Drawing by British artist Banksy. Photo: Disclosure

NIn England and Belgium, monuments were destroyed in the wake of anti-racist movements triggered by the brutal murder of George Floyd by a police officer, in the US, two weeks ago, bringing up a much-needed discussion: Do public sculptures that praise genocidal leaders deserve to be kept?

On June 7, in Bristol, protesters threw a statue of Edward Colston, a trafficker in enslaved people, responsible for the trafficking of 80 Africans, 20 of whom died at sea, into the River Avon.

In Antwerp, on Tuesday, June 9, the statue of Leopold II, burned down last week, was removed from the public square to be placed in a museum. The monarch, who reigned from 1865 to 1909, was responsible for the deaths of 10 million Africans, mostly from the Republic of Congo, which was a personal possession of Leopold II (1835–1909).

Here, this debate is not new, especially in São Paulo, with several monuments that praise the militiamen of the Brazilian colonial period: the bandeirantes. Among them, the most famous, the Monument to the Flags, in Ibirapuera, is authored by one of the most recognized modernist artists, 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, 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”.

Already seven years ago, in 2013, the Brecheret monument was the target of a protest, having been smeared with red paint. "She ceased to be 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,” he wrote at the time. Marcos Tupã, coordinator of the Guarani Yvyrupá Commission. 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.

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.

One should not, after all, erase history, 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.

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