The Monument to the Flags, by Victor Brecheret, with paint thrown by protesters in 2016. Photo: Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

“Tin people crying over a statue, but not capable of crying when a black person dies”, said the philosopher and lawyer Silvio Almeida, last May, in a television talk show. His sentence sums up a debate that has taken place since monuments were destroyed in England and Belgium, in the wake of the anti-racist movements triggered by the brutal murder of George Floyd by a police officer, in the USA.

In short, what is being debated is whether public monuments that praise genocidal leaders deserve to be maintained. On social media, a “legion of imbeciles”, as Umberto Eco already pointed out, in 2015, when he received the title of doctor Honorary at the University of Turin, they came out in defense of the heritage, putting aside a history of violence and segregation, calling those who, on June 7, in Bristol, threw the statue of Edward Colston into the River Avon. He was a trafficker in enslaved people, responsible for the trafficking of no less than 80 Africans, 20 of whom died at sea.

In Antwerp, on June 9, the statue of Leopold II, previously burned, was removed from the public square to be placed in a museum. The monarch, who reigned between 1865 and 1909, was responsible for the death of 10 million Africans, most of them from the Republic of Congo, which was a personal possession of Leopold II (1835 – 1909). Finally, weeks later, the Belgian royal family for the first time expressed “regret” for the violence in Africa.

In the same sequence, the Museum of Natural History in New York announced that it will remove from its main entrance the statue of former US President Theodore Roosevelt, riding a horse, accompanied by an indigenous person and a black man. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed with the move, saying the monument "depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior."

All over the world, after all, these racist symbols are being revised and, in São Paulo, deputy Erica Malunguinho (PSOL) took over the debate. She filed a bill to prevent tributes to people who traded slaves.

Work by the English Banksy, published on the artist's Instagram

Malunguinho's proposal includes the removal of public monuments, according to  Article 5 of the 2nd paragraph of the project: “Public monuments, statues and busts that already pay tribute to slaveholders or to historical events linked to the practice of slavery must be removed from public roads and stored in State Museums, for the purpose of preserving the historical heritage of the State.

This is a necessary debate, since São Paulo has among its most famous images the Monument to the Flags, in Ibirapuera, by Victor Brecheret. Inaugurated in 1953, a model of the work was exhibited at the 1922 Modern Art Week, which reveals the elitist character of the movement. After all, the flags, as explained by Lilia Schwarcz and Heloisa Starling, in Brazil: a biography, “decimated local populations”. These flags “took the militarized form of organizing expeditions to hunt and enslave the Indians or to search for precious metals”. In short, they were the militiamen of Brazilian colonization.

Already seven years ago, in 2013, the Brecheret monument was the target of a protest, having been smeared with red paint. “She stopped being a stone and bled. It ceased to be a monument in honor of the genocides who decimated our people and became a monument to our resistance”, wrote Marcos Tupã, coordinator of the Guarani Yvyrupá Commission at the time. The fact occurred when PEC 215 (Proposed Amendment to the Constitution) was being discussed, which transferred the competence of the Union in the demarcation of indigenous lands to the National Congress and made possible the remarking of indigenous lands.

The anti-racist demonstrations have been putting in check what is considered as “universal history”. In general, this story is an account of white men, who ignore all conflicts and resistances, imposing a single vision. It is time, therefore, to decolonize our history and our symbols, giving new meaning to these monuments that exalt genocidal leaders.

Malunguinho's proposal is the same that has been put into practice in several countries, such as Belgium. There are other more creative ideas. On his Instagram account, the artist Banksy makes a great proposal for Bristol: to put the statue of Edward Colston back on the pedestal, adding, however, other statues representing people trying to knock it down, thus making the gesture of rewriting history permanent.

History should not be erased, or even pretend that it did not exist, as was done with the period of the military dictatorship in Brazil. The transition to democracy without facing the violent past is one of the reasons for the current nightmare. It is therefore necessary to review these monuments and recontextualize them so that the violent past that befell indigenous peoples is not forgotten, so that it does not repeat itself.

To expand this debate, arte!brasileiros invited Naiara Tukano, from the Yepá Masã indigenous people, from São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in the interior of the state of Amazonas. Read your text below🇧🇷 🇧🇷

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