Winston Churchill is ‘not a hero’ and his statue in Parliament Square should be buried up to its waist so viewers can ‘look down’ on it, a left-wing South African artist has sensationally claimed.
William Kentridge, who has a retrospective at the Royal Academy this year, said that Britain is struggling to cope with its history of imperialism and argued that statues of contentious historical figures should be reframed.
Suggesting that the box installed around Churchill’s statue in Westminster during the BLM protests alleviated rather than removed tensions, he said: ‘That palisade was saying, for British people, Churchill is the greatest Briton who ever lived. But for millions of Indians who starved because all grain was taken for the British forces during the war, he’s not a hero.
William Kentridge said the statue of Churchill in Westminster should be buried up to its waist so that people can ‘look down’ on it
Churchill, pictured at his seat in the Cabinet Room at Number 10 Downing Street in 1940
‘Putting that wooden fence around him was great. It said: he’s in there somewhere. You can’t see him, but we know of his presence. And it sets it as a question mark, which is when the statue is at its most alive.
‘Removing the statue does not take the question away. Leaving it doesn’t solve the question. But that palisade allows for a space in between.’
Speaking to the Art Newspaper, he added: ‘I think [the UK] could just take some of these monuments off their plinths and dig a hole in the ground, then bury them up to their waists. So you can see them, but you’re looking down on them.’
William Kentridge: Jewish South African whose parents battled apartheid
Sources: Goodman Gallery, Tate Modern
He said the Black Lives Matter Movement has left ‘a lot to deal with’ for many in the West, drawing a comparison with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, which has been a ‘central question’ for decades.
The artist added that South Africa is ‘ahead’ of the UK because while the former apartheid nation has a ‘blighted past’, they have ‘built a consensus on that’.
The UK, he said in contrast, should ask itself: ‘”How do we deal with our blighted past?” rather than defending it and saying it was nothing but a heroic history.’
There have been debates about whether statues of historical figures involved in the slave trade during the British Empire era should be taken down or remain standing.
During a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest a statue of slave trader Edward Colston, who died in 1721, was brought down by protestors and tossed into Bristol Harbour.
Four people accused of removing the statue were later cleared in court of criminal damage.
The government say that public statues of controversial historical figures should stay up but their histories should be explained.