Bloody Foundation? The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the American Museum of Natural History
Posted: 18 Feb 2020
Date Written: 2017
On October 27, 2017, protestors calling themselves the Monument Removal Brigade ("MRB") splashed red paint on the base of an equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York ("AMNH" or the "Museum"). The portrait of the twenty-sixth President of the United States is flanked on either side by African and Native American men intended to represent their respective continents. On its anonymous blog, MRB called for the statue's removal and claimed, “[t]he true damage lies with the patriarchy, white supremacy, and settler-colonialism embodied by the statue.” The Museum responded that because the sculpture rests on public land, AMNH does not have the power to remove it. The AMNH protest occurs within a larger national debate about the place of public monuments.
That the equestrian statue is situated on museum grounds presents a unique opportunity to foster thoughtful dialogue around this topic. The AMNH today uses science to look forward, but also to interpret the past. Natural history museums have their own dark histories of discriminatory practices; modern investigations should not just be relegated to artifacts, but to institutional histories. Who created this sculpture? What traditions inform the way it represents these three men? Why does the city own it? What did Theodore Roosevelt have to do with the museum? This interdisciplinary article will present the history of a particular statue and proposals for its future as a case study in dealing with controversial monuments.
Keywords: monuments, cultural property, cultural heritage, natural history museum, theodore roosevelt, equestrian statute, native americans
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