Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Public art in Ostende: repression and resistance

A fascinating juxtaposition of public art can be seen in Ostende, which we visited briefly on Sunday. Notoriously, an equestrian statue of King Leopold II (1835-1909, ruled 1865-1909) dominates the Royal Galleries along the seafront.
What makes this particularly gruesome is the tableau of naked Congolese on the left, along with a pith-helmetted Belgian liberator. Given what was actually going on in the Congo under Leopold's personal rule, it's a stomach-churning display. (On the right, a group of Ostenders give thanks to the king for his patronage of their resort.)

Obviously with recent events, the removal of the statuary is being actively discussed. It would not be a straightforward enterprise. It's big and chunky and not easy to surround and bring down by superior force. Where there is a will, there's a way, of course, and I wouldn't be surprised to discover that it has been moved to a museum next time I am in Ostende.

Only a few hundred metres away is this striking declaration:

It's a work of visual poetry by the Scottish artist Robert Montgomery, written for what he calls "the year of the corrupted plebiscites", ie 2016, when we had the Brexit referendum and the Trump election. It's an intriguing statement of aspiration. I'm actually struggling to think of cities, let alone countries, built on graceful promontories. And the notion that good literature will ignore the past is something I struggle with. But it made me think, which I guess is the point.
Tags: art, world: belgium
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