Tag Archives: Problematic

Do We Need Statues of Real People?

1 May

Happy May 1st! The idea of “the people” and “the public square” and “equality-means-everybody” has me thinking about statues. And about historical figures and artists and everyone whose work had an undeniable impact on the world and the problem of their having also done or said terrible things that contributed to the subjugation and/or suffering and/or marginalization of many people. And I wonder, do we need statues of real people? (Or faces on coins and bills?) Germany places its statues of undisputed criminals in museums. I’d be hard pressed to find any recent statues of real people around here.

Does any society need statues of real people? The human impulse to want to learn about – and usually like – someone whose work we like is so powerful, it’s surely impossible to eradicate from our systems. Fandom is here to stay. But books, articles, documentaries and museums exhibits can/should force us to learn about the person in context, learn about everything they did, whom they helped and whom they hurt. Statues simplify people, remove context, rinse them of responsibility for any harm they caused. In turning them into idols, we place them above others, which is the opposite of equality. Do we really need statues of real people in public? What will be lost if we ended the tradition?

Imaginary figures seem fine to me, whether unnamed as in the nice big lady above you can see in Oslo, or well-known fictional characters. I don’t think there is a problem with statues of the Greek gods. Everyone knows they were jerks.