The Scot­tish mon­u­ments di­vid­ing pub­lic opin­ion. By Dani Gar­avelli


The Herald Magazine - - NEWS -

HE makes my skin crawl,” says Melina Valdelievre, as she cranes her neck to look at the mil­i­tary leader astride a horse at the top of Kelv­in­grove Park in Glas­gow. The Bri­tish Army com­man­der, im­mor­talised in bronze and set on an os­ten­ta­tiously large plinth, is Field Mar­shal Fred­er­ick Roberts, who earned his rep­u­ta­tion as a hero in the colo­nial wars of In­dia and Afghanistan and the Boer War in South Africa.

The mon­u­ment is a replica of one in Cal­cutta by sculp­tor Harry Bates who cast his sub­ject as the epit­ome of re­solve and gal­lantry; though his horse turns his head to one side, as if quail­ing in the face of dan­ger, Roberts stares straight ahead, as­sured of vic­tory.

The sky­line he sur­veys is a hotch­potch of old and new: Glas­gow Uni­ver­sity’s Gil­bert Scott build­ing (built in 1891, the year Roberts be­came a gen­eral) stands cheek-byjowl with the new li­brary and the mil­len­nium tower; but the val­ues Roberts em­bod­ies are Vic­to­rian. The panel on the pedestal talks of “the gleam of weapons”, “the won­der of this is­land” and the “con­tin­ued great­ness of this Em­pire.”

It is an­other, less ob­vi­ous fea­ture, that most dis­turbs Valde­li­v­ere. In a stone frieze at the front is a row of small tur­baned men: Se­poys slaugh­tered in the In­dian Mutiny of 1857/58.

Half In­dian, half French, Valdelievre has a dif­fer­ent take on Roberts. “Th­ese In­dian sol­diers were fight­ing for the free­dom of their coun­try,” she says. “Around 800,000 In­di­ans were killed dur­ing the re­volt, and its af­ter­math in­cluded one of the many famines caused by the mis-dis­tri­bu­tion of food un­der Bri­tish rule. Many In­di­ans were sent to plan­ta­tions in dif­fer­ent colonies to work as life-long in­den­tured work­ers, very much like slaves – a prac­tice which went on un­til the early 20th cen­tury.”

Like those US ac­tivists protest­ing against the stat­ues of Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als, Valdelievre, a Glas­gow Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate and English teacher, sees this mon­u­ment as a glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of op­pres­sion and has set up a pe­ti­tion for its re­moval.

“When you see the white war­rior on top of th­ese peo­ple of colour, you see what is val­ued in this coun­try,” she says. “I worry peo­ple will think: ‘Wow, the Bri­tish Em­pire was a great thing.’”

Stat­ues of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures are a defin­ing fea­ture of all great cities; they stalk our squares and thor­ough­fares like ghosts from the Re­nais­sance, the En­light­en­ment, the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion. Erected by those with means, they ex­ist not to record the past, but to mould pub­lic per­cep­tion of it; and so they re­flect the power struc­tures and mores of the time.

In the Deep South, stat­ues of

Con­fed­er­ate lead­ers such as Robert E Lee were put up long after the Civil War to re­in­force the myth of the Lost Cause: the idea the South was fight­ing not against the abo­li­tion of slav­ery but for the rights of states to se­cede and the preser­va­tion of a life­style. They have be­come flash­points: sym­bols of con­tin­ued dis­crim­i­na­tion and a mi­cro­cosm of the wider cul­tural war be­tween lib­er­als and the alt-right.

Here, our pub­lic art is less ob­vi­ously weaponised, but still in­her­ently po­lit­i­cal. Our civic spa­ces hold a mir­ror up to our val­ues. De­ci­sions over who is hon­oured and who ig­nored re­veal much about how we per­ceive our­selves and want oth­ers to per­ceive us. Walk through Glas­gow or Ed­in­burgh and what do you see? Streets dom­i­nated by men. Some are philoso­phers, writ­ers, in­ven­tors, but oth­ers have a more sin­is­ter legacy. Un­be­knowst to the tourists who take their pho­tos, or the lo­cals who pic­nic in their shadow, they made their for­tune off the backs of oth­ers or stood against demo­cratic progress.

Let’s start with Glas­gow’s Ge­orge Square. A hymn to im­pe­ri­al­ism, it is fronted by Queen Vic­to­ria and Prince Al­bert, and has Sir Wal­ter Scot at its cen­tre. Few eye­brows would be raised by the pres­ence of in­ven­tor James Watt or the po­ets Robert Burns and Robert Fer­gus­son. But what about Field Mar­shal Colin Camp­bell and Sir John Moore who stand on the south­ern perime­ter. Tellingly, they have no plaques. But Clyde, like Roberts, was a vet­eran of the In­dian Mutiny, while Moore helped re­take St Lu­cia from rebel slaves in 1796.

Half a mile away, in the Cathe­dral precinct, sits Wil­liam of Orange, aka King Billy, rel­e­gated to this less prom­i­nent spot from Glas­gow Cross in 1926. Here, too, we see Sir James Lums­den, a for­mer Lord Provost, who in­vested in block­ade run­ner ships which il­le­gally sup­plied the Con­fed­er­acy dur­ing the US Civil War.

What you won’t find any­where in Glas­gow is a per­ma­nent mon­u­ment or ex­hi­bi­tion ac­knowl­edg­ing the city’s role in the slave trade. Though the Mer­chant City, with its myr­iad neo-clas­si­cal build­ings, owes its ex­is­tence to wealth ac­crued through slave-run plan­ta­tions, there is no phys­i­cal tes­ta­ment to our com­plic­ity.

Ed­in­burgh is dot­ted with Sandy Stod­dart stat­ues of En­light­en­ment fig­ures: Adam Smith, David Hume, James Clerk Maxwell and Wil­liam Henry Play­fair, col­lec­tively con­tro­ver­sial for their sur­feit of Y chro­mo­somes. But it is the 150ft mon­u­ment to Henry Dun­das, the 1st Vis­count Melville, in St An­drew’s Square that at­tracts most crit­i­cism. Though you wouldn’t know it from the in­for­ma­tion board, Dun­das’ achieve­ments in­clude pro­long­ing slav­ery by 13 years, us­ing Black Watch troops to en­force the High­land Clear­ances and crush­ing moves for greater democ­racy. Ja­maican-born aca­demic and hu­man rights ac­tivist Ge­off Palmer has called for the statue to be re­moved, while last year the co-edi­tor of Open Democ­racy Adam Ram­say su­per­glued an al­ter­na­tive plaque head­lined “the Great Tyrant” to its base.

How­ever, Dun­das’s legacy is con­tested. Some his­to­ri­ans point out that, as Lord Ad­vo­cate, he rep­re­sented for­mer slave Joseph Knight and say his plea for a stag­gered abo­li­tion of slav­ery stemmed from a de­sire to en­sure pro­ce­dures were in place to deal with its reper­cus­sions. Thus – though Ed­in­burgh City Coun­cil has agreed in prin­ci­ple to the in­stal­la­tion of a new plaque – ri­val par­ties are still hag­gling over the word­ing.

On the driz­zly Au­gust morn­ing I visit, there is no clam­our for Dun­das to be top­pled. “I don’t doubt he did some aw­ful things, but I ex­pect he did some good things too,” says Dave Hal­l­i­day, a re­tired land sur­veyor. “He’s part of his­tory – you can’t just wipe it out.”

There-in lies the prob­lem: for ev­ery per­son that wants a statue to go, an­other wants it to stay. In­deed, when Glas­gow City Coun­cil mooted tem­po­rar­ily re­mov­ing the Ge­orge Square stat­ues – in­clud­ing those by ac­claimed sculp­tors Carlo Maro­chetti and John Flax­man – Stod­dart called the plan “cul­tural van­dal­ism.”

For some, the re­moval of stat­ues is an air­brush­ing of the past, while for oth­ers the dilemma is: “Where would you draw the line?” Ear­lier this week, writer Afua Hirsch called for Nel­son’s Col­umn to be re­moved from Trafal­gar Square in Lon­don while stat­ues of Christo­pher Colum­bus were van­dalised in New York and Bal­ti­more. Sir Win­ston Churchill was an im­pe­ri­al­ist who es­poused racist views. Few his­tor­i­cal fig­ures are ei­ther wholly “good” or wholly “bad”: how do we sift through those am­bi­gu­i­ties and make a judg­ment on their worth?

THIS is the ques­tion Bob Davis, pro­fes­sor of cul­ture and re­li­gion at Glas­gow Uni­ver­sity, found him­self pon­der­ing as he walked past the statue of Play­fair out­side the Na­tional Mu­seum of Scot­land in Ed­in­burgh. “He is there as the fa­ther of the bar chart and the pie chart, one of the orig­i­na­tors of mod­ern sta­tis­ti­cal record­ing, but he was also some­one who

op­posed the ex­ten­sion of ed­u­ca­tion to the work­ing classes be­cause he be­lieved it would nur­ture ap­petites that could never be sat­is­fied,” he says.

In Davis’ view, all stat­u­ary is shot through with th­ese con­tra­dic­tions. “The Ger­man cul­tural com­men­ta­tor Wal­ter Ben­jamin said: ‘Ev­ery mon­u­ment to civil­i­sa­tion is also a mon­u­ment to bar­barism.’ Wher­ever we look, the mon­u­men­tal cul­ture is the prod­uct of all th­ese churn­ing forces in so­ci­ety.”

For Valdelievre – who be­lieves an ide­alised no­tion of Em­pire fu­elled Brexit and a rise in hate crimes – the so­lu­tion is to put Roberts’ statue in a mu­seum where im­pe­ri­al­ism could be prop­erly scru­ti­nised.

But Davis would pre­fer the stat­ues to re­main as a cat­a­lyst for in­formed de­bate. “We should look at th­ese fig­ures and ask: ‘What do they stand for? What con­flicted lega­cies did they leave us? And in the light of that, is there maybe some­body else we should have a statue up to?’ In the case of Play­fair, for ex­am­ple, should we also have a statue to Robert Owen who did ex­tend ed­u­ca­tion to the work­ing classes?”

Up to a point, this process has be­gun. In sev­eral cities, the un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women is be­ing con­fronted, with a statue of suf­frag­ist Mil­li­cent Fawcett planned for Lon­don’s Par­lia­ment Square and a statue of Mary Bar­bour, the leader of the 1915 rent strikes, planned for Go­van, Glas­gow.

In Glas­gow, there are also moves for a memo­rial to the vic­tims of the Ir­ish famine. Mean­while, artists are ex­plor­ing new ways of com­mem­o­rat­ing peo­ple and events. In 2011, au­thor Louise Welsh and ar­chi­tect Jude Bar­ber joined forces to pro­duce a se­ries of tem­po­rary sound in­stal­la­tions, which broad­cast the voices of en­slaved peo­ple, slave traders and abo­li­tion­ists from seven key lo­ca­tions in the Mer­chant City.

Bar­ber, who co-ran the Em­pire Cafe dur­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games in 2014, agrees mon­u­ments pose a chal­lenge for those think­ing about the fu­ture and iden­tity of cities and the val­ues they wish to up­hold.

“By tak­ing things away you erase a part of his­tory,” she says. “But it is pos­si­ble to re­po­si­tion mon­u­ments in a way that makes you ask: why has that changed? Or you can cre­ate spa­ces to rep­re­sent the vic­tims of op­pres­sion and those who fought the op­pres­sors: so, for ex­am­ple, you have the Daniel Libe­skind-de­signed Holo­caust Mu­seum in Ber­lin and the memo­rial to Jews in the Ile de la Cite in Paris.”

To un­der­stand how eas­ily pub­lic art can be sub­verted, you need only look at what hap­pened when the “fear­less girl” statue was placed in front of the charg­ing bull sculp­ture on Wall Street. Overnight it was trans­formed from a work cel­e­brat­ing the ebul­lience of New York’s fi­nan­cial in­dus­try to a fem­i­nist icon.

Even more in­ven­tive was the ap­proach taken after Gen­eral Al­fredo Stroess­ner was de­posed as leader of Paraguay in 1989. In­stead of re­mov­ing his mas­sive steel statue from its spot over­look­ing Asun­cion, the artist Carlo Columbino took a hand­ful of

fea­tures from the orig­i­nal struc­ture and placed them be­tween two blocks of con­crete. Where Stross­ner once lorded it over the cap­i­tal city, he is now crushed, his dis­em­bod­ied face and hands grasp­ing in vain at the free­dom he de­nied to oth­ers.

SCOT­LAND’S most in­cen­di­ary statue is lo­cated not in one of its cities, but on a re­mote hill. The 100ft mon­u­ment to the 1st Duke of Suther­land – the man be­hind the most bru­tal of the Clear­ances – has stood at the summit of Ben Bhrag­gie near Gol­spie since 1837. To many land re­form cam­paign­ers his pres­ence is anath­ema; in the last 10 years the word “mon­ster” has been daubed across his pedestal and he has been the sub­ject of mul­ti­ple pe­ti­tions. But, de­spite be­ing well-versed in his crimes, the peo­ple of Gol­spie have grown fond of him. To them he is “the Man­nie”: a land­mark that tells fish­er­men where to sink their nets and a bea­con that guides the di­as­pora home.

“We are so used to him,” says Anne Bar­clay, who lives at the foot of the hill. “If you took him away, how would you ex­plain what hap­pened here? Dun­robin Cas­tle [the seat of Clan Suther­land] is such a fairy­talelook­ing place peo­ple don’t re­alise there was a dark pe­riod in the late 18th/early 19th cen­tury when the Clear­ances oc­curred.”

Seven­teen miles north of Gol­spie, the village of Helms­dale is a prod­uct of the Duke of Suther­land’s cru­elty; it took shape as some of those driven off their Strath of Kil­do­nan crofts moved to the coast to fish. Many more boarded ships bound for Canada’s Hudson Bay, trav­el­ling in the dead of win­ter to Win­niepeg and the Red River Val­ley. In the mid-2000s, Cana­dian min­ing mil­lion­aire Den­nis Ma­cleod sug­gested a memo­rial to the Clear­ances should be placed at the top of Creag Bun-Ul­lidh, the hill above Helms­dale. The 30ft mon­u­ment was to serve as a re­buke to the duke, call­ing him out for his crimes. Po­etic as this would have been, the peo­ple of Helms­dale re­jected it in favour of a smaller statue – the Em­i­grants – by the river. It’s a touch­ing piece of work, a fa­ther and son press­ing on, while a mother casts a wist­ful glance back to the land she must leave for ever; ev­ery­one seemed happy with the com­pro­mise.

Six years after its un­veil­ing, a se­ries of events was held to mark the bi­cen­te­nary of the Kil­do­nan Clear­ances. As part of this, An­thony Schrag, then artist-in-res­i­dence at Helms­dale’s Times­pan Cen­tre, made a film of him­self at­tack­ing the Golp­sie mon­u­ment. There is snow on the ground as Schrag, a tiny fig­ure in a black T-shirt, hurls him­self again and again at its base. High above him, the Duke of Suther­land con­tin­ues to gaze out over the Dornoch Firth, un­yield­ing, im­mutable, obliv­i­ous to his im­po­tent rage.

Schrag’s film is called Wrestling with His­tory and it en­cap­su­lates the prob­lem posed by our mon­u­ments to in­glo­ri­ous men. Try­ing to erase the past is fu­tile; the best we can do is look for bet­ter ways to ex­plore, in­ter­pret and memo­ri­alise it.

Melina Valdelievre at the Fred­er­ick Roberts statue in Kelv­in­grove Park, Glas­gow. ‘When you see the white war­rior,’ she says, ‘you see what is val­ued in this coun­try. I worry peo­ple will think the Bri­tish Em­pire was a great thing’

Anti-clock­wise from top: the re­moval of con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments across Amer­ica, in­clud­ing th­ese two in Bal­ti­more, Mary­land, has di­vided opin­ion and cost at least one life; the statue to King Wil­liam of Orange in Glas­gow, which was moved to a less prom­i­nent po­si­tion in 1927

Ge­orge Granville Leve­son-Gower, The 1st Duke of Suther­land, 1758-1833, Ben Bhrag­gie, Gol­spie The 1st Duke of Suther­land was an English landowner. He is no­to­ri­ous for his role in the Clear­ances. He ruth­lessly drove his ten­ants off the land forc­ing mass em­i­gra­tion to Canada. His 150ft statue, known as the Man­nie, is loathed by ac­tivists, but to many it is an in­te­gral part of the land­scape.

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