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Mandela statues and the issue of public representation
2015-09-04

   

Prof Grant Parker, Associate Professor of Classics and Co-Director of the Centre for African Studies at Stanford University, USA, presented a public lecture on the Bloemfontein Campus on 27 August 2015, in which he explored the topic of ”Memorialising Mandela after Rhodes Must Fall”. What stories do the multitude of Mandela statues tell us about the man? Our society? Ourselves? These were some of the questions Prof Parker addressed during his lecture.

Paradoxes
Prof Parker discussed some of the paradoxes presented by the Mandela statues. The huge 9m high Mandela statue at the Union Buildings in Pretoria does not necessarily reflect his humility. Iconic statues strewn across the world do not reveal Madiba’s appeal. “Madiba’s charm,” Prof Parker said, “was all about his ability to relate to people of very different backgrounds. People who were his enemies would – to their surprise – find a humanity they were not expecting. It’s very hard to reconcile that with the colossal statues.”

Rhodes Must Fall
On the topic of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, Prof Parker said that “the debates around it seem to express the frustration of deepening equality in general and lack of demographic change.” He also believes that, although the campaign centres on statues, there are much deeper issues at play that need to be addressed.

Artists should be part of the conversation
Prof Parker also advocated that artists’ voices should be incorporated into the creative processes of public art. “There is a much greater need for creative artists,” he concluded, “to be part of conversations, not only about what we as South Africans want to commemorate, but how we do that. I would very strongly suggest that this be done by non-figural representations.”

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