The Power of the Image: Debating Public Confederate Monuments

Michael Kemling (Ph.D Art History '13) organized three panels at University of North Georgia (UNG) campuses around the recent controversy over Confederate monuments. The first was held in Gainesville on October 2, 2017, with more than 100 in attendance. The second was held in Watkinsville on October 9, 2017, and the third will be at Dahlonega on October 16, 2017.

Hosted by student art and history clubs at UNG, the cross-disciplinary roundtable discussion centered on the current political and cultural issues of the erection and removal of public Confederate monuments in the United States in The Power of the Image: Placing the Debate of Public Confederate Monuments in Context. According to a 2016 article published by the Southern Poverty Law Center – citing data gathered from the U.S. Geological Survey, National Center for Education Statistics, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, and the Smithsonian’s Art Inventory – there are 718 Confederate monuments and statues in the United States of which nearly 276 are in the states of Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina. The earliest monuments were erected almost immediately after the end of the Civil War. The Southern Poverty Law Center cites that the majority of these monuments, however, were erected between 1900 and the 1920s, which coincides with the enactment of Jim Crow laws and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Since 2000, there have been 32 monuments erected on public land. The impetus for the discussions of the removal of Confederate monuments can be traced most recently to the racially-motivated attack in 2015 against a congregation of a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. The recent Unite the Right rally and subsequent violent confrontations in Charlottesville, VA has further intensified the discussions regarding their removal. The roundtable aims to place the discussions of the removal or installation of these monuments into a larger cultural, political, and historical context.

It is not, however, meant to take a stance on the issue, but to be a forum in which both the community and university can enrich our perspective on the nuances, complexities, and challenges regarding the current political and cultural debate. In addition to other topics, the panel discusses: the layered nature of power in and around the image; how public monuments and their locations reflect and facilitate cultural values; situating monuments in a broader cultural and historical context; issues of the changing meaning of the monuments; and social responsibility and sensitivity.

Click here for a recap of the October 2, 2017 discussion.


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