Scaffolding and tarp surrounding the removed Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

More than 140 artists, scholars, and art critics have signed a petition calling on New York City to reverse its decision to relocate the Theodore Roosevelt monument recently removed from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to a planned presidential library on seized Indigenous land in North Dakota.

Released this morning, February 22, the petition urges the city to consider melting down, recycling, or disposing of the monument, whose composition implies racial hierarchies, calling its planned transfer to North Dakota a “mistake” that “only compounds the harms stemming from the statue’s racist message.”

Signatories include artists Alicia Grullon, Hans Haacke, Walid Raad, Michael Rakowitz, and Dread Scott. Dozens of historians and art scholars who signed the missive include Ariella Azoulay, Claire Bishop, Nicole Fleetwood, Hal Foster, Gayatri Gopinath, Lucy Lippard, Fred Moten, Jasbir Puar, and Erin Thompson.

“New Yorkers cannot simply dump their toxic cultural products in other communities,” the petitioners wrote. “The city should reject the transfer of its undesirable waste elsewhere.” The petition and a complete list of signatories are reproduced in full at the end of this article.

The AMNH has not immediately responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

The statue of Theodore Roosevelt before it was removed from the steps of the American Museum of Natural History in New York in January of 2022 (photo by Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

The long-disputed equestrian statue was quietly taken off its pedestal in the wee hours of January 18, nearly two years after the museum announced its intention to remove it from its entrance. Installed in 1940, the bronze features the former president towering over two bare-chested, unnamed gun carriers: an Indigenous man to his right, and a Black man to his left. The site remains fenced off by scaffolding as work to remove the statue’s pedestal continues. The plaza around the removed statue will undergo restoration through the spring, the AMNH previously told Hyperallergic.

The city’s deliberations over the fate of the Roosevelt statue began in 2017, when then-mayor Bill de Blasio formed an advisory commission to review the status of several racist monuments across Manhattan. After failing to reach a consensus, the Mayoral Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers’ final recommendation in 2018 was to keep the statute in place with additional interpretation and historical context. Building on the commission’s recommendations, the AMNH opened the exhibition Addressing the Statue in 2019 and added a contextual plaque to the bronze. It partially read: “Some see the statue as a heroic group; others, as a symbol of racial hierarchy.”

Notably, five members of the 2017 commission have signed today’s petition: artists Teresita Fernández and Pepón Osorio; Audra Simpson and Mabel Wilson of Columbia University, and John Kuo Wei Tchen of Rutgers University.

The Theodore Roosevelt statue was defaced with red paint in October of 2021. In the picture: a now-removed contextual plaque that was added to the statue in 2019 (Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

In June of 2020, propelled by Black Lives Matter protests and the toppling of racist monuments across the country, the AMNH announced that it would finally remove the contested statue. The decision was proposed by the museum and accepted by de Blasio. A year of bureaucratic delays and inconclusive hearings passed before the NYC Public Design Commission voted on the statue’s removal in June of 2021, unanimously approving a proposal to relocate it to a then-unconfirmed institution “dedicated to Roosevelt’s life and memory.”

Last November, it was announced that the recipient organization would be the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, which is slated to open in 2026 in Medora, North Dakota. The privately-funded library will be built near Roosevelt’s former cattle ranch in western North Dakota and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Large swaths of the park sit on land seized from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) people in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and subsequent land grabs.

The announcement drew ire from tribal leaders who said they were not consulted about the relocation of the statue to their area. “Our MHA Nation would be discouraged and potentially offended if put in a place of prominence on or near our ancestral lands,” Mark Fox, chairman of the MHA Nation, told Hyperallergic in November. In another interview with Native News Online, he called the decision “ignorant and inappropriate.”

Echoing Fox’s words, the petition’s authors slammed the decision to re-erect the racist monument on land seized from the MHA Nation as “either an act of breathtaking insensitivity or of metropolitan arrogance.”

Noting the former president’s well-documented history of racist statements and actions against Native Americans, they described the Roosevelt National Park as “irredeemably associated with ethnic cleansing and land theft.”

Protesters shrouded the Roosevelt statue with a parachute in October of 2016 (Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Keri Butler, a spokesperson for the NYC Design Commission, told Hyperallergic in a statement: “The Public Design Commission approved the loan of the statue to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library with the understanding that the library will establish an advisory council composed of representatives of the Indigenous Tribal and Black communities, historians, scholars, and artists to guide the reconsideration of the statue. The artwork siting will be informed by the guidance of the advisory council.”

Calls to remove New York’s Roosevelt monument date back to the early 1970s. Since then, the statue’s plinth was defaced with red paint three times: First in 1971 by Native American protesters; then again in 2017 by members of the group Monument Removal Brigade (MRB); and most recently by anonymous protesters in October of 2021.

In 2016, the group Decolonize This Place (DTP) organized the first Anti-Columbus Day tour inside the museum with other activist groups. The protesters shrouded the statue with a parachute and posed three demands to the city and museum: Rename Columbus Day, remove the Roosevelt monument, and “respect ancestors.” The last Anti-Columbus Day tour was held in 2019 and was attended by hundreds who marched from the AMNH to the Metropolitan Museum of Art through sites in Central Park.

Earlier today, DTP posted a satirical video on its Instagram account, parodying the NYC Design Commission’s final vote of the removal of the monument last year. The “reaction video” brings the snarky commentary of members of the group who chose the pseudonyms “Goat, Snow Leopard, Bodega Cat, Freaked Out Cat, and Raccoon.”

In two other Instagram posts, the group delivered a statement on the relocation of the disputed statue to North Dakota. One post reads:

“No to the Theodore Roosevelt statue. No to relocating the white supremacist, patriarchal statue to North Dakota. No to the Roosevelt ‘legacy.’ No to ‘conserving’ stolen Indigenous land. No to imperialism. No to the American Museum of Natural History. No to history museums and the harms they cause. No to all the bull shit.”

Another Instagram post adds:

“Yes to melting down the Theodore Roosevelt statue. Yes to cutting up the statue. Yes to destroying the statue. Yes to Indigenous solidarity and insurgence. Yes to decolonization. Yes to land back. Yes to abolishing the museum. Yes to co-creating otherwise, anti-racist, anti-nationalist, anti-capitalist worlds. Yes to love.”

Read the petition, which is reproduced in full, below:

The much-criticized statue of Teddy Roosevelt that stood outside the American Museum of Natural History has now been dismantled. It won’t be missed. Most New Yorkers and visitors to the city will be gratified that there is one less monument to white supremacy on public view.

But city officials made a mistake when they decided to hand the monument over, on a “long term loan,” to the North Dakota-based Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation. Its transfer to that location only compounds the harms stemming from the statue’s racist message. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where the new presidential library will be housed, is carved out of the ancestral lands of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) people, which were seized in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and subsequent land grabs. In making this decision, city officials neglected to consult MHA Nation’s leaders and members about the plan to host New York City’s cast-off on or near their traditional bison hunting and eagle trapping grounds.

The park was created in 1978 to honor Roosevelt’s passion for the badlands of North Dakota and his short-lived tenure on a ranch on the banks of the Little Missouri River. But, like the dozens of national parks he created during his presidency, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is irredeemably associated with ethnic cleansing and land theft. In this respect, no one can ignore Roosevelt’s own, well-documented contempt for Indigenous people—a sentiment not at odds with his zeal for environmental conservation. We believe that the decision to send the monument to a site that is so culturally important to the MHA Nation is either an act of breathtaking insensitivity or of metropolitan arrogance.

New Yorkers cannot simply dump their toxic cultural products in other communities. The city should reject the transfer of its undesirable waste elsewhere. In this case, the monument’s bronze content could be melted down or recycled for a better purpose or simply disposed of. We stand in solidarity with the MHA Nation’s chairman’s expressed sentiment that it would be “ignorant and inappropriate” to relocate the monument to North Dakota. We call on City Hall, the Public Design Commission, and the American Museum of Natural History to revoke the transfer.

To add your name to this petition, click HERE or send an email to stopthetransfer@protonmail.com.

Initial Signatories (2/21/22)

Audra Simpson (Mayoral Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, Columbia University) *

John Kuo Wei Tchen (Mayoral Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, Rutgers University) *

Mabel Wilson (Mayoral Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, Columbia University) *

Teresita Fernández (Mayoral Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, Artist) *

Pepón Osorio (Mayoral Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, Artist) *

Lila Abu-Lughod (Columbia University)
Nadia Abu El-Haj (Barnard College)
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla (Artists)
Awam Amkpa (NYU)
Tom Angotti (Hunter College/CUNY Graduate Center)
Emily Apter (NYU)
Ariella Azoulay (Brown University)
Gianpaolo Baiocchi (NYU)
Davarian Baldwin (Trinity College)
Kadambari Baxi (Barnard College)
Herman Bennett (CUNY Graduate Center)
Claire Bishop (CUNY Graduate Center)
Renee Blake (NYU)
Brian Boyd (Columbia University)
Eduardo Cadava (Princeton University)
Hazel Carby (Yale University)
Paula Chakravartty (NYU)
Hannah Chazin (Columbia)
Kandice Chuh (CUNY Graduate Center)
Jon Cowans (Rutgers)
Simon Critchley (New School)
Zoe Crossland (Columbia)
Arlene Davila (NYU)
Ashley Dawson (CUNY Graduate Center)
TJ Demos (University of California, Santa Cruz)
Rosalyn Deutsche (Barnard College)
Rosanna Dent (Rutgers)
Jaskiran Dhillon (New School)
Natasha Dhillon (Adelphi University)
Lisa Duggan (NYU)
Ana Dopico (NYU)
Stephen Duncombe (NYU)
Debby Farber (Columbia)
Ruth Feldstein (Rutgers) 
Roderick Ferguson (Yale University)
Johanna Fernandez (Baruch College)
Sybille Fischer (NYU)
Severin Fowles (Columbia)
Nicole Fleetwood (NYU)
Hal Foster (Princeton University)
Behrooz Ghamari (Princeton University)
Ruth Wilson Gilmore (CUNY Graduate Center)
Faye Ginsburg (NYU)
Kyle Goen (Artist)
Gayatri Gopinath (NYU)
Linda Gordon (NYU)
Sandy Grande (University of Connecticut)
Greg Grandin (Yale University)
Margaret Gray (Adelphi University)
Alicia Grullon (Artist)
Macarena Gómez-Barris (Pratt Institute)
Hans Haacke (Artist)
Steven Hahn (NYU)
Jack Halberstam (Columbia University)
Yukiko Hanawa (NYU)
David Harvey (CUNY Graduate Center)
Christina Heatherton (Barnard College)
Rachel Heiman (New School)
Daniel HoSang (Yale University)
Amin Husain (NYU)
Elizabeth Hutchinson (Barnard College)
Matthew Jacobson (Yale University)
Walter Johnson (Harvard University)
May Joseph (Pratt Institute)
Rebecca Karl (NYU)
Manu Karuka (Barnard College)
Philip Kasinitz (CUNY Graduate Center)
Cindi Katz (CUNY Graduate Center)
J. Kehaulani Kauanui (Wesleyan University)
Arang Keshavarzian (NYU)
Rashid Khalidi (Columbia University)
Eric Klinenberg (NYU)
Carin Kuoni (New School)
Aaron Levy (Slought Foundation)
Penny Lewis (CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies)
Erin Lilli (Queens College)
Lucy Lippard (Curator/Critic)
Julie Livingston (NYU)
Eric Lott (CUNY Graduate Center)
Lisa Lowe (Yale)
Stephanie Luce (CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies) 
Emily Martin (NYU)
Reinhold Martin (Columbia University)
Anna McCarthy (NYU)
Anne McClintock (Princeton University)
Yates McKee (John Jay College)
Mik Migwans (University of Toronto)
Ruth Milkman (CUNY Graduate Center)
Timothy Mitchell (Columbia University)
Michele Mitchell (NYU)
Jennifer Morgan (NYU)
Marisel Moreno (Notre Dame)
Fred Moten (NYU)
Fred Myers (NYU)
Sara Nadal-Melsió (NYU)
Frances Negrón-Muntaner (Columbia University)
Vasuki Nesiah (NYU)
Mae Ngai (Columbia University)
Rob Nixon (Princeton University)
Mary Nolan (NYU)
Sarah Pawlicki (University of Minnesota)
Angela Parker (University of Denver)
Jenny Polak (Artist)
Dana Polan (NYU)
Jackson Polys (Institute of American Indian Arts)
Elizabeth Povinelli (Columbia University)
Jasbir Puar (Rutgers University) 
Walid Raad (Artist)
Michaal Rakowitz (Artist)
Michael Ralph (NYU)
Conor Tomás Reed (Brooklyn College)
Corey Robin (Brooklyn College)
Bruce Robbins (Columbia University)
Miguel Robles-Duran (New School)
Shellyne Rodriguez (Artist)
Avital Ronell (NYU)
Martha Rosler (Artist)
Andrew Ross (NYU)
Marz Saffore (Artist)
Dean Saranillio (NYU)
Sarah Schulman (College of Staten Island, CUNY)
Dread Scott (Artist)
Richard Sennett (London School of Economics)
Greg Sholette (Artist/Critic)
Anne Spice (Ryerson University)
Elsa Stamatopoulou (Columbia University)
Timothy Stewart-Winter (Rutgers)
Lisa Strong (Georgetown)
Marita Sturken (NYU)
Thomas Sugrue (NYU)
Jameson Sweet (Rutgers University)
Neferti Tadiar (Barnard College)
Mick Taussig (Columbia University)
Diana Taylor (NYU)
Kendall Thomas (Columbia University)
Erin Thompson (John Jay College)
Thuy Linh Tu (NYU)
Robert Warrior (University of Kansas)
Andrew Weiner (NYU)
Angela Zito (NYU)

Editor’s Note 2/22/22, 4:55pm EST: This article has been updated to include a comment by Keri Butler, a spokesperson for the NYC Design Commission.

The Latest

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is Co-Editor of News at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative...