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Targeting the Monumental: Race and the Democratic Aesthetics of Memory Activism
Matt Frierdich (Politics, UVA)
THE RECENT WAVE OF DECOMMEMORATIONS OF PUBLIC FIGURES connected with slavery, colonialism, and otherwise “difficult pasts,” such as Richmond’s Monument Avenue or New York’s American Museum of Natural History, raises questions about how contemporary challenges to “forgotten pasts” might dislodge long-standing impediments to democratic inclusion. But this does not give an adequate account of an essential set of illustrations used by those demanding removal: the portrayal of institutions – like racialized violence enforced through policing, housing policy, or education – as monumental. To emphasize the significance of establishing larger struggles against racial hierarchy and dispossession as monumental, MATT FRIERDICH centers the voices, protests, and materials produced by activists in two interrelated movements, Take ‘Em Down New Orleans and #RhodesMustFall in South Africa. Rather than treating these as “originary” movements for a decommemorative turn in memory activism, the paper explores how these particular Black-led movements deployed monument removal as a visual language for centering their recollections of Black resistance to hegemonic violence.