Thursday, 1 December 2011

Vandalism or Free Speech?

By J. Westbrook

This poster is meant to provide a starting point for discussing how to deal with contested heritage, by using US Confederate Monuments as an example. How should heritage professionals deal with graffiti and vandalism? Should we remove the monument? Should we leave the graffiti? How do we work to best represent all interests? Credit to the KFVS12 News website for providing the photos and news story about the monument in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Target audience: Heritage professionals (conservators, National Park Service officials, etc)

J. Westbrook, the author of this poster, will write about her motivations and creative process below. 

1 comment:

  1. I got my idea for this project from growing up in a still semi-rural town in Virginia. We are the halfway point between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA and so we were the location for four major battlefields of the US Civil War. Due to this, we grew up playing on the battlefields where Civil War soldiers on both sides fought and died. We saw countless monuments erected to honor Confederate and Union dead; monuments not only erected by our town citizens but by communities across the country who wanted to publicly mourn their fallen. These monuments were as much a part of our landscape as the trees and flowers. Attending a rural Southern Baptist Church which Robert E. Lee was rumored to have used as a temporary headquarters showed me a rather nostalgic view of the South and the US Civil War that was seen in many other parts of town. It wasn’t all that uncommon to see Confederate flags in pick-up trucks and the uncomfortable and sometimes violent reactions they elicited. This tension is seen not only in everyday life in my hometown but anywhere there are Confederate symbols and monuments displayed. It is a very real issue today in the US, even if it isn’t always acknowledged or spoken aloud.

    When given the topic of vandalism, I chose to examine graffiti on Confederate monuments and whether it should be considered as vandalism or a protected example of speech against a monument representing hate and intolerance. These monuments are charged with emotions and many viewpoints. Some view them as honored monuments to fallen ancestors and others as physical representations of hatred and intolerance. With this being the 150th anniversary of the Civil War it is a relevant issue for anyone and a great opportunity to bring to light an issue that many people either don’t voice or ignore. I also wanted to be able to explore why there is this knee jerk reaction against any display of the Confederate flag or any attempts at honoring men who died fighting for the Confederacy. We all have some form of this reaction and yet do we really understand why? It was a symbol of the Confederacy and all it stood for during the Civil War, but what happened over the past 150 years to give it even more meaning, much of it negative? How has it been used in the past after the Civil War and how has this impacted its meaning? How can heritage professionals work to respect the feelings of the living who object to the preserve of Confederate monuments and yet honor the dead for whom they are erected? How can conservation officials in the wider world work with monuments to contested heritage and incorporate the viewpoints of all affected parties?

    Beyond being merely a personal issue for me, I think that this is an issue for all heritage officials who have confederate monuments under their care. It is also an issue for all state or local governments who might have these statues on display on government lands. It brings to light the issues involved in the continued display of Confederate monuments and gives them some of the attention and discussion that they so desperately need. My ultimate goal with this poster project was to increase awareness about these monuments and hopefully spark discussion amongst all parties who have a viewpoint or interest.


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