Accepted Paper:

Toppled statues - From catalysis to catharsis.  
Victoria L. Klinkert (Universität St. Gallen)

Paper short abstract:

Taking inspiration from the Gramscian interpretation of catharsis, this paper is analysing the imagery around toppled statues in the summer of 2020 in the UK, and probing into the limits and potentialities of their catalytic dynamism and cathartic nature.

Paper long abstract:

In the UK and the US the summer of 2020 saw the media landscape being saturated with images of toppled statues. From graffitied Confederate statues to a Columbus engulfed in flames in the US, all the way to the dumping of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour and the quick and quiet removal of yet another slave trader, Robert Milligan, in the UK. The falling of one statue prompted the falling of the next. Catalytic in their dynamism, soon all eyes were, yet again, on Rhodes with a banner in blood red writing appearing on the Oxford High Street “Rhodes you’re next”, and perhaps more ambitiously on that of Churchill in Parliament square.

Wrapped up in memes, photographs, gifs and videos these catalytic signifiers indicated a rupture in the epoch of coloniality. Frustration and anger regarding racialised covid-19 inequalities, the injustice of Grenfell, the Windrush scandal and police brutality erupted and was directed at statutes. Focusing on the UK especially, this paper is interrogating just how catalytic these moments were, for whom and how. Delving into their limits, imaginations and potentialities, it argues that they were catalytic for inducing moments of catharsis, in the Gramscian terms. Shattering statues which emanate affective material violence, in a cathartic spectacle and catalytic knock on effect, speaks of a radical political potentiality of the public. Yet, it is crucial to interrogate how far this potential is able to penetrate engrained racist structures and catalyse change, and how much this catharsis has been re-appropriated and devoured.

Panel P16a
Global Black Lives Matter: representations of resistance, memory and politics
  Session 1