In August this year another inclusive art project, groving, is appearing on the streets of Bury St Edmunds, following successful projects in 2019 and 2020. This year the theme is Monument.
Artworks are placed daily on the streets and in public places in the town. Artworks are accompanied here on the blog by a new written work by a poet or author.
Bury St Edmunds - in common with other places - has a range of markers, plaques, memorials and statues. They encompass the war memorial, a Frink statue of Edmund and sentiments modestly enshrined in graffiti. Who and what is commemorated is often arbitrary and dependent on who decides. The choices reflect our national and local histories, politics and religion, and shine a light on our preconceptions and prejudices. What and who are valued and remembered? What and who are not?
Monuments and memorials are potent symbols, and as such prompt strong responses – positive and negative. The Protestant Reformation during the 16th century in Europe almost entirely rejected the existing tradition of Catholic art, and often destroyed as much of it as it could reach. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, many of the memorials and grand structures embodying the military, economic, and scientific achievements of the Soviet experiment were gradually (or quickly) torn down, or else neglected.
Discourse in history scholarship reflects an increasing acknowledgment of the limited scope of representation within the historical narrative. The conversation about diversity and inclusion within the history field has increased exponentially in the last decade. The validity of one History, dominated by a white male European world-view, has become increasingly difficult to accept.
Heated debate in the UK has recently focused on the statues of Edward Colston in Bristol, and Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University.
What is missing in our public memorials? Does monument inevitably imply monumental? Is there space for the small, the personal, the local? Does a memorial have to be enduring? Should events and significant people be lauded and remembered temporarily – the bunch of flowers at the site of a crash is a monument of sorts.