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Monuments against Nature

President Trump's decision to host a rally at Mount Rushmore is a direct hit on the epicentre of political and societal division that is currently raging in the US and spilling out elsewhere. But Mount Rushmore is also perhaps the world's most crass example of the insecurities of mankind and its disregard for the natural world.

Today, it is hard to imagine any government taking the decision to sculpt a mountain into the shape of its leaders, especially a stolen one, yet here it is in 2020 being lauded. No doubt it is spectacular close up, still gives great pride, hope and security to many Americans and as children we would have loved it.

But as grown-ups the implication that 'men' are 'bigger' and more essential than nature - and mountains - apart from anything else is an offence to those cultures which have in the past, or even now, been humble enough to revere mountains as Gods for their beauty, stature and volatile temperaments.

The survivor Paddington Bear, what's left of Selassie's statue and Rushmore, once a mountain

On a somewhat smaller scale, London's parks also have a natural beauty. Some less landscaped such as Richmond Park and Hampstead Heath have a level of ruggedness where you can lose yourself for a while and almost imagine you're on a Scottish island. Mostly, however, they are proudly civic and manicured but no less important for that, and a necessary splash of green in an otherwise grey landscape.

Why then, have we ever felt the need to populate them with grey statues?

Just this week one of our green-space statues was unceremoniously smashed to pieces and has completely disappeared from Cannizaro Park in Wimbledon leaving only a paved circle which at one time had been a perfectly nice patch of grass.

The recent trend for statue-bagging took just over three weeks to spread from Bristol's edgy harbour to the leafy suburbs of London. In Bristol, the target was slave trader Edward Colston. In Wimbledon, it was Haile Selassie no less, once Emperor of Ethiopia who secured his country's admission to the League of Nations with a promise to eradicate slavery - a promise he didn't keep. Even so, it wasn't this specific offence that triggered last week's action, but we're getting off the point...

The point is, do we want politics in parks? Do we need statues at all?

Sauntering towards Cannizaro Park for a Selassie photo-op, a razor-sharp 16-year-old was asked if she could think of any statue that would not have its enemies? In the blink of an eye she said 'Paddington Bear?'. She's right, the statue of Paddington Bear can surely relax. A fictional adventuring bear that made it to London from Peru immortalised on the concrete concourse of a railway station is absolutely fine by us. Statue-makers, we will give you that one.

But too often, statues are a stake in the ground.

In Budapest, you can visit (and we have) a statue graveyard on the outskirts called Memento Park, where the many huge statues that communism imposed on the Hungarian capital have been collated on what appears to be nothing more than a patch of waste ground. It is a stunning experience wandering between these massive memorials which were relocated not long after the iron curtain fell in 1989. It was the right thing to do.

The idea of a National Statue Park in the UK should be on the table. Here, statues might even get more attention than they currently do. Monuments can be presented as historical reference points rather than exist as big toxic lumps of controversy staring into space. And even better, some of those spaces that they are staring into can stay green. Imagine, they may even benefit from becoming overgrown and wild...

Perhaps it's time to move our statues along.

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