Colonial Monuments, Decolonising Impacts

8 December 2021, 10:00:00 pm

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Session Convenors

Professor Roger Benjamin, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Professor Hannah Lewi, University of Melbourne

Session Speakers

Dr. Rebecca Rice, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Professor Roger Benjamin, University of Sydney
Dr. David Corbet, University of Sydney and UNSW

Recent campaigns to protest and unseat sculptural monuments of historical figures have ancient beginnings. From the desecration of effigies of Roman emperors to the ruinous iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation, statues have been the target in contests of political, cultural and religious power. The focus of this session is the contestation of statues erected in the era of modern colonialism. Its scope runs from the Hyde Park Captain Cook to public monuments in former European colonies, from Hanoi to Auckland or Manila, as a well as statues and memorials set up in the cities of colonizing nations. Does the removal of statues by decolonized state powers usually entail their replacement by the heroes of independence? What purposes do symbolic or violent acts of protest of British slave-masters (for example) serve, and what impacts do they achieve? Do legal and heritage protections and/or the moral rights of artists apply in decolonizing contexts? What are citizens’ rights to memory and familiar habit formed around longstanding monuments? Ultimately, who should have the right to the disposition of public spaces and aesthetic resources as represented by memorial statues?

PAPER #1
Whakamaumahara: remembering the New Zealand Wars

PRESENTER
Dr. Rebecca Rice, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

In the decades immediately following the New Zealand Wars (1845-1872) little attempt was made to memorialise key people or events. Prolonged and messy, with many inconclusive ‘victories’, the wars did not feel like something to commemorate in marble and stone. However, in the early twentieth century they became crucial to colonists’ quest to identify a history for themselves, underpinning a new myth of race relations in which conflict became formative, rather than destructive. Most monuments erected were to imperial and colonial soldiers; enemy Māori were memorialised only if they were gallant and chivalrous. Privileging Pākehā history and memory, these monuments are expressions of power: indicators of who chose what was remembered and how it was publicly memorialised. This paper explores the memorialising of the New Zealand Wars. It charts how, toward the end of the twentieth century, the power dynamics shifted, as artists and protestors began engaging with these historical monuments in various ways, taking up the challenge of not letting us forget, and finding alternative ways to remember the New Zealand Wars and their legacies.

PAPER #2
Cardinal cult : the rise and fall of Falguière’s Lavigerie in the Biskra oasis.

Professor Roger Benjamin, University of Sydney

The recent contestation of statues of European colonists and slavers casts new light on a relic of French imperialism still in Algeria. Erected in the date-farming oasis and tourist resort of Biskra, the 1899 bronze of Cardinal Lavigerie was funded by Church and town. Five times taller than a man on his marble plinth, Lavigerie faced the interior of Africa like an Old Testament prophet, Lorraine cross held high. Noted sculptor Alexandre Falguière's work flew against the beliefs of the largely Muslim populace. During the decolonising War of Independence, in 1956, the statue was witness to a massacre of civilians by French troops; in 1961 engineers of the retreating French Army relocated the statue for safekeeping. Lavigerie’s cross and bible were sawn off by locals, and his empty pedestal later figured Okba ibn Nafâa, the Arab conqueror of 671. Today the hulking, defaced statue stands in the municipal depot. Yet it is said women from Biskra’s Sudanese community, converts to Christianity, prayed for good health to the priest who’d provided Biskra’s Indigenous Hospital: the cardinal as marabout or local saint. Plans to rehabilitate him in a local museum prove the polysemy of the object in moderate Muslim communities.

PAPER #3
On memory and monuments (or, what I think about when I think about statues)

Dr. David Corbet, University of Sydney and UNSW

Colonial monuments become contentious when newer, revisionary narratives are thwarted, and recent ‘statue wars’ in a number of territories offer echoes of Australian experience, with some marked differences. While Atlantic slavers, Confederate generals, Indian Viceroys and British robber barons dominate external debates, Australia’s contested symbols mostly date from its ‘frontier wars’ – the sporadic but relentless predations of belligerent settler occupation. Nearly thirty years on from the Mabo decision, no statues of Jandamarra, Pemulwuy or Truganini (or indeed Eddie Mabo) grace the boulevards of Perth, Sydney or Hobart, and prominent ATSI warriors remain excluded from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. In such conditions, the preservation of cultural memory and the contestation of settler narratives through visual representation assumes critical importance. This paper briefly examines a history of work since 1988 as a lens through which to explore diverse modes of memorialisation, and the ways in which they may erode the potency of the monuments of Empire. Although not confined to ATSI artists, it remains notable how few non-Indigenous artists and curators care to probe the defensive underbelly of colonial imagery. The paper concludes with some reflections on how the exhibitionary complex’s elisions and silences might be addressed.

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Biographies

Professor Roger Benjamin, University of Sydney

Roger Benjamin is an art historian and curator trained in Melbourne, Bryn Mawr and Paris. He has written widely on Matisse and other European modernists, French Orientalist painting, and contemporary Aboriginal art. Supported by grants from the ARC, Benjamin’s publications include Kandinsky and Klee in Tunisia (U of California Press, 2015) and the exhibition Biskra: sortilèges d’une oasis (Institute du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2016). His recent work on Matisse’s Tangier landscapes was published in The Art Bulletin (Sept 2019), and his current project is the ARC-funded “Art and Cultural Exchange at the Strait of Gibraltar”.


Dr. Rebecca Rice, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Dr Rebecca Rice is Curator Historical Art at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Her research focuses on the visual culture of the New Zealand Wars, and the impact of Impressionism on New Zealand artists. Publications include Unsettling: Art and the New Zealand Wars, VUW (2016) and ‘From Aide-memoire to Public Memorial: The ‘Gordon Collection’...", NZJH, (2018). She co-curated Rā Maumahara | New Zealand Wars (2017); Ngā Tae Whakarongorua | Encounters (2018); and Tamatea: He Tūtakinga Tuku Iho | Legacies of Encounter (2019). Her current book project showcases taonga relating to the New Zealand Wars at Te Papa.


Dr. David Corbet, University of Sydney and UNSW

Dr David Corbet is an educator, artist/designer and curator based in Sydney. He is a sessional lecturer at both UNSW and the University of Sydney, teaching into history, curatorial and experience design streams at postgraduate and undergraduate level, with a research focus is on trans-disciplinary visual cultures and global exhibition practice. He has creatively led many projects as a designer, editor and curator and has written, designed and/or edited numerous articles, books and exhibition catalogues. He is currently engaged in postdoctoral research project focussed on migration, trade and cultural translocality.


Professor Hannah Lewi, University of Melbourne

Hannah Lewi is a Professor in the Faculty of ABP at the University of Melbourne. She has research interests in architecture and art history, heritage, and new media. She is Vice-Chair of Docomomo Australia and Co-Director of ACAHUCH. She has been a past President of SAHANZ. Recent book publications include Lewi & Goad, ‘Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape and Design’ (T&H, 2019); Lewi, Smith, et al, ‘The Routledge International Handbook of New Digital Practices in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Heritage Sites’, (2020); and co-author of the forthcoming ‘Campus: Making the Modern University’ (UWA, 2021).