In 2001, the world witnessed the Taliban spend weeks firing at, bombing and dynamiting two colossal Buddha statues which had been carved on the side of a cliff in Afghanistan nearly 1500 years ago. The display of hatred and intolerance which obliterated the 175 and 115-feet tall statues horrified people across the globe.
The significance of the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan should not be lost in today’s conversations about removing confederate statues from streets and parks across the US.
Should monuments which embody past dominant ideologies have a place in our society? Should Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein statues still be standing despite what these men once represented? Do we have a duty to preserve history, and, if so, how should we do that?
Understanding how we got here is paramount to forging a path forward. If we hope for a different outcome, we cannot afford to act in the same manner as those who held power before us. As we protest against racism and racial inequality, we must seek fundamental changes that go beyond imposing our views — we must walk others through our thoughts and experiences, and let them develop their own.
Any kind of censorship will only distance us from facing the ugly reality within us. The pain of being dehumanized, the shame of dehumanizing others, and the fear that rises from these experiences will never be acknowledged if we attempt to hide the past. Generations to come, must be able to witness the struggles of the past in order to be able to make sense of their reality.
What can we learn from the statues of a bull and of a girl?
In 1987, a 7100-pound-11-feet-tall bronze sculpture of a bull was placed at the Bowling Green park in New York, less than a block away from the NYSE building on Wall Street. For thirty years, the Charging Bull, symbol of strength of an unbound capitalism, looked invincible and unstoppable. On the eve of March 7th, 2017, a 4-feet tall bronze sculpture of a skinny prepubescent girl changed that.
Placed less than a dozen feet away from the bull, facing it, the statue of the Fearless Girl staring up ahead, with her fists pressing on her hips, suggested that the bull was not only unbound, but also oppressive, and that, despite its opulence, it could be challenged and, perhaps, subdued. The Fearless Girl statue shows us how sculptures and art works can interact, giving each other new meanings. It also teaches us that it is possible to re-contextualize monuments, without condoning or disregarding the past.
Bringing down statues of confederate leaders will not bring down their meanings, but juxtaposing it to other sculptures can change what they represent. New art works that challenge and re-signify confederate statues can leave behind an important lesson to future generations. The pain and the struggles of the past must be overcome. Never hidden.