The Keiskamma Guernica, 2010, Mixed media, Hamburg, South Africa. Photo: Robert Hofmeyr
The Keiskamma Guernica, 2010, Mixed media, Hamburg, South Africa. Photo: Robert Hofmeyr


As a counterpoint to the rise of the nationalist right (again) in Europe, the United States and elsewhere in the world, there has been an increased demand on many university campuses, for institutions to address colonial amnesia and to actively decolonize the curriculum. Municipal statuary has become the visual centerpiece of these protests – with the call for iconoclastic removal ironically transforming them from neglected and banalized remnants of former colonial glory into hyper-visible symbols of colonial power.

Using examples from Kenya, Spain and South Africa, this lecture considers the ways in which various visual and cultural strategies might be said to perform the requirements of either a monument or a memorial – a living symbolic commemorative structure – in the contexts of particularly violent pasts targeting civilian populations. While a decolonizing agenda is similarly a dimension of these examples, the lecture argues that they also offer an alternative relational structure to memorialisation which reinstates the centrality of process to enable a more meaningful and organic engagement with the past.


Professor Annie E. Coombes is Founding Director of the Peltz Gallery and Professor of Material and Visual Culture in the Department of History of Art, Birkbeck, University of London. Coombes is a cultural historian specializing in the history and culture of British colonialism and its legacy in the present, particularly in Africa. She has produced key publications that investigate contemporary state and community-led memorial projects and museum approaches to difficult histories, including: History After Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa (2003) and Managing Heritage, Making Peace: History, Identity and Memory in Contemporary Kenya (with L. Hughes and Karega-Munene, 2013) and (with Ruth B. Phillips), Museum Transformations: Decolonization and Democratization (2015).

Visiting Professorships include Mary Jane Crowe Distinguished Visiting Professor of Art History (Northwestern University); Advanced Cultural Studies Institute of Sweden (ACSIS) and Australian National University. Coombes is consultant to the African Union Human Rights Memorial Project.