The problem of the “reconquest” of Columbus: the struggle for the symbol that will replace him in Mexico

The Detour of women fighters It is also one that resists. Collective Antimonumenta Vivas nos Quiero posted on September 25, 2021 a cardboard silhouette of a woman with a raised fist and purple color. Since the installation and redefinition of the most important square in the city and the country anti monument This was noted by the mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Schinbaum, who in October 2020 ordered the removal of the statue of Christopher Columbus from the pedestal, but made a mistake in the symbol that will replace it, which is still waiting.

Although he announced that he would hold a public debate to determine the future of the monument, the mayor announced in September 2021 that he would hold one dedicated to indigenous women. It was called “Tlali” and it was a tribute to five centuries of resistance by indigenous women. This image was troubled by contradictions: the sculptor used the Nahuatl language to christen it (“Tlal” means earth), while admitting that he was inspired by the colossal Olmec heads, who did not speak Nahuatl, but Zoke. Every gesture is crucial in building a new symbol, and the fact that a non-Indigenous man made a statue of an Indigenous woman neutralized the tribute.

More than 300 people associated with art and culture signed a petition against the bust and gave it to Shinbaum. They also called for a committee of women from indigenous communities to choose a monument that would represent them. The mayor backtracked, canceled the commission, and indicated that Mexico City’s Committee on Monuments and Works of Art would decide on a new statue in the plaza.

Faced with an accumulation of errors and doubts, the feminist collective appropriated the space and changed its name. Detour of women fighters And painted on the metal barricades, with which the police put hundreds of names of the murdered and disappeared women. Monica Mayer, a Mexican artist associated with the group, explained to that the group made the plaza “a place of judgment but also of accompaniment.” “This is not a monument of stone, but of compassion,” he points out and invites the mayor to a dialogue with the group members to find a solution.

“They appropriated the public space as the only way out to make their struggle visible,” says the artist. The group is calling for urgent solutions to stop violence against women and for a debate with the mayor. “It’s important because it’s not a monument to heroic acts of the past, but a reconstruction of what we need to do to achieve a more just and less violent society,” Meyer adds.

With the resignation of the space citizen, Sheinbaum said that he has other plans on the field. I would post an enlarged replica of the Amajaque Youth, a pre-Hispanic sculpture of an indigenous woman discovered in January 2021 in the Huasteca region of eastern Mexico. A group of farmers from the municipality of Alamo (Veracruz) came across a two-meter figure made of limestone. The National Institute of Anthropology and History has not been able to figure out what she represents, but sees similarities to the Huastec fertility goddess. Although they do not rule out the idea of ​​an elite either, and believe that it could have taken place in 1450. In many ways this reminds us of the discovery and investigation of the ambassador’s lady in Spain.

The mayor said after the convoy was evacuated that the recognition of indigenous women was “fundamental” to him. “It is true that the struggle of women should be recognized, but the women who will be disenfranchised after colonization are indigenous women,” said the mayor, recalling that it was indigenous women who demanded the monument be built.

According to the Antimonumenta collective, it tells, “Otomi, Triki, Mazahua, Nahua and women from the Guerrero mountains, among others, participated in taking the circular section.” “In the glorietta of women who fight, indigenous women are recognized, whether they are journalists, defenders of water, land, displaced by the military, survivors of femicide, Zapatistas and others. Their names are inscribed on the fences that surround the plinth and on the mosaic of the Garden of Remembrance, which was installed on March 5,” says a spokesperson who challenges Sheinbaum’s arguments.

In fact, a month ago, a group of displaced women from Oaxaca came to the new monument to denounce that they too were victims of violence, fueling tensions between the citizen group and the mayor. The battle for the symbol goes to a decisive phase, because the mayor, who does not want to get rid of the convoy and sends it to the city of Polanco, also wants to send the original die. Feminist collective anti monument He warned that this movement is “stupid” because “with this action Claudia Scheibaum once again confirms her colonized mindset and complete lack of empathy.”

The purple figure is placed on this pedestal with all symbolic intent: on the one hand, it conveys the history praised in the narrative friezes, and on the other hand, it decolonizes this “patriarchal space”. “We did it to say enough of telling the story from power, enough of pretending we don’t exist, enough of not allowing ourselves to tell our own story,” the women said. At the moment, citizens excluded from the construction of their city are demanding a place in it, although the municipal authorities do not want to lose control over the construction of the public narrative.

The street is conflicted and citizens are demanding new non-authoritarian building formulas. It is not so much to destroy symbols as to repair the damage they have done by keeping them on public roads. Feminists demand a monumental memory that lives up to their societal expectations and honors new histories that include women, all of them. It is a monumental historical consciousness movement that reacts against oppression, silence and privilege.

The monument erected by the feminist civil society is a “cry” of the demand for justice, and meetings, workshops, concerts are organized around the head of the purple woman around the Columbus pedestal. It is also embroidered. The Siemprevivas collective, made up of mothers of femicide victims and survivors, says, “We embroider, hug, laugh and share food and knowledge.” Their embroideries are banners in which they demand respect and justice. This group of activists is also part of the protest space, which aims to reach the truth and recognize the “legitimate and honest struggles” of victims of femicide. Its motto is: “Memory is non-negotiable”.

The Columbus Monument is the work of the French sculptor Charles Cordier (1827-1905), based on sketches by the Catalan artist Manuel Villar, and was unveiled in 1875. It is almost four meters high and is neoclassical in style. The sculptor carved the scenes of the admiral’s landing, supported by four seated monks on the pedestal and base. In addition to being supported by four clerics who “cheer” the communities they invade, the figure of Columbus raises his arm and looks up to the sky, in an obvious homage to Christianity.

The first attempt to demolish the monument took place on October 12, 1992, in connection with the fifth centenary of the discovery of America. But the protesters could not bring down the statue and contented themselves with painting it with red and yellow paint. About 25,000 protesters approached him, spat on him and shouted: “We don’t want Columbus, not even in the Pantheon!” Since then, part of the Mexican public has mobilized against the symbol, which was the result of the same commemoration that erected their respective statues in Madrid and Barcelona.

In Madrid and Barcelona it was questioned by anti-racist movements, but they were not enough to remove it, as in Mexico City or some other. North American cities with Columbus statues. In these cases, their municipalities often decide to remove them and the impact on their neighbors of what happened five centuries ago. In these cities, commissions were often created to determine the appropriateness of using monumental advertising in public space, regulating tributes to figures of the past and present.

“For many people in our community, the statue represents patriarchy, oppression and division. And this does not represent our great city. We will no longer live in the shadow of our past. It’s time to replace this statue with works of art that represent our strong fight against racism and celebrate diversity and inclusion,” the mayor explained. Columbus, OhioAndrew Ginter. In addition, he called on the Columbus Arts Commission to propose a piece of art that would better represent the city’s residents “and offer a shared vision of the future.”

Eugenio Fernández Vázquez, Mexican journalist and editor-in-chief Cicada, says Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s party considers the environmental and feminist movements to be “secondary” issues. He believes that the monument to women victims of femicide responds to a legitimate popular expression, but the authorities do not see it as a reference, but as an “adversary”.

“His authoritarianism translates into a strong resistance to listening to criticism and incorporating outside suggestions,” adds Fernandez. In his opinion, public debates and forums should be convened to determine “who we are and who we want to be and why we want squares and monuments”. Also, remember that first and foremost is solving crimes against women, justice for victims and, later, a contest for artists with provisional proposals. As it was done in London, in the Fourth Column, Trafalgar Square.

For the Mexican art historian and journalist Veka Duncan, a “hasty” decision was made to remove the statue of Columbus. The retreat feels right to him because “it responds to the critical gaze with which colonialist characters are present in our public spaces around the world,” he explains. But he adds, “It seems to me that if we had planned better from the beginning, with a well-established project, we would not be in this position.” Remember an important fact: since the beginning of the legislature, Sheinbaum proposed to create a heroine’s walk on the reform, of which he has already placed several, which represent the struggle of women and their role in the historical processes of the country.

“But these monuments are put up by the state, not by citizens, and that has a very different impact than the one proposed by the group that promoted the anti-monument,” explains Veca Duncan. The art critic believes that this whole process failed because citizens did not participate in it. “It is surprising that the government, which supported participatory democracy through consultation, did not take advantage of these tools to make the process transparent. Another way of doing this, which has worked in other countries, would be to create a commission to facilitate collective reflection, advised by specialists in history, art history, heritage dissemination and memory who advise the process. Gather citizens’ concerns and determine the direction of the roundabout,” says Duncan, who calls for workshops, surveys, conferences with specialists or seminars to create new symbols.

Source: El Diario





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