Sculpture Journal

What absence makes visible: the removal of Confederate statues as an opportunity for transforming the public square and its memory landscape

Sculpture Journal (2022), 31, (1), 37–54.

Abstract

In his work on art and politics, Jacques Rancière contends that artwork can democratize the police state. For Rancière, the ‘police’ refers to those architectures of social formation that shape ‘the sensible’, a societal agreement regarding who can be seen and heard in the public sphere. Artworks, in his view, can function as visible sites of resistance to societal strictures and act as catalysts for reshaping dominant public discourses. Building on Rancière’s attention to art as an important avenue through which resistant narratives break into the sensible, we might regard the recent removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans as a triumph of resistant narratives. While it is imperative to expose the racist discourses that these sculptures visualize, we must also answer the question, ‘What’s next?’ In this article, I analyse the Paper Monuments project (2017-19), a creative response to the question of what should replace New Orleans’ Confederate statues. This two-year public art and history project, which is consistent with Rancière’s definition of art as a catalyst for structural change, represents - as I argue -a model for how other urban centres might respond to the removal of offensive public art.

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Author details

Dempsey, Anna