Angered by This Roosevelt Statue? A Museum Wants Visitors to Weigh InHistorians in the News
tags: museums, monuments, Teddy Roosevelt
There’s a quote that takes up its own wall at the American Museum of Natural History’s newest exhibition: It’s more important to tell the truth about the president — pleasant or unpleasant — thanabout anyone else.
The words were written, in fact, by a president: Theodore Roosevelt. A century later, it’s hard to know if Roosevelt expected his words could be used in a context that highlights unpleasant truths of his own.
The exhibition, titled “Addressing the Statue” and opening Tuesday, is the museum’s way of contextualizing a monument of Roosevelt that towers outside its Central Park West entrance. With the president seated high astride a horse, flanked by a Native American man and an African man standing below, people who look at the statue often see a legacy of colonialism and a visually explicit racial hierarchy.
The statue was installed to honor Roosevelt, a staunch conservationist whose ties to the Natural History museum trace back to his father, a founding member of the institution. But Roosevelt’s own racist views, including statements about Native Americans and Africans, complicate the monument’s implications even further.
With the national conversation about monuments and who we choose to honor reaching a fever pitch, the “Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt” was one of four controversial memorials in New York up for a city commission to reconsider in 2017. The commission was split, and the city decided to leave the statue upand to add context. The resulting exhibition is not permanent, but the museum is looking at ways to incorporate parts of it in other areas of the institution.
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