South African artist William Kentridge has said we should bury statues of figures including Winston Churchill so we may “look down upon them”.
Kentridge, whose art reflects on South Africa’s colonial past, spoke to The Art Newspaper about the toppling and sinking of Bristolian trans-Atlantic slave trader Edward Colston’s statue. He also addressed the Mayor of London’s decision to protect statues of Winston Churchill and other colonial era figures amid Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.
He said: “That palisade was saying, for British people, Churchill is the greatest Britain who ever lived. But for millions of Indians who starved because all grain was taken for the British forces during the war, he’s not a hero.
“Putting that wooden fence around him was great. It said: he’s in there somewhere. You can’t see him, but we know of his presence.”
Kentridge, who has a retrospective at the Royal Academy this year, suggested that colonial-era statues should be reimagined: “I think [the UK] could just take some of these monuments off their plinths and dig a hole in the ground, then bury them up to their waists. So you can see them, but you’re looking down on them.”
Four people were acquitted of criminal damage after the bronze statue of Colston was pulled down during Black Lives Matter protests in his home town of Bristol.
Recently, a school founded and named after the slave trader moved to change its name to “Collegiate School”.
A survey on whether the school’s name should be changed showed a majority in favour of retaining Colston’s name by public voters but was overturned following an analysis of school community respondents.
Kentridge urged the UK to face up to its “blighted past” rather than “defending it and saying it was nothing but a heroic history”.
The artist’s retrospective at the RA is due to launch on 24 September.