A statue park is set to be set up in London to display monuments the public want to remove from their existing sites, a historian said on Thursday as her book on ‘Fallen Idols’ was shortlisted for its subject’s most famous prize.
Alex von Tunzelmann says moving historical figures whose conduct in the past now made people ‘uncomfortable’ to a location inspired by Budapest’s famous statue park could create a ‘wonderful’ new tourist attraction for the capital .
She said it could also help improve historical understanding of important figures and provide educational tours for schoolchildren.
Potential candidates for removal could include the statue of James II in Trafalgar Square due to its links to slavery and the Whitehall statue of Clive of India due to its exploitative activities in the former British colony and blame attributed to him for a 1770 famine that killed millions.
Ms von Tunzelman, who lives in London, said ‘ugly’ statues, such as the ‘pot’ memorial to Mary Wollstoncraft by Maggi Hambling erected less than two years ago in Stoke Newington, could also be moved to a new park .
She suggested that instead of putting in new big men and women, London could fill vacant sites with a new style of collective monuments produced by some of the capital’s artists.
Her comments came as Ms Tunzelmann was named to a shortlist of six candidates for this year’s £50,000 Wolfson History Prize for her book ‘Fallen Idols’. It tells the story of 12 statues around the world that have been taken down.
They include memorials to Stalin, Lenin and Saddam Hussein, as well as one to the Duke of Cumberland in London and the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol which was toppled during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
Other shortlisted authors include Marc David Baer, professor of international history at the London School of Economics for his book ‘The Ottomans’, and Cambridge scholar Clare Jackson for ‘Devil-Land’, a portrait of the ‘Besieged’ England during the Stuart and Late Tudor Period hailed as a ‘masterpiece’ by Wolfson History Prize judges.
But the most topical of the books is that of Ms von Tunzelmann, who comes as a commission for diversity in the public domain’ set up by London Mayor Sadiq Khan continues to deliberate on the future of statues in the capital.
Ms von Tunzelmann said she ‘certainly wasn’t out there swinging my crowbar’ but that Londoners should be able to see unpopular statues removed with sufficient public support and that the ‘ideal solution’ would be to move them to a park of statues.
“These outdoor sculpture parks can be really wonderful,” she said. “The one in Budapest is extraordinary and very well done. It would be a fantastic location for school trips and a great starting point for discussion and there are plenty of places in Greater London where there would be good opportunities to set this up.
“There is often very little discussion of these statues until someone objects to them, but moving them to a place dedicated to them where you could have a lot more information, discuss the debate, would mean in fact they would probably be much more watched and appreciated.
“It would be a positive outcome for people who feel they are part of our history and for people who feel uncomfortable having them in a position of reverence in their city.”
Ms von Tunzelmann, who as well as writing five history books was also the screenwriter of the 2017 film Churchill with Brian Cox, added that rather than swapping statues replaced with new ones, the ‘collective’ monuments might be a better alternative.
“We have an amazing community of artists, sculptors and all kinds of people in London and it would be fantastic to challenge artists to create new types of monuments,” she said.
“Not everything has to be statues all the time – we already have some incredibly moving war memorials in London, which are collective and not about individuals, and are important to people because they are not just about an individual valuable, but a community effort.
“It’s much more efficient, so I would like to see artists unleash their creativity in a city where we are very lucky and extremely rich in talented artists.”
On which statues to replace, Ms von Tunzelmann said it would be a “community decision” based on “what people want in their environment”.
She added: “They don’t exist for the story, they exist for us and the reason I wanted to write the book is because I think it’s really interesting to have a discussion about how we remember our history.
“You don’t always have to withdraw a law to have a discussion, but when these controversies arise you get a lot of people wanting to know more about why these things are controversial and that’s a pretty good prompt. , no matter which side of the political debate you take part in. The winner of this year’s Wolfson History Prize, which celebrates its 50th anniversary, will be announced on June 22 at a ceremony at the Wallace Collection in London which will be also streamed live online.
Besides Ms. von Tunzelmann, Professor Baer and Dr. Jackson, the other shortlisted authors are Malcolm Gaskill for “The Ruin of All Witches” about a society in turmoil in 17th century America; “God: An Anatomy” by Professor Francesca Stavrakoplou; and “Going to Church in Medieval England” by Nicholas Orme.
The winner will receive £50,000, while the other shortlisted authors will each receive £5,000. Previous winners of the award, which celebrates high-quality and readable historical writing, include Professor Mary Beard and Professor Simon Schama.
The statue park in Budapest is officially called Momento Park and contains 41 statues and sculptures from the communist era between 1945 and 1989, including gigantic works representing Lenin, Marx, Engels.