General Christiaan de Wet’s statue “op de Hoge Veluwe” in the Netherlands : a view on monuments and memorials in a context of change

Pieter Labuschagne in: South African Journal of Art History (2018)

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Abstract

Reasons for the removal of statues within the sphere of a political transformation are clearly political in nature. The removal (or, alternatively, the construction) of a monument or memorial is a reactionary response linked to events in a specific time period, which is embedded within a particular political framework. A memorable moment often triggers the need for a structure to memorialise and eternalise the event, while removing a statue that may be offensive to new sensibilities would justify the latter action. Thus, time and/or political change can, in a dramatic fashion, strip a statue of its original historical and political rationale and setting and, in extreme cases, lead to its removal. The process through which a statue may be rendered ‘meaningless’ within a specific context could, however, also be less dramatic or revolutionary, and rather more evolutionary in nature. These evolutionary factors may be the result of the historical environment, societal perceptions or our understandings being sapped or eroded over an extended period of time. In this scenario, time may be the determining factor that denudes the monument or memorial of its original intended purpose and status. In that case the monument is not physically ‘removed’, but its loses its original status. This phenomenon could almost be regarded as a ‘removal’ of as special kind. The research question that underpins the article is thus to interrogate how evolutionary, political and historical changes could, over a prolonged period – especially where a statue has limited, no or little historical or political link to its setting – deflate its value or impact.Generaal Christiaan de Wet se standbeeld “op de Hoge Veluwe” in Nederland: ʼn insig in monumente en gedenkwaardighede in die konteks van verandering Die verwydering van standbeelde binne die sfeer van politieke transformasie is duidelik polities van aard. Die verwydering (of, daarteenoor, die oprigting) van ’n monument of gedenkwaardigheid vind plaas in reaksie op gebeure wat verband hou met ’n spesifieke tydperk en politieke raamwerk. Soms moet bestaande monumente, wat strydig is met hedendaagse vorme van singewing of nuwe waardes, verwyder word omdat hulle aanstoot gee. Die jare kom en gaan, en politieke veranderinge kan op dramatiese wyse ’n standbeeld stroop van sy oorspronklike historiese en politieke konteks – in uiterste gevalle kan dit lei dit tot die verwydering van sodanige gedenkteken. Daardie proses van betekenisverlies binne ʼn spesifieke konteks kan egter ook minder dramaties of ingrypend van aard wees, en selfs langsamerhand ontvou. Evolusionêre faktore mag insluit omwentelinge binne die politieke en historiese konteks van die standbeeld, wat sy oorspronklike waarde en impak mettertyd verflou. Soms word ’n standbeeld nie fisies verwyder nie, maar bloot van sy oorspronklike status gestroop – ’n verskynsel wat spreek van ʼn unieke soort “verwydering”. Die kernkwessie wat hierdie artikel aanspreek, is hoe jare van evolusionêre, politieke en historiese verandering – in ʼn konteks waar ’n standbeeld verwyder is van sy politieke of historiese agtergrond – die status van sodanige beeld kan knou en sy waarde en impak ongedaan maak.