In Kielce, a small Polish city about 80 miles north-east of Krakow, there is a statue of Miles Davis. Life-size, in dark glasses and long coat, it captures the genius lost in the moment. It is, naturally, very cool. And a bit surprising. There is also one in his hometown of Alton, Illinois.
Plans were revealed a couple of weeks ago to erect a statue to Little Richard in Macon, where he grew up. I hope, like the Georgia Peach, that thing will be wild!
There is a statue of Andrei Tarkovsky outside the All-Russian Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. Oddly, the monument looks more like the Dutch master Johan Cruyff than the Russian filmmaker. Which takes us down a wormhole of contemporary stars, particularly footballers, not rendered in their best light. Ronaldo has fallen foul particularly of this. Let’s catch up on this conversation over a pint.
The point here is that it is more than possible to erect public memorials that celebrate people who brought joy and betterment, rather than those responsible for oppression, profiteering and murder.
The horror of George Floyd’s killing has precipitated a movement that can only end with positive change. It is shameful it took another black man to be killed, but finally the ground has shifted too much to go back. In the US, those grasping to contain and prevent what is happening, or to point fingers at anybody rising up, already feel like relics. When you scratch the top of endemic racism you begin to see structural economic problems. Thomas Piketty, the French economist who has asked questions about inequality for a long time, talks about a “fear of the void” from those at the top of “inequality regimes”. Those few profiting by containing and pressing down on the many are terrified of what will come when that is swept aside. It’s all profit and control. I see no problem in fixing that.
Why not ask why a statue is where it is? Why not ask why roads are named as they are? And go further
In Britain, what started as a support for the Black Lives Matter movement and against US injustice, grew into a more universal quest, and has now led to questions about shared history, representation and what makes us what we are. This challenge to orthodoxy is to be celebrated. One of the worst reasons for continuing to follow a course of action is ‘we’ve always done it that way’.
So why not ask why a statue is where it is? Why not ask why roads are named as they are? And go further. Why is a company, a council, a government behaving the way they are? What can I do? How can I make change? The changes, as we emerge blinking into a post-lockdown world, will be stark. There is no option, or point, in simply returning to things as they were. We can be better.
When we launched the spring cover competition several weeks ago, we thought it’d be an interesting way to help parents and children during lockdown. It’d be a challenge that could spark debate. Or provide something to do that would allow a little quiet respite as little people got busy with pens and pencils. When the entries came in we realised we had much more than brilliant, colourful cover designs. With the accompanying text and explanations of the what and where and the situation surrounding them, we had a snapshot of Britain in lockdown as seen through children’s eyes. It is a wonderful, Technicolor time capsule.
So, if a memorial to the time under lockdown is needed, maybe to place on a now-empty plinth, we could all do worse than look to our cover winner Aria. Or, even better, put ALL the entries together as one whole, and make it loud and prominent and proud.
That would be a start.
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue