On December 8th, 2013, protesters in Ukraine toppled a sculpture of Lenin. This gesture that was meant to symbolise the end of an era was all over the news.
Since time immemorial, those in political control have used the arts to project their power. With lifelike representation on its side, sculpture has always had an important role to play in this projection. Interestingly, so does this action’s counterpart: toppling.
In Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1548), Etienne de la Boetie says: “I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.” It seems, however, that toppling sculptures has remained an expression of change, and I have been thinking about the toppled sculptures I have learned about or witnessed; here are the ones that came to mind.
1. King George III on July 9th, 1776
2. Louis XIV on August 13th, 1792
3. The Buddhas of Bamiyan, March 2001 (dynamited rather than toppled…)
4. Saddam Hussein, April 10th, 2003
5. Christopher Columbus, October 13th, 2004