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Art & Politics : Destruction of the Colonial Legacy

Today for Art & Politics we are exploring the destruction of the Colonial legacy. As people around the world react to the murder of George Floyd.

Through Art & Politics, Art From Us and Divvya Nirula bring you stories new and old of the symbiotic nature of art and politics!

On 25th May 2020, citizen of Minneapolis, USA was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin. His crime? He tried to buy a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. After declining the transaction, the shop owner called the cops on Floyd. When the police arrived, they pulled Floyd out of his car, threw him and pinned him to the ground. Former officer Chauvin then went on to rest one knee on Floyd’s neck. After complaining several times of not being able to breathe, the man eventually died – about 5 minutes later. Chauvin and his associates – Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao have since been fired. But no amount of ‘justice’ can bring George Floyd back.

George Floyd was just another citizen of America. Except that he was black. And in the 21st century – we are no strangers to incidents of discrimination and police brutality against black people. Floyd’s death has yet again sparked outrage across the world. People have taken to social media to express their disgust. White liberals have even expressed the different in treatment they received when they were in a similar situation. And while black lives should always have mattered – #blacklivesmatter was trending once again.

Flaws in the Historical Narrative

Since time immemorial, the white man has claimed civilization and the evolution of human society to be purely Western concepts. This was the root cause for colonisation. And such is the colonial legacy. The coloniser believed himself to be inherently superior to the beastly and uncultured race he colonised. And so, in some strange kind of exploitative ‘mentoring’ programme, the white man took this ‘beast’ under his wing. To teach him a thing or too about living in civilized society. Of course in reality – this was just an excuse for Westerners to enslave their Eastern counterparts.

Take Christopher Columbus for instance. Historical narratives say that he ‘discovered’ America. But what does this really mean? The piece of land and its natives existed – nay, flourished – well before Columbus stumbled upon them, looking to fill up his spice rack. When Columbus arrived, he displaced, enslaved or then killed the natives. Therefore, calling him an ‘explorer’ or ‘discoverer’ is like calling Genghis Khan a unifier of Asian tribes.

Historians, scholars and lay people have been challenging these accounts for years. However, following George Flyod’s murder global outrage has peaked like never before.

Artistic Records of Colonisation

Unfortunately, cities world over have some or the other sort of monument paying homage to their coloniser, captivator, enslaver. That’s the thing with public funded art. It can be extremely politically driven. Yet extremely politically incorrect.

Destruction of the Colonial Legacy

In reaction to George Flyod’s murder, statues of colonisers across the world have been vandalised and destroyed. In Bristol, UK a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled. Similarly, a statue of late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was vandalised in London. The idea behind such acts? Simply to stop glorifying people who promoted racism.

People are trying to destroy the colonial legacy. The legacy here being not the statue, but the inherent idea that comes with it. That bad behaviour will be forgiven and forgotten in the books of history.

An Argument for Preservation of the Colonial Legacy

One may argue that art – including such statues – are important historic markers. This argument is correct. However, it might be more appropriate to then showcase these in museums. Rather than pay homage to them on the streets.

For more explorations of Art & Politics visit the archive.

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