-to-reckon-with-the-relics-of-its-colonial-past-including-racist-statues-140675
- Marsh, James, 2015. “Eugenics Pseudo-Science Based on Crude Misconceptions of Heredity.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/eugenics-keeping-canada-sane-feature
- McKittrick, Katherine, 2006. Demonic Grounds Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Nelson, Charmaine A. 2007. The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Nelson, Charmaine, 2017. “Racist monuments don’t belong in public but they could be in a museum.” Huffington Post, September 28, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/charmaine-nelson/racist-monuments-dont-belong-in-public-but-they-could-in-a-museum_a_23224080/
- Newsinger, John, 2016. “Why Rhodes Must Fall.” Race and Class 58, no. 2: 70-78.
- Platt, Verity, 2020. “Why People Are Toppling Monuments to Racism,” Scientific American, June 3, 2020. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-are-toppling-monuments-to-racism/
- Rannard, Georgina, 2020. “Leopold II: Belgium Wakes Up to Its Bloody Colonial Past,” BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53017188
- Rayburn, Alan, and Carolyn Harris, 2015 (2006). “Queen Victoria.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/victoria
- Rudin, Ronald, 2021. “How Montreal Should Repurpose the Monument to Macdonald.” Montreal Gazette, January 8, 2021. https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/opinion-how-montreal-should-repurpose-the-monument-to-macdonald
- Selvin, Claire, and Tessa Solomon, 2020. “Toppled and Removed Monuments: A Continually Updated Guide to Statues and the Black Lives Matter Protests.” ARTnews, June 11, 2020. https://www.artnews.com/art-news/news/monuments-black-lives-matter-guide-1202690845
- Shepherd, Mpofu, 2017. “Disruption as a Communicative Strategy: The Case of #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall students’ protest in South Africa.” Journal of African Media Studies 9, no. 2: 351-373.
- Shohat, Ella, and Robert Stam, 1994. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London: Routledge.
- Stanley, Timothy J., 2016. “John A. Macdonald, ‘the Chinese’ and Racist State Formation in Canada.” Journal of Critical Race Inquiry 3, no. 1: 6-34.
- Togoh, Isabel, 2020. “A Toppled Statue of Slave Trader Sparked Global Protests, Now A Monument To Black Lives Matter Occupies That Plinth,” Forbes: July 15, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/isabeltogoh/2020/07/15/a-toppled-statue-of-slave-trader-sparked-global-protests-now-a-monument-to-black-lives-matter-occupies-that-plinth/#22ca39544619
- Yun, Tom, 2018. “Where Sir John A. Macdonald Stands in Canada: An Interactive Map.” Macleans, August 19, 2018. https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/where-sir-john-a-macdonald-stands-in-canada-an-interactive-map/