2020 was such a year, full of so many challenging changes and traumatic events, it seems odd that I had totally blanked during our meet up on the phenomena of the public removal or reconsideration of controversial public art and monuments that took place last year during the Black Lives Matter protests but last year had a lot going on and I did not consider the implications that this event did and continues to have on Public art and historical monuments and how they might make their way into museums. The list of monuments and memorials removed during the Protests is long, the main table for just some in the US has 106 entries and that does not include ones in the state of Virginia, which has its own table.
The phenomena took place all over the world and has caused many to reevaluate what all these different historical figures represent to all peoples. Many monuments were removed by local governments in response to calls for their removal, many others still were toppled by protesters. A grand total of Thirty Five monuments to/of Christopher Columbus were removed by the Citys, local authorities, property owners or protesters. Some of these monuments were located in relation to a museum, many were not but several of these monuments are now being moved into museums, as many agree that a museum is the appropriate place for these monuments.
One of Alaska’s controversial monuments was moved into a local museum with the statue of Alexander Andreyevich Baranov that was installed in Sitka, Alaska. The memorial was vandalized, and was relocated to the Sitka Historical Society and Museum in Harrigan Centennial Hall on September 29, 2020 by a Sitka Assembly vote on the subject.
I honestly wonder how museum professionals feel about taking in these pieces of public art, I’m sure that it is currently a hot topic with many different viewpoints. It could be argued that preserving these monuments in a museum only contributes to the valuing of these historical figures or would these pieces be accompanied with the recognition of some of their problematic histories and how they can be oppressive to place in public spaces?
In Anchorage the former Mayor announced on June 24, 2020 that the decision about removal of the statue of James Cook in downtown Anchorage is up to the Native Village of Eklutna and other area Denaʼina tribes, will this statue be moved into an Alaskan museum? We will have to see!
This is certainly a controversial topic that has been placed into some museum collections literally, we will have to see how the effects of these events continue to unfold. I hope that it can be recognized that there is diversity in histories and representation of and honoring of figures who played key parts in oppressive history can continue oppression into the present day.
Q: Should these monuments be replaced by new ones? Should the empty spaces be kept to commemorate the removal of these monuments? What do you hope happens to the Anchorage Captain Cook statue?