Editorial: May Days

AT THE SITE OF THE
FUTURE MEMORIAL

Consider all the other memorials & know the difference
between a memorial and a moratorium, so much lies
in a name. Consider the many still in construction,
those never thought of, the denied, design
in your mind all the places of sorrow you can stand — one for all
who came before, for those who remain, for the Great Barrier
Reef, for roses, for madness and all extinctions.
Though we have none of the stones necessary
each house in my family fits the bill.
We just don’t charge admission.

Omar Sakr, The Lost Arabs

 

The last month has seen a popular and global movement emerge in solidarity with Black Lives Matter as a response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020. This world-wide movement actively protesting police brutality specifically in the U.S, but also highlighting domestic issues in 100 US cities and 20 countries internationally. Australia has one of the highest rates of black deaths in custody in the world with 493 deaths since the 1991 Royal Commission.[1] Since then, the symbolic impact, role and influence of monuments that reinforce, remind and glorify individuals who from history who have incited, enacted, decreed or deployed colonial acts of violence and genocide have been vandalised, removed and covered-up once again prompting the important question of how, what and why history is embodied in monuments placed in the public spaces of often, unceded lands.

badlands.smaller.jpg


'Badlands National Park', Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, 2019

Courtesy Yhonnie Scarce and Lisa Radford

 

 

At the time of writing, Nick Estes, co-founder of The Red Nation and assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico, posted on Twitter an article published on the Sioux Falls Argus Leader website.[2] Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner is preparing a memo addressing the concerns of his people regarding the unceded land Trump is about to visit and the removal of Mount Rushmore monument depicting four white leaders responsible for the expansion of European settlement across America. The monument was built without consultation or approval of Sioux leaders of the area. Other leaders suggest the monument should stay and instead include and highlight the narrative that the current presentation of the monument hides. Whilst Abraham Lincoln is revered by many for ending slavery, we should be reminded that as president he also oversaw the largest mass execution of First Nation people when 38 Sioux were hung in Minnesota during the Dakota War of 1862.

longhorn.smaller.jpg


'Longhorn Saloon (Indians allowed)', South Dakota, 2019.

Courtesy Yhonnie Scarce and Lisa Radford

The dominance and scale of Mount Rushmore and its imaging as an iconic travel destination detracts from the atrocities that have occurred. Wounded Knee is 170km South East from Mount Rushmore. We drove past the ancient, powerful and cinematic Badlands, through the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, to Wounded Knee, the site of a massacre of several hundred Lakota and Sioux people, almost half of whom were women and children, by soldiers of the United States Army on December 29, 1890. The sign and small monument in the nearby cemetery memorialising the event are humbling. In 1965 the battlefield was listed as a National Historic Landmark; in 1966 it was registered as an Historic Place and in 1986 three Lakota men decided they would ride their horses on the same path Chief Big Foot and his 350 followers took when they road from the Cheyenne River Reservation to seek the protection of Chief Red Cloud on the Pine Ridge Agency. These three men—Birgil Kills Straight, Alex White Plume and Jim Garrett—started the ride by forming a group they called Si Tanka Wokiksuye Okolakiciye or the Big Foot Memorial Riders. The tradition has continued since. The formation of a new ritual in order to commemorate and keep in the minds of the Lakota, the atrocities that occurred nearly 130 years ago.

 

massacre.smaller.jpg


'Memorial for the Massacre of Wounded Knee', Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, 2019.

Courtesy Yhonnie Scarce and Lisa Radford

Mount Rushmore is a monument in question, it is arguably a monument to white supremacy. Whilst the Lakota Northern Cheynne were victorious in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 the Indian Appropriations Act of 1876 (or ‘sell or starve’ campaign) cut off all rations until the Lakota ended hostilities and ceded the Black Hills, the land now hosting Mount Rushmore, to the federal government.[3]

sell or starve
move and mine
pillage for profit.

The day before George Floyd died, on May 24th, in a method seeking to expand its iron ore mine, Rio Tinto detonated explosives blasting the 46,000 year old ancient and secret cave sites of the Juukan Gorge 60km north of the Pilbara. As a result, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners are grieving a loss, not only of a connection to land but also, to ancestors. Important archaeological data retrieved in 2014 revealed these shelters were occupied by humans during the last Ice Age, but Rio Tinto received permission to conduct the blasts in 2013 under Section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Whilst legal obligations were followed, the system apparently in place to protect, failed to be flexible enough to consider new and important information discovered by Michael Slack and his team of archaeologists.[4]

The well-publicised image of no less that 4 mounted police, accompanied by 20 or so foot-soldiers protecting the 1879 bronze ‘monument’ of Captain Cook by Thomas Woolner standing in Hyde Park, Sydney, reveals not only the power disparity created by colonisation and the imaging of British ‘Endeavours’ but also, the inherent contradiction that enables corporate identities to blast the physical and natural monuments of ancient lands and sites of significance owned by the people wishing to tear down symbolic bronze monuments as means for working towards dismantling a system that has attempted to eradicate them.[5] It is no surprise that a business lobby group has called for the Uluru climb to be re-opened in order to rejuvenate tourism dollars in the time of coronavirus.[6] The constant exploitation, destruction and ignorance to and of sacred sites and places declared to be culturally significant is perpetually superseded by the capitalist power of economic geography.

 

AT THE SITE OF THE
FUTURE MEMORIAL

I will illegally build my own Statue of Liberty
Alone night and day for a hundred years if need be
and need be
So when I am done I can blow her head off
and fill the jagged cup of her skull
with tears that will not freeze
nor dissipate but always drip

Omar Sakr, The Lost Arabs

 

Our June issue sees Andy Butler revisit his exhibition ‘These Monuments don’t know us’ presented at Bundoora Homestead between March and May last year in light of the events discussed above. Butler asks questions to the collections that maintain and uphold a Eurocentric position, reinforcing colonial attitudes and histories, historically ignoring the ancient knowledge of First Nations peoples, brutal settler history and the more complex conversations pertaining to the social and political issues surrounding belonging. Butler's 2019 exhibition, asks these questions through the work of artists such as James Ngyuen, Halley Miller-Baker, Diego Ramirez and Khadim Ali.

On May 24, the New York Times published a list of the 100,000 lives lost to date in American to coronavirus. Accompanied by a website, and journalistic series titled Those we’ve lost, the countless Instagram posts, Facebook shares and Twitter links accounting the editorial monument highlight the need to account for, reflect on and the shared experience of death and loss at this time. [7] Since 2005, architect Richard Peterson has been collating and documenting an every growing list of Queer memorials and sites of significance across the globe. It began as 2015 paper Remembering Australia’s Queer Places, documenting AIDS memorials in Australia but following our invitation has been updated into a list that Azza Zein has translated into a map. In email correspondence, Peterson observantly notes ‘we still don't even know the number (of people) who died in the (AIDS) epidemic in Australia, and in Victoria; though the Covid 19 tally is daily in the media’. [8]

If, how and which people are remembered is mostly a matter of politics.

Sam Cremean refers to Peterson when he mentions that only two gay venues in the world hold heritage protection, The Stonewall Inn (important to note the Stonewall Protests were also ones highlighting police brutality) and London’s The Royal Vauxhall Tavern [9]. Cremean notes, heritage protection is limited in its power to what it can protect, prioritising built environments over spaces inhabited by knowledge and cultures outside this norm or narrative. The production of history is a reflection of not only that which is remembered, but also that which is forgotten, or in this case, perhaps that which is deliberately ignored, obfuscated and eradicated. Like the spectre that he writes of, Derrida reminds us that Angles of Histories present, not as a pointer to their physicality, but rather to the (radical) critique they can spur.

Steven Rhall’s 2016 work Gesture (70º East) New Day Rising for Biennale Lab in Melbourne, utilised performative gestures to intervene in the sheds at the Queen Victorian Market, the site which once was one of two cemeteries of settler Melbourne (the other at Flagstaff hill). Grided into sections demarcated by the doctrine, race and creed of the deceased, some 9000 people are believed to be buried between the two sites, including Aboriginal bodies subsumed into European rituals and denied their own practices and customs. Rhalls’ performance refers to points of a compass, and counters the cemetery grid which doubles the design of the Hoddle Grid upon which the CBD is based and lies 70º East to the nearby Birrarung (Yarra River)—herself moderated and modulated to cater for European Shipping and urban development.

Earlier this month, a collection of essays by Indigenous writers and writers of colour titled After Australia was published by Affirm Press. Edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad, the essays can’t help but reveal questions of both past and present documenting the social effects to the structural issues that erase histories, cultures and knowledges. This writing is a monument imagining pathways for a future.

Hannah Donnelly writes:

In another life, it must have been that, I was working as a Research Officer at the Australian Human Rights Commission when I started following the Royal Family on social media and obsessing over their highly edited public appearances for signs of their true alien nature. There have been over fifty visits to Australia from members of the Royal Family since 1867. I don’t remember their faces or names, I’ve got Angloamnesia, but I used to fantasise that one day the Governor General would be ordered by Queen to force the Prime Minister to deliver a Treaty. [10]

Proposals have been made, that monuments such as those to Cook could be relocated in order to name and shame, rather than deny a history that has so dominantly altered lives. There are parks dedicated to the fallen monuments of Stalin’s time in post-soviet countries. In Australia, where popular culture has become increasingly Nationalised via successive conservative governments memorialising and monumentalising new myths through the militarisation of history (John Howard’s revitalising of Anzac Day and his fuelling of the History Wars), we ask, like Butler, for a serious and complex conversation about the many histories we inhabit, and for the ones still yet to be revealed.

Steven Rhall’s work Gesture (70º East) New Day Rising, like the Big Foot Memorial Riders, suggests that a better monument might not be a monument at all. Rather than reducing events to icons and sublimating experience into bronze, perhaps it is that which we act and embody that can, a ritual as means for recording the physical engagement in and with history and site.

In some monuments we find both a question and a gesture, we hope, towards new days and uprisings.

 

AT THE SITE OF THE
FUTURE MEMORIAL

I will tear up the usual, the piles of bodies, the oasis,
the keffiyeh, the dishdasha, the ahwa, the ululation,
the princedom, the mosque, the minaret, the minutes,
the taxi driver, the donkey, the lecher, the angry Arab
Israeli conflict, the hookah, harem, the bloody stones,
the swanky hotel, pool-side glitz, the rugs, the Rolex,
the AK-47, the camo, ammo, the fucking politicians,
the successful literate migrant, the sons of despair,
the oil fields, the hijabs, the thugs, the clubs,
the Quran —everything. I will ruin as I was ruined
once. This, too, is usual. Wait. Turn up the music.
Play it again, life, the ugly, the pulse. Let me dance
In the static, cover the bullet holes in feathers
From every bird. Let me embrace the terrifying
mirage, the sick self. Let the whole building
shrug me off and fly.

Omar Sakr, The Lost Arabs

 

Note: permission was granted to reproduce sections of Omar Sakr’s poem At the site of the Future Memorial. Written in five parts (like T.S Elliots The Waste Land) Sakr’s self declare cynicism of war memorials reminds us that monuments speak often to a few, not the many .[11]

 

 

[1] Jens Korff, ‘Royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody’, https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/law/royal-commission-into-aboriginal-deaths-in-custody, accessed Monday June 29.

[2]Lisa Kaczke and Jonathan Ellis, ‘Oglala Sioux President says Mount Rushmore should be 'removed': What's behind the site's controversial history’, Argus Leader, published 29 June 2020, https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/politics/2020/06/25/mount-rushmore-oglala-sioux-president-removal-president-trump/3198922001/, accessed Monday June 29.

[3] By the fall of 1877, the Lakota were under the control of federal agents on reservations, their land confiscated by the federal government under the Agreement of 1877., Lisa Kaczke and Jonathan Ellis, ‘Oglala Sioux President says Mount Rushmore should be 'removed': What's behind the site's controversial history’, Argus Leader, published 29 June 2020 https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/politics/2020/06/25/mount-rushmore-oglala-sioux-president-removal-president-trump/3198922001/, accessed Monday June 29.

[4] Michelle Stanley and Kelly Gudgeon, ‘Pilbara mining blast confirmed to have destroyed 46,000yo sites of 'staggering' significance, published 26 May 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-26/rio-tinto-blast-destroys-area-with-ancient-aboriginal-heritage/12286652, accessed May 26, 2020

[5]Jeanette Hoorn, ‘The destruction of Indigenous Australian sites cannot be allowed to continue’, published22 June 2020, https://www.apollo-magazine.com/destruction-indigenous-heritage-australia-protests-juukan-gorge/, accessed June 28, 2020

[6] Emma Haskin, ‘Calls to reopen Uluru climb to kickstart Northern Territory tourism hit by coronavirus’, published 12 May 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-12/business-lobby-group-calls-for-uluru-climb-to-reopen/12234066, accessed June 24, 2020.

[7] ‘An Incalculable Loss’, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/05/24/us/us-coronavirus-deaths-100000.html, accessed May 30, 2020.

[8] Email correspondence with Richard Peterson, 24 May 2020.

[9] Sam Cremean, ‘Reimagining the Gaybourhood’, Assemble Papers, https://assemblepapers.com.au/2018/08/09/reimagining-the-gaybourhood/ , accessed May 30, 2020.

[10] Hannah Donnelly, ‘Pemulwuy’ in After Australia, Affirm Press, Melbourne, 2020, p. 254.

[11] Omar Sakr, ‘At the site of the future Memorial’ in The Lost Arabs, UQP, 2019, p. 52-57.

Air Jordan