Destroying artwork is wrong, especially because you don’t agree with it

The eventual disposition and locations of the Columbus (and other) sculptures is best dealt with in more cool-headed times.

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In July, police officers stood guard at the site of the Christopher Columbus statue at Roosevelt Road and Columbus Drive after protesters tried to topple it. The city later removed it after and put it in storage.

Police walk around the site of the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park after protesters attempted to topple it, July 17, 2020.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

I am the person that took down that Christopher Columbus sculpture.

I am a long-time resident artist in Chicago who has made and installed sculptures here for nearly 50 years, both of my own design and the works of others.

I am also of American Indian and Caucasian ancestry, on both sides of my family, which brings up its own historical resonance in these times.

I was asked to consider participating in the removal on very short notice, having installed and removed numerous artworks for the Chicago Park District and other municipal and cultural entities here in the city, regionally and nationally.

Once it was determined that we could obtain the required equipment on such a short schedule, the team proceeded. We were delayed by the need for police to remove first the protesters, then the counter-protesters, including a large contingent from the Fraternal Order of Police. Feelings were running high. Indeed, we were subjected to repeated taunts and jeers from on-duty members of the police. 

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My motivation was public safety, having seen the previous removal attempt on media. Also, I have had my own artwork destroyed.

Destroying artwork is wrong, whatever the reason — but most particularly because you don’t agree with it. That is the way of Nazi Germany, who destroyed many works by artists who have since become pillars of the modernist tradition, while stealing works that had passed conventional muster and had considerable monetary value at the time. It must be remembered that beside their other crimes, the Nazis were the exemplars of the Imperialist ethos: I want it! It’s mine!

Not having a stereotypically “Indian” complexion, I have been physically attacked and beaten, both for being Indian and for being “white.” The true original sin of the history of the Americas was, and continues to be, the treatment of its aboriginal peoples. Three of my forebears, two of them my namesakes, signed treaties with the United States to try and protect the rights of their people, yet those rights are still under attack. Indian people, particularly women, continue to “disappear” nationally at an alarming rate.

The eventual disposition and locations of the Columbus (and other) sculptures is best dealt with in more cool-headed times. Something that happened during the removal may be instructive: Some of the historic physical anchors holding the piece let go suddenly and without warning, letting the piece fly free before we had achieved optimal lifting conditions. Luckily, good lifting practice and preparation in advance prevented the event from being catastrophic.

Perhaps that is a metaphor for the situation writ large.

Ted Sitting Crow Garner, enrolled member, Standing Rock Sioux Indian Tribe

Celebrating Sister Jean

Thank you for the article on Loyola University’s Sister Jean and her 103rd birthday. I often write to you with criticism, but this time, I wanted to underscore my pleasure at reading about Sister Jean. I especially thought the mention of her daily meditation and Eucharist was significant. One who has the quality of life she has certainly can attribute it to good practices. I hope we all can learn from her. Kudos!

Al Theis, Tinley Park

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