One of Britain’s most famous sculptors proposed a new solution to the argument over the dispute the statue of Cecil Rhodes above an Oxford university college: turn the colonialist to face the wall in shame.
Sir Antony Gormley, known for striking public art as The Angel of the North, told the Financial Times that giving Rhodes a spin would help deal with “collective amnesia” over such memorials while addressing iniquities. of the imperial past of the nation.
“Rhodes should stay in its niche,” Gormley said, rejecting arguments for the removal of 19th-century imperialism from a façade of the Oriel College. “If we need to replace our relationship with him, I’ll just turn him to face the wall rather than the outside.”
Adjusting his position would mark “a recognition of collective shame” but also “reaffirm the fact that Oriel College and many institutions own property in Rhodes,” Gormley said.
The statue has been the subject of a hard-fought six-year clash between the anti-colonial Rhodes Must Fall movement, a divided university, and ministers who have strongly opposed the removal of such “historic monuments”. The college decided last week to keep the statue in place.
Gormley, who made a standing bronze figure overlooking another part of Oxford, described the moment the statue of slave trader Edward Colston it was “dunked and recovered” from the Port of Bristol last year as a sort of “baptism”. But it remains prudent to move controversial memorials into museums.
“Public statuary soon became the subject of collective amnesia.” I don’t think it’s a bad thing to ask again “who are these people and why are they here?”. But by eliminating them you accept the amnesia, ”he said.
Rhodes founded Rhodesia and the De Beers diamond company and devoted a portion of the fortune he had accumulated in Africa to supporting Oxford colleges and establishing the scholarship of the same name to beneficiaries such as Bill Clinton, the former President of the United States.
Critics say his record of exploiting black workers and creating the basis for racial segregation in southern Africa should be condemned, not honored.
Faced with street protests over the statue last year, Oriel’s governing body initially voted in favor of removing him and established an independent commission to explore the issues raised by his legacy and his memorials.
But after the commission’s report was completed, Oriel last week changed tactics and decided to keep the monument in place. He cited the costs to secure the planning permit, which would be long and likely to be blocked by Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for local government.
The 114-page report of the commission options explored for Oriel including moving the statue of Rhodes into the house, leaving the niche empty, or commissioning new works of art to occupy the space.
Sir John Hayes, a Conservative MP who chairs parliament’s “Common Sense Group”, welcomed Gormley’s arguments in favor of keeping the statue but called the idea of turning it “completely silly”. “This is almost as close to mainstream opinion as I am to abstract expressionism,” he said.