One British sculptor has come up with a new solution to the controversy over statue against Cecil Rhodes above Oxford College: turn colonists to look at the wall firmly.
Sir Antony Gormley, a well-known public figure such as The Angel of the North, told the Financial Times that distorting Rhodes could help counteract “all amnesia” at such monuments in the fight against inequality in the country’s history.
“Rhode must remain in its original state,” said Gormley, denying the allegations against the 19th-century dictator in Oriel College. “If we want to change our relationship with him, I’ll just turn him over to the wall instead of the outside.”
Changing his position would mean “acknowledging all shame” and “reaffirming that Oriel College and many other institutions have Rhodes’ financial resources,” Gormley said.
The image has been embroiled in controversy for six years between the anti-colonial group Rhodes Must Fall, a divided university, and ministers who have strongly opposed such “old pillars”. The college decided last week to keep the statue in situ.
Gormley, who made a bronze statue overlooking another part of Oxford, described the moment an image of the slave dealer Edward Colston was “dunked and found” from Bristol Harbor last year as another “baptism”. But he is careful about transferring conflicting reminders to the museum.
“Public representations are getting sicker. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to ask ‘who are these people and why are they here?’. But by removing them, you agree to faint, ”he said.
Rhodes founded Rhodesia with the diamond company De Beers and donated part of the wealth he earned in Africa to support Oxford colleges and to establish accredited courses for beneficiaries such as Bill Clinton, former US President.
Critics say its history of black slavery and laying the groundwork for apartheid in southern Africa should be challenged, not respected.
In the face of last year’s street art exhibitions, Oriel’s governing body initially voted to remove and set up an independent committee to investigate the submissions and its history and reminders.
But after the council’s report was completed, Oriel last week changed his mind and decided to raise the monument. It also mentioned the cost of obtaining a planning permit, which could be long and closed by Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for local government.
114-page Commission Report examined Oriel’s choices including moving a Rhodes statue in-house, leaving an empty niche, or sending new artwork to fill the space.
Sir John Hayes, the Tory MP who sits in the “Common Sense Group” in parliament, welcomed Gormley’s proposal to preserve the image but called for a “completely wacky” change. “This is the same as common sense as I would have a vague word,” he said.