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Why does this statue in Denbigh divide opinion?

Published date: 13 August 2014 |
Published by: Rachel Nash
Read more articles by Rachel Nash


 

THE controversial HM Stanley statue in Denbigh is to undergo its third annual "re-veiling".

The sculpture – erected in 2011 to celebrate the life of Denbigh born iournalist and explorer Henry Morten Stanley - has been the subject of intense debate because of his role in the colonial history of the Congo.

Since 2012, the £31,000 statue has been 're-veiled' every year by a small group of protestors angry that he has been honored despite being linked to crimes against humanity.

HM Stanley was a famous name in the late 19th century, mainly as a result of his search for Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone who he found in East Africa in 1871, after eight months of searching for him.

But a a small group of protestors – who will cover the statue in a rubber bodybag on August 16 – say that Stanley was part of a brutal and exploitive regime that resulted in millions of Congolese being killed.

Protestor Wanda Zyborska, who is the artist that made the rubber bodybag, said: “Rubber is a particularly appropriate medium for the Stanley re-veiling sculpture, as there was so much abuse related to the collection of rubber by the people of Congo, who suffered punishments such as cutting off a hand and flogging for failing to deliver.

“Rubber was a very valuable commodity at that time. Stanley was the agent of this regime.

“Documents from the period are proof of his cruelty and his approval of the abuse by others.

“The statue celebrates Stanley's role in the colonial hiostory of the Congo and the brutal and exploitative regime that he was part of.”

Barbara Manley, of Denbigh, who will be part of the protest on Saturday, said: "I oppose the statue because I did not think a Rural Development Grant should have been used to depict such a controversial figure in the centre of the town. He had a fascinating life but l do not think you can call him 'Africa's Greatest Explorer' and ignore both the repercussions of his work for Leopold and his place at the forefront of colonialism in Africa.

“For 364 days of the year, the statue is left in peace. For an hour on one day, people say that there is another side to the story. Things have not changed that much since the 19th century. The people of the Congo are still being exploited for all the country's natural resources.

“I just hope that when the museum is opened then hopefully, the whole story can be told and people have the chance to make up their own minds about him. I think we should question and learn from the behaviour of our ancestors. The people of the Congo tore down his statue there and it has never been put up again.”

Councillor for Denbigh Central, Gwyneth Kensler, said: “This anti-Stanley group is a small minority with no democratic mandate to speak for the people of Denbigh; indeed, some of them are not from Denbigh.

“The statue is owned by Denbigh Town Council; I hope that they have advised the council of their intentions.

“I have no time for them and shall not give them another thought.”

The Free Press asked Denbigh residents their opinions.

Yvonne Lloyd said: “I don't agree with the protestors. It was different times back then. But given the financial climate the money could have been better spent or they could have chosen a smaller, cheaper way of commemorating him.”

Ann Davies, of I'r Dim shop, said: “I don't have strong feelings about the statue either way, but it is controversial because of the history and the cruelty and everything. But I do think the money could have been better spent on something else.”

Another Denbigh resident, who did not want to be named or photographed said: “It's history, you can't change it. Atrocities happened, unfortunately. I see lots of tourists having their picture taken with the statue so it's good in that respect. But I don't think the statue should be there, it's a lot of money for a statue, besides anything else.”

Tom Williams, said: “I'm happy for the statue to be there because of the David Livingstome link. I agree that Stanley should be commemorated in his home town.”

Ray Thomas, said: “I am aware of the controversy. But Stanley was well thought of in that period, and I think the statue adds to Denbigh, definitely. I know that some snooty academics have opposed it, but I don't disagree with it at all.”

The re-veiling ceremony will take place at 11am on Saturday, August 16.

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