Arts & Entertainment

THE NAKED CITY – TOPPLING THE TYRANTS

I have never been big on statues and even less big on really big statues, like the towering monoliths of the Kim dynasty in North Korea. Closer to home the statues of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Captain Cook and the various colonial figures that dot our city strike me as the ghosts of the past, long since deceased, but eerily omnipresent to haunt our everyday life.

There are of course exceptions, like some of the monuments erected to our various cultural and sporting heroes – devoid of any political statement and warmly embraced by the public at large. Take the life size bronze of legendary racehorse trainer Bart Cummings at Flemington racecourse, the subject of a thousand photo opps and some genuinely affectionate kisses. Along with many others like ‘King’ Wally Lewis at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane and boxer Lionel Rose in his home town of Warragul, these more recent sculptures lack the pomposity of the classic pedestal based Victorian edifices.

It was just one such edifice, a statue of English slave trader Edward Colston that was ripped from its base in Bristol during the Black Lives Matter protests and unceremoniously dumped in the local harbour. Reminiscent of course of the toppling of statues of Lenin and Stalin in countries liberated from the Soviet Union or those of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Similarly in the US, memorials to Confederate generals and other reminders of slavery have either been defaced, ripped down or deliberately removed by State and local government authorities.

In Victoria busts of Tony Abbott and John Howard in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens have recently been attacked and daubed with epithets such as “pig,” “fascist” and “homophobe.” The chair of the Friends of Ballarat Botanical Gardens foundation Elizabeth Gilfillan responded by saying that “she was devastated about the statues” and that, “these are sad times. This has been very divisive. Art is something that should unite us rather than divide us.” Unfortunately any artistic considerations become totally irrelevant when political passions are currently so inflamed.

Needless to say authorities are keeping a close eye on the statue of James Cook in Hyde Park which has been the target of a number of attacks, the most recent last Sunday when two young women were arrested after allegedly defacing the old sea dog with spray paint. Rather than place the highly divisive monuments under permanent surveillance why not follow the advice of Stan Grant who suggested that its inscription be changed to recognise that Aboriginal people existed here for thousands of years prior to 1770. Either that or in acknowledging Cook’s maritime achievements, install it as a dive site just off the Barrier Reef.

In the current climate of global rebellion the days of the monumental statue are surely numbered. Even the relatively modest busts of former politicians are bound to raise the ire of many, regardless of their artistic merit. We could be entering an era where the perception is ‘the bigger the statue, the bigger the bastard” – already the case when it comes to statue crazy tyrants such as Valdimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

As a footnote it’s interesting to learn that authorities in Bristol have retrieved the metallic carcass of Edward Colston from the murky depths of the Bristol harbour. It may well have been a navigation hazard and the scrap value of bronze should not be discounted. It’s highly unlikely it will ever be reinstated to its former position so why not melt the sucker down and strike a thousand or more commemorative coins, distributed free to the good citizens of Bristol with the inscription “The Day Racism Drowned.”

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