The unpredictable lives of statues

Statues (aka idols) are everywhere. They are familiar parts of urban landscapes, and generally speaking, passersby pay little attention to them. In my hometown, there were plenty of those and as a kid, I never really bothered to find out who they were or what they stood for.

El Cid statue. Balboa Park, San Francisco

Statues are usually funded by partisan groups, and erected to glorify their champions… typically, military leaders or significant national personalities. But popularity can be fleeting… Due to shifting political winds, yesterday heroes can suddenly become today’s pariahs.

Pigeons are more impartial. They like all statues and find them a nice place to socialize or to relieve themselves. In French, it is called « Joindre l’utile à l’agréable. » Combine business with pleasure.

 Lately, righteous activists have been scrutinizing statues’ past to determine if their presence is warranted. It is their prerogative, but judgements are subjective, influenced by personal feelings.

Regardless of his/her accomplishments, you will find flaws in just about anybody’s career. When evaluating somebody’s journey, the good and the bad deeds should be tallied. If the positive is substantially superior to the negative, this person should be getting a passing grade.

I heard that Winston Churchill’s statue in London was defaced. I am aware that in his early years Churchill was a fervent colonialist, with all evils that it implies. But the world should be eternally grateful to this man for his role in WWII.
Without his dogged resistance to Nazi’s aggression, today’s protests could be totally irrelevant. All opposition would be fiercely crushed and totally anihilated. Despite his youthful misconceptions, this man saved the world from an unthinkable Nazi enslavement and deserved to be honored!

On the other hand, a politically tainted figure like maréchal Philippe Pétain of France  have had all his statues taken down. In 1940, after the invasion of France and most of Europe, this former World War One hero threw his lot with the Germans.  He was responsible for the deaths of countless French citizens and displaced people.
Tyrants, conquistadors, slavers, traitors  don’t deserve a statue; if they have one, their time in the sun is up.

How many statues can pass the test of time? As an artist or as a health professional, you are fairly safe, but otherwise, your fate depends on political conditions. Should a dictator prevail, many seedy characters might be honored. If a decent man (as it is hoped) takes the reins of state, he will hopefully revoke some dreadful policies and help to re-unite the nation.

Just keep in mind

“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it…” Leviticus 26:1


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