The removal and desecration of images of enemies of the state was an accepted part of Roman political life, a formal public dishonour named as damnatio memoriae, and the destruction of built and material culture of a defeated foe was, like rape of enemy women, de facto psychological warfare millennia before such a concept was formalised. In recent years the relocation of the Bronze Soldier of Talinn, and associated Russian war graves in 2009, put contested memorialisation firmly on the agenda at both art and architecture/design conferences.
The Bronze Soldier controversy arose long before Dylann Roof or the Black Lives Matter movement stirred modern consciences, given public arguments over statues are now strongly associated with race and post colonialism. This linkage was affirmed newly and spectacularly by Mitch Landrieu’s removal of four Confederate memorials in New Orleans. Landrieu’s post-removal speech, transparently praising his own actions, whilst widely applauded as a new benchmark in racial equality, simultaneously reveals less admirable content, a favouring of extreme theatrical sentiment over rational discussion in public life, especially around identity, a supreme self confidence via specifically North American narratives and celebrity name dropping as corroborating authenticity.
The performativity and dramatic self-projection within the agora shown by Landrieu and other advocates for removing controversial monuments in the United States, cuts across the frequent claims that removal represents an inevitable expression of natural justice and a limpid process of delivering a rightful morality to public space and the designed landscape.
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