Comment: Aberdeen's newest statue is far from inspiring
Statues, eh? Isn’t it funny how most of us care so little about them we probably couldn’t say whose likeness we’ve walked past every day for years, yet when talk turns to taking them down or putting them up, we all have an opinion?
Take me. Having grown up in Aberdeenshire I spent a lot of time in Aberdeen as a child and teenager. I know there are statues outside His Majesty’s Theatre, along Union Terrace and next to the Cowdray Hall, but beyond having an inkling one is of a leopard (Google tells me it’s actually a lion) I have little clue of who or what they represent.
The only Aberdeen statue to make any impact on my juvenile mind was the bronze of Queen Victoria that marks the entry point to the city’s west end. I’d like to think that’s because the nascent feminist in me clocked the queen as an anomaly and was outraged to see just one woman on a plinth amidst a sea of animals and men.
I suspect it had more to do with the statue’s position at the intersection of several roads and the fact that Queen Victoria is just better known than the Duke of Gordon. Sure, he founded the Gordon Highlanders, but he doesn’t exactly have an entire historical period named after him, does he?
The point about a lack of women – or minorities – would have been a valid one, though. Aberdeen is not alone in honouring its famous white sons while turning a blind eye to the contribution its more diverse inhabitants have made.
But it has hardly shown any awareness of the kind of messaging that sends, last month unveiling the second sculpture of Denis Law to be erected in the city in less than 10 years. Sure, Law is a Scottish footballing legend who spent the first 16 years of his life in Aberdeen, but is he really the only person the city’s leaders think worthy of recognition?
Much has been made recently about the role statues play in shaping our communal identity, with last year’s toppling of an effigy of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston leading to widespread anger and debate.
Some thought the image of a man who donated large sums to charity after becoming extremely rich in the 17th century should be preserved for posterity; others felt the bigger picture of systemic racism and Colston’s role in propagating it meant his presence could no longer be tolerated.
In the context of the George Floyd murder, which had happened in the US a little over a week before, the latter view seems entirely reasonable.
I don’t buy into the argument that ripping down statues is an erasure of history, mostly because the version of history so many of them were put up to represent is that of the rich and powerful white men who commissioned them. I understand why some people find them so offensive they have to go and I’ll never be exercised by their removal.
At the same time, while hardly enraged, I’m a little bit bothered that Aberdeen’s civic leaders chose to honour Law again. I get what he means to football fans and, by all accounts, the 81-year-old, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia earlier this year, couldn’t be a nicer guy.
But memorialising him yet again shows a distinct lack of imagination from those around the city’s decision-making table – and belies their views on who and what is important in life. And, if honouring an elderly white man who received an identical tribute less than a decade ago is the best they could come up with, just think of all the other uninspired decisions they’ve likely been making.