Tuesday, November 24, 2009

World Faces Outbreak of Giant Statues

Forget swine flu, the world seems to be suffering from a new epidemic - the construction of giant statues.

First there was the dedication earlier this month in Pristina, Kosovo of an 11-foot tall, gold-covered statue of former President Bill Clinton (who the Kosovars feel helped to end the Serbian aggression against them and laid the foundation for their nation). Then there's Santiago, Chile, where construction is well underway on a 45-foot tall likeness of Pope John Paul II. A clay model of the late pontiff has already been finished, the next step would be to use that model to create a mold and cast John Paul in bronze.

But Chile's National Monuments' Council has derailed the pontiff project, at least temporarily. They felt that the size of the statue would overwhelm the city square that was intended to be its home (and they felt the location, above an underground car park, wasn't a setting quite befitting the late Pope). Since the clay model is already finished, it's likely the bronze statue - which critics have dubbed "Popezilla" - will eventually be cast and placed somewhere in or near Santiago.

Meanwhile, the biggest statue of them all is nearing completion. Work in Senegal is almost finished on "African Renaissance", a statue commissioned and allegedly designed by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. "African Renaissance" is a truly massive structure depicting a man cradling a woman and holding aloft a baby who is pointing towards "the future"; when finished it will be taller than the Statue of Liberty in New York City and larger in volume than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

As you can imagine, a project that large is drawing giant amounts of criticism. Some are asking why is Senegal, a struggling nation in West Africa, spending $27 million on building this colossus rather than on programs that would do more practical things like feed hungry Senegalese? Others are also asking why "African Renaissance" was not designed or built by Africans? Instead of using local artists and craftsmen, President Wade contracted with a North Korean firm to build the monument.

And, critics say, it shows - rather than having an African feel, they say "African Renaissance" looks like an old Soviet statue. I have to admit they have a point, at first glance "African Renaissance" reminded me of the giant statues the Soviet Union use to churn out, especially under Stalin (see the example to the right), not surprising since North Korea is the world's only remaining Stalinist state. (And considering that North Korea has yet to master the art of making a durable beer bottle, I'd also be wary about hiring a North Korean firm to build a giant statue perched on a hill above my capital city).

Critics are also angry at President Wade for trying to turn a profit off the endeavour. "African Renaissance" will generate revenue from people visiting its site and a related museum that will also be built, and President Wade has cut himself in for a share of the profits - 35% of the profits to be exact. Wade explains he is entitled to the fee since he is the "designer" of the statue, many Senegalese don't agree.

"Since the beginning of the world, I have never heard, I have never seen, or never read, that a president has created something for his country, and is demanding 35% in return," said Amadou Camara, Director of the Commerce and Business Institute in Dakar in an interview with the BBC. Wade's "designer's fee" has also been the topic of numerous editorials in Dakar's newspapers.

"African Renaissance" is set to be officially unveiled in April.
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