The Defacement of Racist Statues Is a Renegotiation of Power
An interview with art curator Chaédria LaBouvier
Ever since the George Floyd protests have rippled across the world, we have been experiencing reckonings with the past and present on a daily basis. Whether it’s networks removing blackface episodes, executives resigning after allegations of racism and silencing in the workplace, or white people losing their jobs due to their predatory natures on Black and Brown people caught on film, each news report holds a mirror to what marginalized people have been whispering behind closed doors for years.
But another interesting element to this historical moment is the tearing down of statues that are happening around the globe. In Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II, who committed genocide against millions of Africans in the Congo, was vandalized and eventually taken down. In England, a statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader and shareholder of the Royal African Company, was toppled and thrown into a river by local citizens. In America, several states from coast to coast reported statues of Confederate soldiers, slave traders, and colonizers either vandalized, toppled, or officially removed.
We spoke with Chaédria LaBouvier, the first Black creator and first Black woman to curate an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, about the significance of these removals and her projections on what’s to come.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ZORA: How do you feel about all these racist statues being taken down all over the world?
Chaédria LaBouvier: You know, I don’t think that they should be in the context that they’re in, which is a celebration and a veneration, right? At the same time, I think as complicated as museums are, they should be somewhere in which the public can engage with what they stood for properly contextualized. Taking them down doesn’t stop that process. They just don’t need to be in public squares or parks as something that should be admired or in a civic aspiration of any sort. We shouldn’t be aspiring to any of John Calhoun or Robert E. Lee’s ideals. They should be treated as the traitors and murderers and affronts to human dignity that they are.