Public interest in taking down contested statues has surged in the past decade, but monument toppling has a long history. It can be a form of protest or represent political or ideological regime change, its dramatic moments swiftly represented in past centuries by carved, painted or printed images, and now digitally disseminated. Yet these images only represent single events in a longer narrative which may be misremembered, embellished or mythologised. In this talk, I briefly review historical forms of monument toppling and then go on to explore a narrative in formation over the past few years, the removal and sale of two confederate monuments in Memphis, Tennessee. I relate the monuments’ longer political and spatial histories in the city to their removal, the result of activist practice and the work of elected officials, and in itself an example of the fragility and persistence of historical memory in the construction of contested monument narratives.
Stacy Boldrick is the Programme Director for the MA in Art Museum and Gallery Studies in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. Formerly Curator of Research and Interpretation at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, she writes about contemporary and medieval art and iconoclasm. Publications include the monograph Iconoclasm and the Museum (2020) and the edited volumes Iconoclasm: Contested Objects, Contested Terms (2007/2017; with Richard Clay) and Striking Images: Iconoclasms Past and Present (2013/2018; with Leslie Brubaker and Richard Clay). Curatorial collaborations range from Wonder: Painted Sculpture from Medieval England (Henry Moore Institute, 2002; with David Park and Paul Williamson) to Art under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm (Tate Britain, 2013; with Tabitha Barber).