Stop tearing down controversial statues, says British-Guyanan artist Hew Locke

When Hew Locke was growing up in Guyana, he would pass by the statue of Queen Victoria in front of Georgetown’s law courts. Henry Richard Hope-Pinker’s 1894 statue had been commissioned to mark the monarch’s golden jubilee, but not long after Guyana became independent from British rule in 1970, the statue was beheaded and the remains thrown into bushes in the botanical gardens. ‘I remember being shocked that such a sacrilegious thing could happen,’ says the Edinburgh-born, Guyana-raised, London-based 62-year-old artist. ‘It set me thinking about what public statues are for. Who are these people? How come we pass by them without noticing every day?’ Half a century later and

Will Colston’s statue wreak its revenge?

The statue of the Bristol merchant Edward Colston is apparently guilty of a hate crime. Let us hope that the four charged with pulling him down are indeed, for their sake, ‘on the right side of history’, as they claim, since statues have a habit of getting their own back on those who dishonour them. The statue of Theagenes (5th C bc) provides an instructive example. A Greek from the island of Thasos, Theagenes was one of the greats of the games’ circuit (so one should hope: his father was a priest of Heracles). As a boxer and all-in fighter (pankratiast), he won twice at the Olympics (boxing 480 bc,

Rhodes, Columbus and the next heritage battle

On 12 October this year, Columbus Day, a statue of the Italian in Belgrave Square was vandalised by activists from Extinction Rebellion who described Columbus as ‘father of the slave trade’. Entirely ignorant of his life and ambitions, Columbus’s critics frequently turn to the searing denunciations of Bartolomé de Las Casas who excoriated the Spanish policy towards the native peoples of America. They are unaware that Las Casas was a great admirer of Columbus, and that this friar, who felt such pity for the native Americans, actively recommended the mass importation of black African slaves as an alternative labour source. In the same week as the Extinction Rebellion stunt a

How the ancients showed their true colours

In the 18th century, art historians’ admiration for the beauty of white-ish ancient Greek marble statuary led people to draw conclusions, on the back of their belief in classical ‘authority’, about white superiority. This, we are told, turned many classicists into racists. Today some members of the Cambridge Classics Faculty feel the white-ish plaster-cast replicas of those statues in their museum ‘entrench[es] racism’ in the same way. Their proposal is to put up a notice about it. Wow. Go, Cambridge! That’ll show those racists! And surely those still disgustingly white originals all over the world need notices as well. Two things need to be said. This is a modern ‘problem’:

Rhodes to redemption: why Oxford needs a monument to Benjamin Jowett

Not since September 1642, when a mob of Parliamentary soldiers opened fire on the sculpture of the Virgin Mary carved into the side of the University Church, has Oxford been in such a fury over statues. The ‘Rhodes must fall’ campaign that started among radical students in 2016 has now spread to the senior common rooms, particularly the SCR of Worcester College which, astonishingly, has taken over from Balliol and Wadham as the headquarters of the workers’ revolution. More than 150 academics have signed a petition calling for their fellow dons to maintain a virtual picket line around Oriel College — that is, to refuse to teach its students or

What the Romans would have made of Diana’s statue

The recently unveiled funerary monument of Princess Diana prompts comparison with Greek and Roman archetypes. To many, Diana was a heroic figure. Greek sculptors represented females as dignified figures, intricately coiffed, in graceful, loose-fitting, free-flowing tunics and ankle-length cloaks, with contrasting vertical and diagonal folds. Males were nude, a public statement of power and physical perfection, as if human significance did not end in death. Both were idealised figures, illustrating character and quality, not likeness. There is no hint of heroic ideals in this Diana, dressed presumably as a nursery teaching assistant. She does not even look like Diana, an attractive, delicate-featured woman. For Romans, in contrast to Greeks, likeness

The C of E’s misguided obsession with statues

The Church of England has once again misunderstood the mood of the nation. Guidance published this week urges the country’s 12,500 parishes and 42 cathedrals to address, search out, assess and remove offensive artefacts of ‘contested heritage’. The framework follows the call by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, for a review of church statues. Of course racism must be taken seriously, but I doubt I was the only cleric who, upon hearing this development, let out a loud groan. The edict is both a concession to advocates of divisive identity politics and a distraction from the more pressing issues on which the church should be focused. Covid unleashed untold misery

The misguided plan to ‘retain and explain’ statues

When Mao’s Red Guards first got to work in China, they defaced statues before they tore them down. It was common to find a statue of Buddha, for example, with new signs saying: ‘Destroy the old world! Establish a new world!’ Boris Johnson’s government isn’t keen on statue removal, but it is offering a compromise. Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, has adopted a policy of ‘retain and explain’, whereby the statue remains but with a plaque giving more historical context. Explanation, it is assumed, can only be good. Yet you only have to look at the single case where ‘retain and explain’ has been deployed to see what we could

The truth about statues and the law

There is a proposal to change how we criminalise people who damage statues. This proposed change is set out in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill and has received much criticism — it is the supposed cause of last night’s protests in Bristol, the first place in the UK to see a prominent statue being toppled last summer. But it is not for lawyers to tell the public what they can or should think — the law is the law, but any changes to it are political decisions. Lawyers can elucidate how our regulations currently work but it is for the public and their politicians to decide what those

Why Edinburgh’s Adam Smith statue should stay

In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests last year, Edinburgh Council announced the creation of the ‘Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group’. Headed by Sir Geoff Palmer — an academic and human rights activist — the group is looking at all public memorials on council land that ‘perpetuated racism and oppression’ with the option of ‘removal or re-interpretation’ for problematic monuments. The grave of Adam Smith, as well as a statue dedicated to the Enlightenment thinker, have both been identified by the review due to a passage in which Smith, according to the body, ‘argued that slavery was ubiquitous and inevitable but that it was not as profitable

The problem with renaming London’s streets

In Taksim Square, the busy central hub of Istanbul, a large, viril monument stands. In the centre is Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, the father of modern Turkey (although, perhaps not the contemporary one). When Attaturk came into power, he immediately set about changing the country from Empire to Nation. This meant progressive Western values, the alphabet; a dismissal, in some cases, a blanketing of the culture and customs before it. Almost by accident, this sparked a nostalgia for the Empire that is potent in today’s Turkey. In the hotel nearby, the Kurdish receptionist gets to work. ‘Did you see the monument?’ he says to me bleakly. I ask what he thinks

Maggi Hambling’s Wollstonecraft statue is hideous but fitting

Frankly, it is rather hideous — but also quite wonderful, shimmering against the weak blue of a late November sky. The new statue ‘for’ Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97), the radical writer, journalist, teacher and novelist, had drawn quite a crowd to Newington Green in north London when I went to see it. They were gathered round it, puzzled and questioning, trying to work out what to think of the tiny figure on top, the garish silvery finish, the heaving bulbous mass below. The memorial, designed by the sculptor Maggi Hambling, has been vilified since its unveiling a few weeks ago by critics who have focused on the nude female figure, bothered

Nicholas Coleridge: The Ghislaine Maxwell I knew

I have known Ghislaine Maxwell for more than 40 years, since she was a student at Balliol. I always liked her, everyone did, and I find it hard to reconcile the Ghislaine I knew with the heinous crimes of which she now stands accused. I visited her several times at Headington Hall, her family house on the edge of Oxford, when her father Robert Maxwell was at the height of his power. It was a peculiar house, rented from the council, like an enormous municipal town hall. The entrance hall and corridors were lined with at least a hundred framed cartoons by Jak and Mac of the great narcissist newspaper

Should Nicola Sturgeon get a statue?

The Scottish National party and its supporters like the world to see Scottish independence as a final act of decolonisation, Scots throwing off the yoke of English imperialism and, with it, the taint of having been imperialists themselves. Last week Scots academic Sir Geoff Palmer compared it to the process that led to his native Jamaica gaining its independence. Yet Scots were the greatest of British colonialists and, for most of the 300-odd years of the Union, strong unionists. Scots statuary of figures from before the 1707 Act of Union is quite sparse. But even those few earlier Scots haven’t been exempt from the wider debate about our monuments. In

Why did we not ban Huawei earlier?

‘Just rejoice’, as Mrs Thatcher once said about something else. The government’s decision to debug our national security by getting rid of Huawei is the right one (although seven years is much too long). The puzzle is why it did not happen earlier. At the end of January, I interviewed the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, when he came over here. We knew by then everything we needed to know about the Chinese government’s control of Huawei and the lack of trust this must engender. The British government also heard clearly from Mr Pompeo — and from Australia — that its preference for Huawei 5G threatened the deep trust

Trump is taking on the historical revisionists

Ahead of Independence Day last week, CNN went live to its correspondent Leyla Santiago. Here is how she described the upcoming celebrations: ‘Kicking off the Independence Day weekend, President Trump will be at Mount Rushmore, where he’ll be standing in front of a monument of two slave owners and on land wrestled away from Native Americans.’ She went on to report that the President was expected to focus on efforts to ‘tear down our country’s history’. And where might the President have acquired such an idea? Even a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for a major network like CNN to have described Mount Rushmore in such nakedly

Holland Park must not fall

The latest victim in this summer’s mania could be the name of one of London’s best-known and wealthiest areas: Holland Park, in the west of the capital. A monument in the park itself, of the 19th-century politician Henry Vassall-Fox, the third Baron Holland, was splattered with red paint on Wednesday. After, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea suggested that the park, underground station and entire district could end up being renamed. The park and neighbourhood was named after Henry Fox, the first Baron Holland. His descendent, the third Baron, technically owned slaves and dozens of plantations in Jamaica through his wife’s estate. Hence this weeks’ desecration, with a cardboard

Charles Moore

Michelangelo’s David must fall

‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ said the plane’s banner as it circled the club’s stadium just after the teams had ‘taken the knee’ in support of Black Lives Matter. I must admit that my very first reaction on hearing the news was pleasure at the idea that the self-righteousness of Black Lives Matter was being guyed. My second, more considered response is that the banner was bad — and for precisely the same reason that BLM is bad. It takes a statement which any decent person would consider true and turns it into a weapon of race war. Of course black lives matter. Of course white lives matter. The question is:

Portrait of the week: Lockdown eases, debt rises and three killed in Reading

Home Pubs in England would be allowed to reopen for table service from 4 July, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, told the Commons, his words being met by an exclamation from one MP of ‘Hallelujah’. But drinkers would be expected to supply names and addresses before being served. Restaurants, museums, galleries, cinemas, hotels and hairdressers could also reopen, but not bowling alleys. Churches could reopen for services, including weddings, with a limit of 30 people, provided no one sang. The ‘two-metre rule’ was reduced by way of advice to one metre, to be combined with mitigating measures, such as facing in different directions. The government discontinued its daily televised briefings.

We should build more memorials to controversial people

I have been making the best of lockdown by reading properly, from start to finish, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in a seven-volume edition that is less daunting than it sounds, when you consider how addictive his rolling prose is. I have just reached the point, near the end of the great work, where Gibbon describes the sack of Constantinople by the armies of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The blind Doge of Venice had persuaded the crusaders to interrupt what was supposed to be an attack on Muslim Alexandria by diverting to the Byzantine capital, where Venetian merchants had a large number of grievances to