Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.
The equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt at New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) was splashed with red paint minutes after midnight this morning, October 6. The guerrilla action comes days before the annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day (or Columbus Day) on October 11, which has seen large protests against the controversial monument in previous years.
In the wee hours, unidentified protesters splattered blood-red paint at the plinth of the 1939 bronze and the museum’s stairs. Earlier, the museum had been packed with hundreds of prestigious guests attending the 2021 PEN America’s Literary Gala. AMNH has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
In June of 2020, amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, AMNH announced that it would remove the long-disputed statue after years of protests by Indigenous groups and grassroots activists. The decision, proposed by the museum and accepted by New York City, was first shared in an internal memo to staff that was revealed by the New York Times. However, the statue still stands more than a year after the decision was made.
Made by James Earle Fraser, the contested statue features the former US President on horseback, flanked by two unnamed gun carriers: an Indigenous man to his right, and a Black man to his left. Unveiled in 1940, the statue was meant to “celebrate Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) as a devoted naturalist and author of works on natural history,” AMNH says on its website. The former president’s father was one of the museum’s founders, the institution states, adding that it is “proud of its historic association with the Roosevelt family.”
According to the Gothamist, a series of bureaucratic hurdles, including two inconclusive hearings, delayed the statue’s removal. It was only in June that the NYC Public Design Commission finally voted on the work’s removal, unanimously approving a proposal to move the statue to an institution dedicated to Roosevelt’s life and memory.
In 2017, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio formed an advisory commission to review the Roosevelt statue and other racist monuments across the city. After failing to reach a consensus, the committee’s final recommendation in 2018 was to keep the statute in place with additional interpretation and historical context. Building on those recommendations, the museum mounted the exhibition Addressing the Statue in 2019. As part of the exhibition, a new informational plaque was added to the bronze. The plaque reads: “Some see the statue as a heroic group; others, as a symbol of racial hierarchy.”
Protests against the monument date back to 1970s. In October of 2016, the group Decolonize This Place organized the first Anti-Columbus Day tour inside the museum with other activist groups. As a symbolic gesture, the protesters shrouded the statue with a parachute. In 2017, the statue’s plinth was defaced with red paint by members of the group Monument Removal Brigade (MRB). Throughout the years, the activist groups repeated calls on the museum and the city to rename Columbus Day, remove the Roosevelt monument, and “respect ancestors.”
“Other big cities have been proactive in removing offensive monuments and renaming Columbus Day,” Decolonize This Place, which said it had no involvement with today’s action, wrote in a comment to Hyperallergic this morning. “What is wrong with New York? It’s been 16 months since the Mayor agreed to take away the Roosevelt triptych, and he still has not moved to properly recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.”
“The delay is inexcusable, and pours insult on injury,” the group added. “Rename, Remove, and Respect the Ancestors!”
Editor’s note: 10:55am EST: An earlier version of this article stated that the Roosevelt statue was defaced for the first time in 2017. This has been removed, as vandalism of the monument is documented as early as 1971.
Poussin and the Dance is a valiant attempt to break into Poussin’s staunchly academic oeuvre and provide a relatable point of entry, highlighting the exciting elements of revelry and movement despite impenetrable and unemotional rendering.
Anarchist illustrator N.O. Bonzo produces decentralized media in a highly bureaucratic cultural landscape. Their illustrations, murals, and literature emerge in unexpected places, from the streets of Portland, Oregon, to the far ends of Reddit and Twitter, addressing relations of labor and identity in the workplace and on the streets. Growth and care are central themes…
This exhibition explores how images of the human body were used to provoke profound physical and emotional responses in viewers from the 15th through 18th centuries.
With scavenged materials, Amanda Maciel Antunes constructs a motherland.
Where are the directors taking the stage to acknowledge workers’ demands today?
The collaborative handmade paper- and printmaking center at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts publishes new works by Liz Collins and Sarah McEneaney.
There is a debate whether the memory of Little Syria should be seized upon to tell truthful and positive stories about Arabs in the US, or whether any conflation between its history and contemporary politics is inappropriate.
The profile includes works by Egon Schiele, Amedeo Modigliani, Peter Paul Rubens, and a prehistoric Venus of Willendorf figurine.
These horrifying dolls definitely won’t murder you in your sleep.