Moving Monuments

Kick-off seminar “Moving Monuments: Imperial Aesthetics, Public Memory and Other Unresolved Issues” 

The connection between colonialism, racism and public monuments have been heavily debated across the globe over the last years. Statues have been critically confronted, altered, removed, and in some cases destroyed – and new monuments have been erected and are in the process of being developed. With the kick-off seminar we particularly invite members of the advisory board and selected speakers to contribute with reflections and questions that speaks to the effects and consequences of the different critiques of monumental sculpture over the past years, and the new challenges and opportunities these debates have left us with.

Read more about Moving Monuments


09:00 Arrival and coffee.
09:30 Welcome by Mathias Danbolt.
10:00 Amalie Skovmøller, “50 Queens: Invisibilities and Materialisms of Public Commemoration”.
10:45 Break
11:00 Rebecca Schneider, “The Monument and the Quarry: Triumphalism and Decolonial Response-ability”.
11:45 Marthe Kretzschmar, “Ce Marbre ne pouvait pas se travailler – Pigalle’s Bust of Madame de Pompadour (1748-1751) and the French ‘sol national’”.
12:30 Lunch
13:30 Jeannette Ehlers, “Moko is Future” (2022) – film screening and presentation (online)
14:00 Discussion panel: Alex von Tunzelmann, Lise Skytte Jakobsen and Marina Prusac-Lindhagen. Moderated by Mathias Danbolt.
14:45 Break
15:00 Charmaine Nelson, “Male or Man?: American Slavery, Public Monuments, and the Containment of Black Manhood” (online).
15:45 Elizabeth Marlowe, “Talking back to Problematic Statues and Their Problematic Labels”.
16:30 Break (15 min).
16:45 Naima Murphy Salcido: “Monument Lab in Philadelphia, US”.
17:30 Reception


In the seminar, we wish to generate new discussions and entry points to the ongoing ‘statue-debates’ touching upon, but not limited to, the following questions:

  • In what ways has the general interest in monumental sculpture confronted established perspectives on concepts of sculpture, monumentality, permanence, materiality, imperial heritage, coloniality, representation, commemoration, collective memory, and ideas of the public?
  • How has the public interest in monumental sculpture changed perspectives on the assumed static material lives of historic figures of commemoration?
  • In what ways has confrontations with public sculptures addressed the strong lived notion that public commemoration hinges on logics of the monument?
  • In what ways have the confrontations with public sculpture generated new awareness towards how history is written and what is deemed historically significant, globally and locally?
  • What happens after statues of figures associated with colonialism and white supremacy are removed? What do we do with them? And where do the empty plinths in the cityscapes leave us?
  • How has the public engagement with monumental sculpture influenced research topics or research strategies in universities as well as art institutions around the world?
  • How have artists responded to the debates?
  • How are museums throughout the world dealing with discussions revolving on the intersecting perspectives of art, the writing of history and colonial/imperial heritage present in 21st century public spaces?



Recent years’ focus on public monuments has opened new critical entries to the traditional idea of portrait statues. Left with an overwhelming number of ideal representations of white male bodies, posing as singular historic figures of the past but continuously celebrated until today, many people have voiced the need for a more democratic cityscape. How do we tackle this absurd level of inequality and invisibility in public statues when viewed against the diverse cultural, social, and ethnic demographics of the 21st century? Should we put up new statues to “even the score”, as some debaters have suggested? Taking the temporary installation “50 Queens” (2022) in Copenhagen that celebrated Danish women who despite their important contributions to the society, culture, and the arts have not been awarded a statue in public, this paper argues that matters are more complicated than just raising new statues. As public spaces have been dominated by white men for so many years, taking back such spaces entails more than putting up new monumental art works. In addition, the making of sculptures is traditionally a maledominated field, raising not only the issue of diversity in the subject matter of public statues, but also the question of which artists are granted artistic autonomy to develop on the genre of public commemoration in the future.



If monuments hail passersby into relation, on what kinds of frequencies can we respond? Is the often remarked “invisibility” of monuments, which become overlooked parts of everyday landscapes, accompanied by an inaudibility in what Michel de Certeau called the “oceanic rumble of everyday life”? This talk looks to these questions as well as aspects of theatricality that haunt Western orientations to (ongoing) stone-based rituals of (ongoing) imperial triumph. Are de-colonial
orientations to triumph and what Tiffany Lethabo King has called “conquistador subjectivity” also resident in stone? Are there other-wise ways of listening for what stone might say? Or, what is the quarry to the monument, and what does the quarry re-call?



The sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle made a bust of Madame de Pompadour, the famous and powerful mistress of King Louis XV, that is exhibited today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Museum’s online catalogue informs us about its material and its unusual historical background: “She chose the stone for the bust, a hard and brittle marble, with the intention of promoting the use of local French materials. This piece was the first to be made of the white marble from the newly discovered quarry of Sost in the French Pyrenees.” This paper delves deeper into this story and provides contextualization for it. Why was this particular marble chosen for the bust? How did Pigalle receive the material? And what role did French white marble play in the context of eighteenth-century French marble? In a second step, the topic is related to the concept of a national earth or soil (“sol national”) that emerged during the eighteenth century as a consequence of the increased and systematized research on local regions and resources. In this context, Pigalle’s practical expertise as a sculptor was used to assess a newly discovered rock within official investigations of French quarries.



Taken as visible symbols of the ongoing state and civilian assaults in black people, public monuments have recently become the focus of frequent, often violent attacks. However, across Canada, the UK, and the USA much of the public’s ire has been directed at monuments that can be described as obviously colonial; ones that have venerated and heroized mainly white male politicians, military men, enslavers, and colonizers whose public and private lives were defined by an often genocidal interaction with black and indigenous peoples. But other, less obvious monuments, built for anti-slavery ends, have also fallen far short of our collective ideals – past and present - of racial equality and justice. Through a comparative analysis of Thomas Ball’s nineteenth-century monument, Lincoln Memorial (c. 1866) with John Quincy Adams Ward’s Freedman (1863), and Mary Edmonia Lewis’s Morning of Liberty/Forever Free (1867), this lecture contends that Ball’s monument in particular falls (and fell in its own time), drastically short of sculpting a black man.

[online via Zoom].



This talk will consider a handful of case studies in which neither the statues nor their original labels were removed from view when public opinion turned against their racist or colonialist ideology. Instead, in these relatively unusual examples, new labels were installed alongside the original ones. I will argue that when this happens, the new, additional labels have the potential to expose not only the abhorrent views of previous centuries but also the ways in which the more recent practices of museums and other commemorative institutions normalized those views.



In this talk Murphy Salcido will share case studies from Monument Lab in its approaches to meaningful partnership in pursuit of a society where monuments are dynamic and defined by their meaning, not by their hardened immovable and untouchable status. This presentation will ultimately reflect on our emerging field of public memory and entry points for varying sectors around the world. The conversation will draw on examples from the field and Monument Lab’s own body of work, including the National Monument Audit's study set of approximately 50,000 conventional monuments representing data collected from every U.S. state and territory. These examples allow us to better understand the dynamics and trends that have shaped our monument landscape, to pose questions about common knowledge about monuments, and acknowledge our needs as a vast and diverse community focused on public memory.


You can also read the abstracts here (pdf)