Since last October, a pedestal in the heart of Mexico City that originally housed a statue of Christopher Columbus has been empty. According to the New York Times’ Johnny Diaz, a sculpture of an Indigenous woman will now take the place of the controversial explorer’s likeness.
Last Sunday, on Mexico’s Day of the Indigenous Woman, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum unveiled plans for the new statue.
Tlalli—the Nahuatl word for water—is the name of the soon-to-be-installed statue by Mexican sculptor Pedro Reyes. According to Taylor Dafoe of Artnet News, it represents a woman from the Olmec culture, which inhabited present-day Mexico between around 1400 and 400 B.C.E. The Olmec, Mexico’s first major civilization, are most renowned for their colossal human head sculptures.
“It is very necessary to dedicate a monument to Indigenous women and the world,” Reyes told Mexican daily El Universal, “because if anyone can teach us how to take care of this planet, it is our native peoples, and that is precisely what we must learn again.” “We all come from the land and return to it, and it is the land that should be foremost in our minds—not just the past.”
The 19th-century Columbus statue was removed from its pedestal along the Paseo de la Reforma, a key roadway that runs through the heart of Mexico City, by city officials last October. Despite the fact that officials said the work was taken for restoration, some witnesses assumed the decision was made in anticipation of protests on Columbus Day, as it is known in Spanish-speaking nations. During protests, protesters often vandalized the sculpture with spray paint, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The bronze statue, sculpted by French artist Charles Cordier in 1877, represents Italian explorer Columbus as a conqueror. With one hand outstretched, he lifts a shroud from a globe with the other.
Columbus’ gesture alludes to a bygone era in which the explorer was hailed as the “discoverer” of the Americas. In reality, Columbus visited the Caribbean in 1492 and saw the Tano people, one of several civilizations that had existed for tens of thousands of years across North America. Thousands of Indigenous people were enslaved and slain by the explorer, paving the path for European colonization of the Americas and the transatlantic slave trade.
The Columbus statue will be temporarily transferred to Parque América in Mexico City’s affluent Polanco neighborhood, according to the Times.
Last year, as global rallies against racial injustice swept the globe, demonstrators destroyed Columbus statues in symbolic acts of defiance to racism and colonialism all around the world. Enslaver statues and Confederate monuments were also targeted by activists.
Sheinbaum stated during a press conference last week that a statue celebrating Mexicans’ Indigenous roots had been long overdue.
According to the New York Times, she continued, “We’ll put a statue dedicated to the Indigenous woman.” “It’s something we owe them.” They are the reason we exist. It is our country’s and homeland’s history.”
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