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Rhodes must not fall? Statues, Post-colonial 'Heritage' and Temporality

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)651-666
Number of pages16
JournalThird Text
Issue number4-5
Early online date25 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Oct 2019

King's Authors


Coloniser and colonised were produced as subjectivities through power relations mediated through objects. The erection of public statues of 'great men' in prominent places in European and colonial cities was a political act with an ideological meaning. These survive within the curated space of the city long after the end of imperial domination. In the case of Barbados, for example, a statue to Lord Nelson was erected in the early nineteenth century in Bridgetown, decades before its London equivalent, as part of a planter politics of anti-anti-slavery. The statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford, together with the other commemorative plaques and statues placed in his honour, were similarly part of an Edwardian pro-imperial propaganda in Oxford. In these places, as elsewhere around the world, from Barcelona to Cape Town, public campaigns have demanded the removal or public remediation of these forms of rhetoric via monument. But opponents of the removal of Nelson and Rhodes from their privileged positions in Bridgetown and Oxford have argued that these statues were very old, and were therefore now part of a public culture which should be preserved without revision. To remove them would be to "erase" history, in Mary Beard's phrase. But is leaving these objects as they are not also a kind of historical erasure, a silencing of the past in Michel Rolphe Trouillot's terms? For without a new mediation, what is lost from public memory and attention is that these objects were contested projects of minority ideologies and interests, both at their origins and today. Is the argument from ‘heritage’ not bound up with an odd contemporary imbalance of attention towards the needs of the present and future vs. the legacies of the past, the retrogressive temporality of the neo-liberal moment? The point is not the destruction of ‘the past’, as if there was ever one monolithic uncontested past, but the renegotiation of which past the present holds up to its face.

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