“Monuments” by Lubaina Himid
The question you could ask first is:
Who are monuments for?
Only when this has been asked and the many questions and claims, which will arise from this first question, have at least been acknowledged, can anyone begin to talk about what that monument might look like, be like, achieve or change.
So who are monuments for?
The cultural historians
You have to make a decision, because if you don’t make a definite one and your answer is; the monument is there for all these reasons and all these people, you will have a public statement that serves none of the people and none of the causes, it will have little effect and even less impact on the future and the possibility of change.
So you could decide that the monument is for everyone who cares, for anyone who cares to stop and consider that the past has an impact on both the present and the future.
You could decide that having a monument in a public place where it will with absolute certainty divide people into those who care and those who do not, will raise the issues inherent in the monument and that those who care will have succeeded in getting the debate into the open and that this is a good thing even if the monument never happens.
It would be better however if you could decide with some precision who the monument is for, stick to your decision, defend your ideas and formulate real everyday reasons why your city would be a better place with the monument than it could possibly be without it.
If you decide your monument is for the dead, for the past, you may possibly successfully appease those who do not engage with the monument in the real, but who find the past a safe port in which to moor their values and their moral codes. However you might need to appeal visually to their cosy values within understood and recognisable forms of visual public art. You may also have to take into account a narrow, exclusive idea of whose city it actually is. Who else has claim to memorial in this city and where are their memorials? You may have to also argue about what art is, you may also have to use your own money. Beware those who say they wish to honour the past in the name of the dead, for there are many claims on their consciences and yours may not be theirs.
If you all decide that your monument is for the living, for now, then it must engage with the visual culture of the public place now. You might want it to be able to be viewed by those people who will pass it everyday and have them refer to it in their conversations about shopping or meeting later. However if you agree that now has an impact on the future and does not exist without the past, trying to define what a monument for now might be like, will take some effort.
I think a better path to go down might be to imagine that that the monument could be for the living to be able to use in the present, as a land mark, or a signal, and in the future as a marker, a criteria for, a point of reference for, honour and loyalty, friendship and kindness, the sort of values one would hope could easily be understood by a great range of people whatever their political leaning or religious persuasion.
Many of the people who consider themselves important to the way a city is viewed from the outside or actually experienced from the inside, those who run or work in commercial firms or professional companies, only actually experience the city themselves from the safety of the inside of their cars. They come into the city from the suburbs and leave again via a parking place, without ever wandering around in search of a place to sit, or meet, or eat a sandwich, or read a book. Beware the supposed authority of those who only understand the city second hand and who worry what will be said about them by others, those who fear humiliation in the press more than they fear doing nothing about making the world more equal and democratic.
The act of walking about in a city is something that is done by tourists, teenagers, the elderly, the disenfranchised, the poor and of course architectural historians. This means that the people most likely to argue against the idea of a monument at all, for the living or for the dead, may not be the people who actually would engage with it on a daily basis.
A monument should not exist to shame the living. Being too embarrassed or shocked or sickened by the reality of facing a past guilt every day achieves very little. A successful monument must inspire hope or pride or joy or laughter or affection or contemplation. It should encourage noble thought and valiant deed.
If you are going to honour the dead who have been ignored, suppressed or denied when in peril in the past, you must do it because as a city you want to show that you would do differently now, that you would be able to defend those people now.
You will first have to acknowledge that your city would not be the city it is, without the sacrifice of those who were sold by or used by the city in the past. This city can only aspire to being truly great if it can I suppose in some way seek forgiveness. Could it be that a monument is a tangible public seeking of forgiveness?
If so then you could ask, what is a monument for?
Then when you ask who the monument is for, it could genuinely be said to be for everyone. It could then be for anyone who cares and even those who do not care, because someone cares about even the people who do not care.
The monument could be for the people of a city and its visitors to be able to learn to accept and give forgiveness. In which case it could relate to today, to the past, to the future and could work visually on several levels. There could be texts, there could be water, there could be structure, there could be movement, colour, and even growing living things.
A monument needs to move to move on, to help the people who engage with it to move on, it needs to be able to change with the weather, the seasons the political climate and the visual cultural debates of the day.
How to make it visible and memorable yet not so big and overly grand in any way as to overshadow surrounding environment. How not to hide it away to satisfy those who will be happy to have it in the city but who do not want it to be looked at talked about or engaged with in the everyday.
How to make it relevant to this city in particular and yet relevant to any other city so that those both in this city and those from others can see that they are not alone.
I have thought about this a great deal and made have many studies, plans, paintings and models during the past twenty years or so. The ideas around memorials and monuments I have concentrated upon have been about how the wasting of other peoples lives always includes the wasting of creative peoples lives, if you damage or destroy the creative life you destroy more than just one life. You destroy the potential for positive change, for hope, for continuity and for any kind of understanding about the priceless ness of human life.
Most of the work I have done around this in the past, not surprisingly does include a water element, colour, text, movement and growing, living things.
I try to imagine meeting friends near this site. I have tried to imagine how the elderly might reconcile themselves to their past actions as they sit near this site and in the process have become twenty years older. I have tried to imagine how the young might not take any notice of the reasons that this site exists and how they might ignore calls to be respectful or careful or quiet and know that this is what makes the young, young. They care only for now not the future and not the past. However even they have quiet moments, they certainly have friends they need to meet and being careful and respectful is often something they reserve for things they are afraid of. If it is good and doesn’t appear to humiliate those it remembers or those who want to forgive or desire forgiveness for themselves, it will survive.