Monuments and memorials in the US city of Chicago have been the subject recently of protest and activism. In response, the city has created a committee to review the city’s monuments and memorials and recommend solutions.
The committee has singled out about forty monuments and memorials that, in their opinion, promote persons and events related to racism, slavery, genocide or the misrepresentation of American Indians.
One of those monuments being questioned is Indians (The Bowman and the Spearman) by famous Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović which stands in Chicago’s Grant Park.
The sculptures were made by Meštrović in Zagreb and installed at the entrance of the parkway in 1928.
“While in Chicago in 1925 for an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, he was commissioned by the B.F. Ferguson fund to create two monumental mounted American Indians at the Michigan Avenue entrance of Grant Park at what is now Ida B. Wells Drive. Impressive for their heroic scale and bristling energy, the sculptures have been criticized for their romanticized and reductive images of American Indians,” the Chicago Monuments Project said on its website.
The Chicago Monuments Project is a platform set up, as they state, “to address the hard truths of Chicago’s racial history, confront the ways in which that history has and has not been memorialized, and develop
a framework for marking public space that elevates new ways to memorialize Chicago’s history.”
The project has four main objectives, including cataloguing monuments and public art on City or Park District property, appointing an advisory committee to determine which pieces warrant attention or action, to make recommendations for new monuments or public art that could be commissioned and to create a platform for the public to engage in a civic dialogue about Chicago’s history.
Barbara Vujanović from Atelier Meštrović in Zagreb, and Dalibor Prančević, who teaches at the Department of Art History at the Faculty of Philosophy in Split, told daily Jutarnji List that their first reaction was one of ‘shock’ after the hearing the news.
The pair believe that Meštrović’s monument is ‘is by no means, neither in form or content, a negative portrayal of native American Indians”, adding they believe that, among other things, it is not specified what ‘romanticized’ means in that context.
According to Jutarnji List, the Ivan Meštrović Museum and the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Split will jointly compile a document, an appeal, which they will send to the commission in Chicago.
In it, they will present data that indicates that Meštrović just glorified the idea of the natives with this monumental project. To avoid stereotypes, he gave up the concept of portraying cowboys.
“We will explain the context of the origin and importance of this masterpiece of art déco. We hope that other institutions and organizations will join us by co-signing the document. We are open to further dialogue and information that would enrich the debate currently taking place in Chicago,” curators told the daily.
Curators are worried for the fate of the monument, because, plaster models according to which the monument was cast do not exist. There are studies and sketches and if the monument is destroyed, it would be irretrievably lost.
Born in Croatia in 1883, Meštrović trained in Split, Vienna and Paris. Ivan Mestrovic’s sculptural style was a hybrid of conservative and modern tendencies, reflecting early twentieth-century movements of art nouveau, expressionism and art deco. He died in 1962 in Indiana. USA.