MONUMENTS, POWER AND COMMUNITY
A CRUCIAL TOPIC
…And a subjacent one: what do we want to remember and what do we want to forget in order to live in peace?
Two weeks ago, I attended a most interesting public conversation with the president of The Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, on the power of monuments in our cities (more specifically in New York), and the right to redress historical erasures, encourage debates about history and promote new education opportunities for the public. Many powerful sub-topics flooded the hall of the Frick Collection: the way power and memory are represented, the ownership of the monuments, its artistic value or the diverse historical narratives that monuments may reveal when they are removed from public spaces and subjected to contextualization in museums. I think that this is a crucial matter of our times that conflates art and power, history and community and that it has no doubt become one of the most important topics for any sort of population, community or city: the interpretation of their history. Walker introduced himself straightaway as a black gayman, and stepped carefully -and successfully- on what seems to be, not unknowingly, a minefield. Among the examples he mentioned were Cristobal Columbus and at least one of the whys of its appropriation by Italians, the controversial and fascinating case of former president Thomas Jefferson and his black slave (she was free when they met in Paris) and loving wife, Sally Hemmings or the activist Harriett Taubman (whose monument is in Harlem and it’s one of the only five monuments devoted to women in New York), and the fact that Martin Luthers’ day is celebrated in some States exactly the same day as General Lee’s. I would like to mention here just a couple of considerations that I deem relevant and that were in the air that day: the importance of accepting a continuous, inclusive reinterpretation of history, and the fact that the ignorance of our history is, whether we like it or not, an ingredient of our memory, a peculiar and harmful one, but pervading and seemingly inevitable.