A group of activists calling themselves the Monument Removal Brigade splattered red paint on a statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside of the American Museum of Natural History in New York on Thursday, 26 October.
The group’s website states that “this is not an act of vandalism—it is a work of public art and an act of applied art criticism”, and that the statue “is bloody at its very foundation”. The action follows an anti-Columbus Day protest that took place outside of the museum on 9 October, where activists called for the institution to “rethink its cultural halls [and] the colonial mentality behind them” and to remove the monument to Roosevelt.
The group defends their stance on the basis that the statue of Roosevelt shows him “subserviently” accompanied by a black man and an indigenous chief, and because Roosevelt endorsed Eugenics and was an open white supremacist, imperialist and coloniser, as well as a descendant of the Dutch colonists who moved the Lenape tribe out of present-day Manhattan. The statement adds that “millions of schoolchildren pass under this oppressive image every year as they visit the museum, where they are in turn exposed to grotesque, dehuminising displays”.
A museum spokeswoman told Gothamist: “The museum continues to believe that the statue needs to be addressed and several factors will figure into determining the exact approach.” But because the statue is installed on public land, the decision about what to do with it “is not solely at the museum’s discretion”.
Last month, in response to calls for the removal of Civil War monuments following a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio he was forming a panel of experts, headed by the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs Tom Finkelpearl, to evaluate and develop guidelines for statues and monuments that are deemed “hate symbols”. But Finkelpearl said in a statement that “there’s no place for vandalism in this conversation”.
The activist collective argues that the commission, which will conduct its review over 90 days, “has no binding authority [and] will at some point seek public input to identify eligible monuments and statues—we take matters into our own hands now to kickstart the process”. The group hopes that museum will use the leverage that it has with the city for good, and that the space will be cleared for “new visions of reparation and justice”.