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New Orleans mayor moves to make sure the South will not rise again

Artists could subvert statues of Confederate heroes, assuming Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and others stay put on their plinths

Artists could be central to a proposal to rid New Orleans of Confederacy monuments. In July, Mayor Mitch Landrieu laid out plans to dismantle statues of figures including Confederacy President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and General P.G.T. Beauregard. Artists could be asked to “treat” the statues in order to give them new meaning, says Carol Bebelle, the director of the Ashé Cultural Centre and co-chair of the Mayor’s committee for racial reconciliation. “We have unedited monuments and we’re looking at a range of things we can do to essentially alter the power the monuments have, existing the way they do,” she says.

The question of the monuments’ removal comes after several US states and major retailers have withdrawn the Confederate flag, acknowledging it as a symbol of racial hate after a white supremacist gunned down nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina in June.  

The statutes are on public land “which means that African American tax money is being used to maintain them”, Bebelle says. “What does it mean to be a city that pays tribute to part of its history that was about oppressing the major portion of its population?” she asks. “Our young people are enraged about the fact that people are willing to fight for these statues’ existence. The monuments have become a rallying call and certainly a way in which we are really thrust right in the middle of the race conversation”.

Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, however, has opposed the statues removal. “He has instructed his staff to look into the Heritage Act to determine the legal authority he has as Governor to stop it,” said his spokesman Doug Cain in a written statement.

Right now, the council is in the process of deciding what to do with the statues. “One of the things we can do is to get rid of them but I don’t know the cost of this—I’m guessing there could be a question of money,” Bebelle says. “Another option is an art option: Treat all the monuments artistically to make a statement about moving from a history to a present that is more respectful, and about who we want to be in the future.”

Or, she says: “We could do what life does anyway—destroy things and make something new. We could implode these huge statues and make something new out of the pieces.”