Statues – targets of protests

Image: Peripheral Revolution


The overthrow of symbolisms that confront struggles against social inequalities, racism, misogyny and all types of prejudice

“The historian leaves futurology to others. But he has an advantage over the futurologist. History helps him, if not to predict the future, at least to recognize what is historically new in the present – ​​and thereby, perhaps, shed light on the future” (Eric Hobsbawm)[1]

In these insidious times, not everything was limited to resistance and the fight against the “sars cov-2” virus. The centuries-old cries of those who live in a state of permanent oppression awoke in the streets of the United States, historically tied to a dark past of slavery. People with black skin, blacks as they proudly insist on being called, constant victims of structural racism, such as here in Brazil, took to the streets accompanied by crowds of people who assume they are anti-racist, in order to break a cycle of police repression violent and deadly that has been repeated for centuries.

In the midst of this explosion of justified fury, as a reaction to the absolutely unnecessary and unjustified violence of a racist police structure and linked to the typical ideas and behavior of white supremacists, a wave that spread to other parts of the world, they became targets of the mob. statues that glorify colonizers responsible for imposing this bias of permissiveness that justifies in society's imagination the distinction between heroes and bandits by the color of their skin, by their social condition or by their place of residence. As we also see a lot here in Brazil, the outskirts of cities, poor communities are permanently targets of violent actions by the police, almost always ending in the murder of innocent young people. And the order is reversed in feeling afraid of whom.

Following this reaction, which led to the destruction or threat of removal of statues from squares and public places, a series of questions and reports circulated through the media, trying to understand these acts considered extreme and vandalism, or debating which importance of these symbols that spread across virtually all major cities in the world. In many cases, they become tourist attractions due to the grandeur of the arts that raised them to this condition, but without history being able to expose the full reality of what lies behind these characters.

At the most, official reports are presented, which serve more to create false myths around these individuals (mostly men, and whites) through manipulated iconography, image appreciation and contempt for history and for those who eventually do not they had voices to oppose the strength of their colonizers, the mercenaries who roamed the country hunting Indians and looting gold, and the colonels whose ranks were acquired by political acts due to the regional forces they possessed.

What remains for us to do is iconology, so that we can understand the history and/or theme behind each of these characters, represented by statues, names of public places and public buildings, and know the true meaning of their actions. Evidently with great care not to make the mistake of anachronism. But it is essential that we can carry out a broad historiographical review from time to time, so that society can know what represents or represented these figures. It is clear that their expositions in this way is not a mere token of appreciation. They represent, through this symbolism, values ​​that are linked to the dominant social classes in each era. And, by continuing to dominate as classes for the time that came, they mean the maintenance of these values, and objectively aim to continue in the attempt to persist in the control of political power.

Therefore, they are symbols that have their artistic valuations, although some of them are in profoundly bad taste, but actually carry elements of a political culture, marked by the imposition of the ruling class's strength and the subordination of the poor, of the most economically and culturally fragile population. In whatever circumstances we analyze, in any country, these statues represent those powers and their maintenance. There was a time, at the end of the XNUMXth century and beginning of the XNUMXth century, when this came to be called “statuamania”, according to Eric Hobsbawm.

What was once called “statuamania” reached its peak between 1870 and 1914, when 150 statues were erected in Paris, against just 26 from 1815 to 1870 – and these basically military figures, almost all removed after 1870. (…) But after the Great War, with the exception of new universal war memorials, bronze and marble statues clearly went out of fashion”.[2]

We should not look at these representations only for the artistic aspect, which often attracts attention due to the beauty of the plasticity with which it was produced. Because it always carries a strong symbolism. Whatever the work of art, it reflects an ideological conception, often marked by a movement that breaks with previous models, and imposes itself with new lines, and that adapts to the time in which it was built. Regardless of whether we analyze under the political bias to the left or the right. It is representative of some kind of expression that reflects that moment, either to oppose the established power and confront it, or to reproduce the dominant ideology.

It is said that Pablo Picasso was questioned by a Francoist official about the work that was being exhibited, which had just been painted. "Did you do that"? I would have asked the officer. And Picasso would have replied: “No, it was you”. It was the painting called “Guernica”, one of the most important artistic works, representative of the Cubist style, which had this Spanish artist as one of its main references. In it he portrayed the Nazi German bombing, in 1937, of the city of Guernica, during the Spanish civil war.

That's why not only iconography is important when it comes to analyzing a work of art. But it is also necessary to carry out an iconological study, which can interpret in a deeper way the whole context that led to the production of that piece, the historical conditions. That is, that goes beyond the aesthetic analysis and understands the contextualization of the time in which it took place and the ideological conceptions that it carries.

If so, we can, and should, question the reasons for certain artistic representations to prevail over a time that is beyond their existence as an artistic object for which they were intended. Its permanence obeys interests that are linked to the powers, the dominant ideologies and the maintenance of the status quo, with the consequent determinations that are behind all its symbolism: ideological control, social conformation and acceptance of an official history, beyond the immanent reality.

To continue Hobsbawm's analysis a little further: “There are three basic demands that power usually makes of art, and that absolute power makes on a much larger scale than more limited authorities. The first of these is to demonstrate the glory and triumph of power itself (…); The second major function of art in this context was to organize power as a public drama. Rituals and ceremonies were essential to the political process (…); A third service that art could render to power was educational or propagandistic: it could teach, inform, and inculcate the state's value system.[3]

Historically, insurrectionary movements or revolutions have taken place, or have taken place, which spread throughout time in different parts of the world. For any one of them that imposes itself there will be symbolisms that will be represented in artistic works, and that almost always, and inevitably, they will replace others that represented the dominant values ​​that existed until then. It is not uncommon to see these artistic representations, mainly statues, being overthrown in the midst of some of these popular uprisings, even if they are not victorious. But if the process of social transformation takes place with the intensity that comprises the radical alteration of classes in command of political and economic power, the symbols that represented them will certainly be overthrown. At best, they will be part of a museum, where these relics will be demonstrated for the purpose of understanding the history of a people, of a country, or for aesthetic analysis as a work of art.

Well, we are living in a moment of intense, although not sudden, social transformations. It is that period identified when we analyze the declines of economic and social formations, of historical transition. Moment when one mode of production is gradually replaced by another. A slow time, which can last more than a century. This process tends to be one of intense clashes, social revolts, structural and political economic crises, which are accompanied by an increase in criminality and civil disobedience. At that moment, populist characters usually ascend to power, with easy speeches, but with authoritarian and anti-democratic behavior. When there is no social formation on the horizon that can replace the decaying one, this transition can be even longer and more distressing.

It is in these conditions that we currently see many questionings about characters of dubious characters, or of fascist behavior and prejudiced acts against oppressed populations, but who are represented as heroes through statues and denominations of bridges and public places, by several cities in the world. They were rulers, soldiers, businessmen, adventurers or mercenaries, in times very different from the current one, although some in a very recent past. Most men. They stood out, almost always, for acquiring strength and power in occupation and colonization actions against aboriginal populations in continents such as Africa, Asia and Latin America. But they are also characters who internally enriched each of the countries in these regions through the enslavement of indigenous peoples and African peoples, the accumulation of goods from these actions and the looting of mineral wealth and land grabbing.

Naturally, social and political radicalization, the occupation of the streets by crowds that rise up against aggressive acts by military corporations and organized groups of racist and prejudiced nature, has turned against these icons, statues that represent individuals that attract the fury of those who stand up against oppression, unequal conditions and the violence that affects poor, black and women populations. The temperature has risen rapidly due to a serious economic crisis, which was already underway and was accentuated with the advent of a pandemic that practically left the capitalist system in slow motion. As a result of this sum of worsening situations, the cry of the streets tends to increase, and these statuary representations of the heroes of the dominant classes will become more and more targets of the fury of a crowd eager for justice.

As I have already expressed in other publications, and as a historian, I abhor the presence of a statue in the center of Goiânia, at the confluence of two of its most important avenues. We must not deny the importance and need to study the deeds and facts that are behind this character, called by a nickname whose version, probably fanciful, would have originated from the amazement of the natives who had the practice of imprisoning them to enslave them and sell them in São Paulo, where he was originally from. Although he lived a good part of his life in the sertões and died in Vila Boa de Goiás, current City of Goiás, Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva, Anhanguera, "Old Devil", as he was called, as well as the other bandeirantes, and through the expeditions called “Entradas”, in addition to delimiting territories, were engaged in chasing fugitive enslaved blacks and imprisoning Indians.

Naturally, they are characters that must be understood in their times, and studied historically, giving you the exact dimension of their actions. However, the perpetuation of characters that over time their attitudes begin to be questioned by the advances of society, in the fight against oppression and for human rights, represent affronts to these movements and to the conquests obtained at great cost and still tenuously. Its exhibitions are offensive to those segments that bring their stories of descent marked by discrimination, racist bias and the hatred that feeds on these historical deformations that end up justifying prejudiced speeches, false meritocracies and contempt against the most fragile populations.

Anhanguera is not a hero, nor does he deserve the pedestal he stands on, represented by his statue, with a blunderbuss in his hand, a symbol of conquest and oppression. Those who reinforce this false myth perpetuate a logic of colonial domination, submission and provincialism that ends up reducing the size of the importance and valuation of those who built, through their efforts, work and dedication, another history, which represents much more the values and culture of the people of Goiás. Maybe another symbol better represented the occupation of that region, of settling in the place, different from the preachers of Indians and looters of gold, whose results would enrich other places.

More recently Borba Gato was the target of insane groups, eager to revise a landscape historiography that adorn, or make ugly, the cities, almost as if in a modern iconoclastic movement. Like other bandeirantes, their “heroic” deeds are full of perversities against native peoples. Accused of being a preacher of Indians, looting gold, enslaving blacks and raping indigenous women, his aura of “saint” only serves the interests of the São Paulo elite, which benefited from these acts of violence and has been used culturally to formulate the “ founding hero myth. It perfidiously represents the entire bloody process of occupation of the hinterland and the genocide committed against indigenous peoples and blacks. Despite the “progress” attributed to these adventurers, their homicidal acts cannot be omitted, and if their deeds cannot be seen anachronistically at the same time, one cannot deny the destructive role of ethnic groups and extortion of wealth. of an interior that has remained poor as a result of its “glorious deeds” that rejoice the dominant strata.

Thus, in questioning and in the historiographical review, it becomes necessary to review many myths created at the whim of the political interests of the ruling classes, in order to keep the people submissive, to idolize characters that once oppressed their ancestors. In the radical nature of the struggle, and in the social transformations, in the advent of crowds that question all of this, these revisions take place in practice, in the confrontation and overthrow of those symbolisms that confront the struggles against social inequalities, racism, misogyny and all types of prejudices.

*Romualdo Pessoa Campos Filho He is a historian and professor at the Institute of Socio-environmental Studies at UFG. Author, among other books by Araguaia: after the guerrilla war, another war (Editor Anita Garibaldi).


[1] HOBSBAWM, Eric. A century of cultural symbolism. In: Fractured Times, culture and society in the XNUMXth century. São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 2013, p. 39.

[2] HOBSBAWM, Eric. Art and Power. In: Fractured Times, culture and society in the XNUMXth century. São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 2013, p. 271.

[3] Same, p. 269-270.


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