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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

TOPPLING STATUES WEBINAR – 23 and 24 November 2020

Co-hosted by the PSSA and The Burlington Magazine this free webinar coincided with the Burlington’s annual sculpture issue. The event proved extremely popular with around 450 people registering to attend and over 200 participants on both days. This highlighted the fact that people were keen to debate the concerns surrounding the issue of contested heritage in a constructive forum.

The toppling of statues has attracted a great deal of attention and controversy. In this lively and informative webinar many different positions and opinions were voiced. Serious academic debate focused on the sculptures and the artists, the subjects depicted, their historical, social and economic contexts, and the ways in which these sculptures are viewed today.  Various proposals were made about ways in which contested heritage could be addressed, for example better, detailed and inclusive labelling on plaques, and easily accessed digital information. Further positive suggestions that could encourage public engagement involved temporary artistic interventions or new sculptures created from a contemporary perspective, commissioned in response to controversial historical statues.

Our determination to establish a middle ground for discussion and a reasoned approach that can lead to acceptable outcomes lay behind the Toppling Statues webinar. The papers delivered and discussion at the webinar have helped to moderate and inform the following statement by the Trustees of the PSSA on the issue of contested sculpture. This statement has been written in accordance with the objects of the charity to help advance the understanding and appreciation of public sculpture.

Richard Westmacott, the Elder (1775-1856), Robert Milligan, 1809-13, bronze. West India Docks, London, removed June 2020. Photo: © CC-BY-SA 4.0, Chris McKenna

PSSA Statement on Contested Heritage

The Public Statues and Sculpture Association believes that as far as possible contested public sculpture should be retained and explained, and encourages inclusivity, public engagement and reassessment in terms of context and current opinion. The Association is sensitive to issues raised by contested heritage and is keen to assist in finding reasoned solutions. It also wants to make certain that the historical importance and aesthetic qualities of the sculptures are communicated effectively and given due weight.

Ensuring controversial issues are fully addressed by intelligent and inclusive labelling is educational, helping everyone to learn about their respective histories. We cannot turn back the clock and change the actions of or injustices to our ancestors, although we may feel compelled to comment on them because the values and attitudes of the past may be profoundly different from those held today.

A number of public statues can now be seen to reflect injustice and inhumanity, which if not acknowledged and explained is particularly distressing. Current awareness of these issues provides the opportunity to try to mitigate these concerns and redress the balance. Conversely attacking and destroying our shared cultural heritage of art-historically significant and aesthetically important statues can likewise be distressing and divisive.

Resolving these conflicting concerns requires intelligent debate and careful consideration. The PSSA not only encourages extensive re-labelling of contested works on accompanying plaques and apps, but also supports innovative ideas, such as temporary interventions on the existing sculptures, or new works of art made in response to older controversial statues. If, as a last resort, certain sculptures are removed from their original context, the PSSA would want to collaborate with local authorities and communities to advise on the relocation of the works so that they are moved professionally and displayed appropriately in a secure public place.


Recording of Webinar Papers

Monday 23 November – Day 1

Chair: Dr Holly Trusted FSA, Co-Chair PSSA

Paper 1 Dr Ian Morley: The Struggle Within: Monuments for Memory, Monuments for Identity
Paper 2 Dr Mark Stocker FSA: The Future will be Grateful for thy Universal Goodness: 20 Talking Points about Public Statuary Now
Paper 3 Councillor Sonia Winifred: Statues, Monuments, Street Names in Lambeth with links to Slavery and Colonialism
Questions and debate
Paper 4 Dr Jean Wilson MBE FSA: Fallacies in Duration
Paper 5 Dr Jonathan Black FRHistS: “A war memorial in every sense”: Charles Sargeant Jagger MC and the memorial to the Royal Regiment of Artillery, London, 1925-2020
Questions and debate
Paper 6 Sir Geoff Palmer OBE: Slavery and Public Statuary in Scotland
Paper 7 Michael Sandle RA: The Wrong Thing in the Wrong Way for the Wrong Reasons
Questions and debate

Chair: Dr Michael Hall FSA, Editor of The Burlington Magazine

Keynote paper 1 Nicholas Penny: ‘For them his ears gush’d blood’
Paper 8 Professor Paula Murphy: Kings, clerics and candelabra – statue controversy in Ireland
Paper 9 Sabin Howard: A Sculptor’s Perspective: The Importance of Culture
Keynote paper 2 David Aaronovitch, Statues as Proxies in the Culture War
Questions and debate.
Panel 1: Nick Hornby; Martin Jennings FRSS; Simon Carter; Melissa Hamnett.
Closing statement.

Tuesday 24 November – Day 2

Chair: Dr Roger Bowdler FSA

Paper 10 Dr Marie Daouda: Must Rhodes fall? The idolatry behind modern iconoclasm
Paper 11 Hew Locke: Mindful Vandalism
Paper 12 Professor Madge Dresser: Sculpture wars? Some reflections on the toppling of the Colston statue in Bristol
Paper 13 Dr Helen Paul: The Cult of Colston
Paper 14 Alexander Adams: Institutional support for iconoclasm of 2020
Questions and debate

Chair: Joanna Barnes, Co-Chair PSSA

Paper 15 James Hall: Dialogues with the Dead: Creative Confrontations with the Past
Paper 16 Dr Roger Bowdler FSA: ‘Rankly bad and altogether despicable’: Looking at London’s Open-Air Statuary by Lord Edward Gleichen (1928)
Questions and debate.
Paper 17 Edwin Fountain: Considering Civil War Monuments
Paper 18 Professor Mary Ann Steggles: Vandalism Makes them Visible: Colonial Statues in India in the Age of the Black Lives Matter Movement
Paper 19 Sokari Douglas Camp CBE: Toppling Power
Paper 20 Petrina Dacres: Marcus Garvey, Post-Colonial Memory and the Unstable Image of Blackness
Questions and debate.
Panel 2: Trevor Sterling; Iain Black; Jean-François Manicom; Jo Baxendale.
Closing statement.