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Updated: Dec 28, 2021


Dr. Kathleen Modrowski started the discussion by saying that “statues are not neutral and public spaces are not neutral”. She says there are three main reasons why statues are toppled- acts of political zeal, public outrage and signal of regime change. Toppling of statues is a way of claiming symbolic space. She says “toppling of statues is a way to gain the attention of the public”. It is a way for people who are not heard to show that they too have a voice. She says there can be multiple reasons for why a statue is toppled and the group which ultimately topples a statue will gain the publicity for the same. Statues and toppling of statues have a lot of symbolic meaning.

Dr Clammer then added that the concept of the public space itself has changed in many ways, this is because the political culture itself has changed, and people are now asking questions which are uncomfortable. He also says, aesthetics changed and because of this statues are becoming obsolete in many ways. He says “History is a process, which is going to be constantly rewritten and reinterpreted”. He believes that statues are put up for two main reasons, one is to glorify the past and another is to assert identity, statues make identities more formal.

Dr Brown argues that for some people it is very obvious that certain symbols need to be removed and certain places need to be renamed, however it's not that easy and there are many nuances to it. Lots of people have certain figures as a local identifier. Removing a name from a monument or renaming a monument is seen as attacking a community's memories and identity itself. For some people, renaming monuments and toppling statues, are sort of seen as existential losses because of the personal identity that these monuments and statues gave to people. She used the example of many people in Bristol opposing the removal of Edward Colston's statue and renaming places named after him, simply because his name was associated with Bristol and attacking his name was seen as an attack on the personal memories of the people living there too. She argues that we need to move away from outrage as the tenor of things, there are a lot of different ways in which we can change how controversial figures are remembered in history.

Dr. Mehta then spoke about the connection between History and Statues. He argues that in India, it is difficult to draw a line between a statue, a name and a monument. He believes the state is a very important player in iconoclasm. He says “in our country it is far easier to live in the past than to change the present”. He says we can look at the past in two ways, one in which we reflect on the past and critique the past. Another way to look at the past as restorative, where we remove the ills from the past, once we have studied the past. We need to also remember that “public spaces are not merely symbolic, they are also iconic”. He also says that "Statues are also signs of the great lie that we live", it is for the remembrance of something that we hope existed.

Dr. Alexander then says that history is always ambiguous and says that history always has two sides, “the more carefully we look at the past, the more complex the past becomes”. What we see as 'glorious' from the past, will always have another side to it. There are many ambiguities when we look at the past. He says when we start to label certain monuments and statues as 'shameful', it is a slippery slope. No matter how heroic and noble someone from the past is, there are always issues with them. He argues that “One man's terrorist can be another man's freedom fighter”. He says that he doesn't believe in violent protests against statues and would much rather focus on having creative protests, which will educate people about the wrongs that some of these people did. He says we need to educate people about statues that are controversial. He agrees that some statues can also be put into monuments for educational purposes but toppling statues serves no purpose, as a hero of today may be pulled down tomorrow. The discussion then moved towards who decides what is correct and what is wrong about a personality from history, considering that history is dynamic and full of complexities? Dr. Alexander says that regimes and cooperations will play an important role in deciding this and the changes in public spaces will continue to occur.

Dr. Modrowski then says that statues staying or being removed have a lot to do with those who are in power. Using statues as an event for education alone is not enough, there needs to be a transformation of the public space itself. Mere destruction will only lead to more destruction. Dr. Mehta says one has to ask what is being achieved by removing a statue. He believes that what is being achieved is more despair and sorrow. Destruction is not going to achieve much. Dr. Clammer then spoke about humor and protesting, like putting sunglasses on a statue of a personality who is controversial, this then changes the way in which we view these statues, without any reverence, this in turn can change the nature of the public space itself.

Dr. Brown says that just transforming statues or educating people about controversial statues is not enough, there is a need for the state speech about a statue to be critical, only then will people be happy about how we remember our past. She thinks that there needs to be something from the state that complicates the message. She also believes that toppling statues also acts as a lever for conversations about social change to occur. Dr. Kathleen agrees that there needs to be a transformation of public space, she gives an example of murals and graffiti to drive home the point that there needs to be alternative spaces for people to express their views.

Dr Brown ended the discussion by giving two main tools which can be used to educate people about the past in a more nuanced manner, the six elements of social justice curriculum and the four truths framework are two extremely important methods, via which we can address the past without looking at it from a culture war point of view.




I enjoyed being part of the panel. It was an enriching experience for me. I gained insights from the comments of my fellow-panlists. The moderator was good at steering the discussion and eliciting rich reflections from the panelists.

All in all, a positive experience


Many thanks to you and your colleagues for giving me the opportunity to examine an interesting and timely topic. I learned a great deal from fellow panelists and had a good time.


Thank you for organising this panel and thank you too, Kathleen, Cherian, John and Johanna. I learned much from your thoughts.


It was great fun and very good discussion. A pity the audience was not bigger, but I thought that all the interventions were of very high quality. Thanks for organizing – a great initiative! John

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