Truman: The Most Hated Statue in Greece

Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Greek Civil War in October 1949. The conflict between monarchists and communists erupted soon after the end of the country’s occupation during World War II left a power vacuum at the heart of the birthplace of democracy. Although Stalin chose not to support the insurgents, the conflict is considered to be the first proxy war of the Cold War, with the monarchists backed by Britain and the United States, while the communists were mainly supported by Tito’s Yugoslavia.

The Truman Doctrine, named after US President Harry Truman, was instrumental in releasing billions in US government funds to support the monarchists and to provide equal economic and military support to Turkey, which was also at risk of entering the Soviet sphere. The strategy proved effective and a subsequent victory for the Kingdom of Greece suppressed the spread of communism in Southern Europe.

Yet the disagreement that gave rise to the conflict has continued to fester, exacerbated by the Greek military coup d’état in 1967 which heralded seven years of rule by a far-right junta who imprisoned or exiled thousands of suspects communists and political opponents. US support for the junta, deeply unpopular among the Greeks but an expedient anti-communist ally for the West, led to growing anti-Americanism during the dictatorship. This only increased when the US failed to support Greece in halting the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. In the Greek capital, anger against US ‘imperialism’ has repeatedly found a target in one unfortunate work of art.

Earlier this year, Greek communists were arrested for an attack on a 12-foot bronze statue of Truman, erected near the US Embassy in 1963 by the conservative US-based American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA). Set up without the consent of the Athens city authorities, the statue has been controversial from the start. In 2018, activists protesting US-led airstrikes in Syria used a metal grinder to cut off its feet and ropes in an attempt to topple it to the ground, before they were repelled by riot police with tear gas.

 But this is just the latest attack the statue has withstood. Over the last 55 years, it has being bombed four times – on one occasion causing the death of a nearby policeman, attacked with a chainsaw and successfully toppled on at least five occasions. In more imaginative protests, the statue has been doused in pink and red paint (perhaps a nod to David Černý’s Pink Tank in Prague) and wrapped up in packaging paper marking it for return delivery to the United States. When a bomb in 1986 tore the statue apart, an exasperated Mayor of Athens suggested replacing Truman with a statue of Abraham Lincoln, perhaps hoping that the American Civil War hero would prove less aggravating. But the AHEPA insisted on bringing Truman back from the dead.

Recounting the misfortunes that have befallen the statue, in a country famous for its sculpture, some commentators have asked if it has become ‘the most hated’ in Athens. Even those Greeks who are ambivalent to the statue have wondered why it is there, when some of the country’s greatest politicians, leaders and intellectuals have not received similar recognition, and there is not even a Truman statue on display in the president’s own hometown. But with the sculpture once again patched up and receiving a vocal defense from the US Ambassador to Greece, it doesn’t look like Truman will be leaving his podium any time soon.

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A Cold War Air Tragedy in Art

 The horrifying painted image that exploded from the front cover of Time magazine on 12 September 1983 brought to public realisation one of the single greatest tragedies of the Cold War – the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (KAL007) on the first of that month.

The civilian flight from New York City to Seoul, via Anchorage, was approaching its final destination when it was intercepted by Soviet military aircraft over the Sea of Japan. The pilots had mistakenly strayed into Soviet airspace and fighter jets were scrambled to encounter what was suspected to be a US spy plane. The Soviet Air Forces made the grave decision to destroy the plane with air-to-air missiles. All 269 people aboard were killed, including 105 Korean passengers and crew, 62 Americans, 28 Japanese, and others from a total of 16 different countries.

Two weeks later, the Soviets located the airplane wreckage and flight recorders on the bottom of the sea, although this would not become public knowledge for many years. Initially the government of Yuri Andropov denied his country’s involvement in the incident. Once evidence forced Andropov to admit that the Soviet Air Forces had indeed downed the plane, he maintained that it had been a “sophisticated provocation masterminded by the US special services with the use of a South Korean plane”. The Soviet government continued to conceal evidence from the International Civil Aviation Organization investigating the flight. The full story would only come to light after the dissolution of the USSR, when in 1992 Russia finally released the cockpit voice recorder transcript. On the 30th anniversary of the incident, CNN published a compelling account of this episode.

On 1 September every year, relatives of the deceased gather to remember those killed in the tragedy at the KAL Memorial Tower at National Mang-Hyang Cemetery in Cheonan, South Korea. The cemetery was constructed in 1976 and is devoted to Korean nationals who have died in foreign countries. The towering central monument stands above a shrine, its bisected form resembling the wings of an airplane and connecting the earth and sky. Relief sculptures are carved on either side of the shrine, while two dramatic freestanding group sculptures recall the lives lost.

On the left hand side, the neoclassical statue is formed of fifteen women entwined in their grief. While thirteen of the mourners are shown stooped and with heads bowed, one holding a wreath and an older woman embracing a young girl, two figures at the front of the group enact formal funereal rites: one standing and holding to her chest what appears to be an urn; and one kneeling with a flaming torch. The sculpture on the right hand side instead shows an image of resurgence. The people have arisen, and a group of young men and women are shown on their feet with arms raised, carrying banners forward in a show of determination. Little information about the monument is available in English language, including details of the architect and sculptor, yet it is worthy of wider attention as one of the most poignant and effective monuments to the Cold War.

Two further monuments to the tragedy stand on islands to the north and south of the crash site. In the city of Wakkanai, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, a 90-foot tower marks the spot when some of the victims’ bodies and belongings were washed ashore after the crash. The tower is constructed from 269 white stones, each representing one of the deceased. Meanwhile, on the island of Sakahlin, a distant outpost at the edge of Russia’s territory, a small cemetery marker pays tribute to the victims.

The sorry tale of KAL007 was brought back to international attention in July 2014, when in a tragic repeat of history, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was downed over eastern Ukraine. Despite obstruction from the Russian-backed insurgents in the region, overwhelming evidence has led the international investigators to conclude that the airliner was downed by a Russia-supplied Buk surface-to-air missile, by pro-Russian fighters who likely misidentified the commercial plane as a military aircraft. In a repetition of the 1983 incident, the Kremlin has blocked the investigation, fuelled conspiracy theories that the flight was instead brought down by a Ukraininan military jet, and so far no one has been held accountable for the deaths of the 283 passengers and 15 crew.

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Images: Top three – KAL Memorial Tower, National Mang-Hyang Cemetery, South Korea. Courtesy KAL 007 Famlies and Friends Facebook page. Bottom – Monument to Korean Airlines Flight 007, Hokkaido, Japan. Courtesy shirokazan on flickr.

Commemorating Bomber Command

In an unprepossessing corner of London’s Green Park – an oasis of tranquillity squeezed between the busy thoroughfare of Piccadilly and the grandeur of Buckingham Palace – stands an imposing neo-classical stone structure. This is the Bomber Command Memorial, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. The memorial took so long to be realised in large part due to the ongoing controversy about the magnitude of Britain’s bombing raids on German cities in the final years of the war, which inflicted widespread devastation and resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. However, the aircrews also paid a high price: at the centre of the shrine is a large bronze group sculpture, depicting seven of the 55,573 servicepeople who lost their lives fighting in the RAF’s bomber forces in World War II – a staggering death rate of 44% of the entire force. The 9 foot high figures were created by Royal Sculptor, Philip Jackson. The work captures the exhaustion, relief, concern and fortitude of an air crew as they depart a plane, knowing they have once again survived a perilous mission but that their brothers-in-arms may never return.

The memorial has proved popular with Londoners and tourists alike, while making headlines for its endorsement by celebrities including Dame Judi Dench and the Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb.

Sculpture by Philip Jackson, within the Bomber Command Memorial, London. Courtesy Royal Parks.

Although the memorial focuses on World War II, Bomber Command didn’t disappear with the Allied victory in 1945, instead being thrust back to the front line in the atomic age. While the United States enjoyed an era of wealth and rampant consumerism in the aftermath of the war, European nations were slow to recover from the damage and loss. Thus, while America rapidly built up its nuclear arsenal and the USSR raced to compete, US allies in Western Europe struggled to develop weapons that might resist the Soviet threat.

Bomber Command Memorial by Philip Jackson.

In 1957, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan appealed to US President Eisenhower to loan ballistic missiles to the UK, just as the perceived technological superiority of the Soviet Union sparked the Sputnik Crisis. The Americans agreed, and in 1959 they launched Project Emily, with the deployment of sixty Thor missiles to the UK. While US air force personnel were sent to oversee the weapons, responsibility for both men and machines fell under the control of Bomber Command. With its nuclear armory outsourced to the US, the UK was compelled to support its ally in a number of military forays at this time, and Bomber Command contributed to Cold War escapades in the Middle East and East Asia, and stood ready to serve during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

However, the downing of the U-2 spy plane over Soviet air space in 1960 was a wake-up call to the West. Acknowledging that military technology had dramatically changed in the Cold War, the British came to the realisation that their bomber air fleet would be no match for the Soviets in the new theatres of war. When the moment came to renew Project Emily in 1963, the British government instead opted to return the missiles to the United States, abandoning the idea of nuclear-armed aircraft in favour of submarines. With the dubious honour of safeguarding the country’s nuclear deterrent passed to the Royal Navy, Bomber Command ceased to have a role to play in the Cold War, and the unit was absorbed into the wider RAF in 1968.

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St George and the Atomic Dragon

tsereteli good defeats evil (2)

Perched majestically atop his trusty steed, while delivering a death blow with a spear to the contorted monster at his feet, St George appears incongruous with the lofty skyscrapers that rise above him in Manhattan. What could have caused this valiant knight to venture into the concrete jungle?

The bronze effigy of St George came to New York in 1990, in the twilight months of the Cold War, to take up residence in the grounds of the United Nations Headquarters. The sculpture was a gift of the failing Soviet Union, on the occasion of the UN’s 45th anniversary. Titled Good Defeats Evil, the statue pays tribute to the UN’s role in presiding over a series of treaties that furthered the cause of nuclear disarmament, starting with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, signed by the United States, Soviet Union and United Kingdom in 1968. The figure of the two-headed dragon that lies at the base of the statue is a direct result of the later Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 between the United States and Soviet Union. The dragon is formed from the scraps of Soviet SS-20 and US Pershing II nuclear missiles, which were destroyed under the terms of the 1987 treaty. Standing 12 metres (39ft) high and weighing 40 tonnes, Good Defeats Evil is a bombastic symbol of the Gorbachev government’s commitment to ending the Cold War, which would inadvertently take place the following year with the dissolution of the bankrupt USSR.

The extravagance of this statue will be of little surprise to any visitors from Moscow, where its creator is notorious for installing what many residents consider an unsightly eyesore. The most famous work by the elderly Georgian-Russian sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli, is the monumental Peter the Great Statue, which stands on an artificial island in the middle of the Moskva River. The sculpture has been widely derided by Muscovites since it was installed in 1997. At 94 metres (308ft) high, the gargantuan figure forged from stainless steel, bronze and copper is credited as the eighth tallest statue in the world – higher than the Statue of Liberty – and is unmissable from miles around. It is so unpopular in Moscow that a rumour is widely circulated that it was originally conceived as a statue of Christopher Columbus, to mark the 500th anniversary of his arrival in the New World in 1492; but that the US government wisely rejected it, and it was instead repurposed and sold on to the foolhardy Moscow authorities as a tribute to the legendary Russian tsar. Tsereteli vehemently denies the story, although his proposed statue of Columbus, entitled Birth of the New World, was indeed rejected by the US government in 1992 and would struggle to find a home until it was finally erected in Puerto Rico in 2016. The fact that Peter the Great famously loathed Moscow and moved his capital to the eponymous St Petersburg only adds to the ongoing ire among Muscovites, although attempts to knock the statue from its perch have so far been blocked by the appreciative administration of St Petersburg native, Vladimir Putin.

By comparison, Good Defeats Evil has found a more receptive audience in Manhattan. In the gardens of the UN Headquarters, it shares a home with another dramatic Soviet sculpture, We Shall Beat Our Swords Into Plowshares by Evgenii Vuchetich. In 1959, in the aftermath of the successful Soviet Exhibition of Science, Technology and Culture in New York, the sculpture was likewise gifted to the United Nations as a symbol of the Soviet commitment to nuclear disarmament. Espionart readers will recognise it as part of the blog’s logo.

In an ironic twist, since 2001, Good Defeats Evil has stood in the shadow of the Trump World Tower. This dramatic symbol of Cold War disarmament is now dwarfed by a skyscraper bearing the name of the new president, who in recent months has expressed a desire to reverse 50 years of US policy by augmenting the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Embed from Getty Images

Images: Zurab Tsereteli, Good Defeats Evil, 1990. United Nations Headquarters, New York. Photo: flickr user Al_HikesAZ, CC BY 2.0; Zurab Tsereteli, Peter the Great Statue, 1997. Moskva River, Moscow, 2012. Photo: flickr user e_chaya, CC BY 2.0; Evgenii Vuchetich, We Shall Beat Our Swords Into Plowshares, 1957. United Nations Headquarters, New York; Trump World Tower behind the Good Defeats Evil by Zurab Tsereteli, United Nations Headquarters, New York, 2007. Courtesy Getty Images.

Warning of the Cold War Horse

The life-size effigy of the horse stands alone in a windswept field in Jefferson County, Colorado. But this is no pettable pony. The Cold War Horse is a warning that something sinister has occurred on this remote plateau, about 15 miles north-west of Denver. Cast in fiberglass, steel and resin, the sculpture depicts the horse cloaked in a bright red hazmat suit, with a grey respirator strapped over its nose and mouth.

The Cold War Horse is wise to be dressed so strangely. Between 1952 and 1992, this area, known as Rocky Flats, was the site of a top secret factory where 70,000 highly toxic plutonium “triggers” were produced. These triggers were then dispatched to the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, where they were assembled into hydrogen bombs, to be used in the event that the Cold War suddenly became blazing hot.

Throughout its forty-year history, the Rocky Flats Plant witnessed a series of dangerous incidents, including a plutonium fire in 1957 and numerous leaks of radioactive waste into the surrounding soil and rivers. As a result of these incidents, a 4,600-acre buffer zone was imposed around the plant in 1972 and extended a couple of years later by another 4,500 acres. In the early 1980s, revelations about the activities at the plant and its environmental effects led to public outrage. In 1983, 17,000 people travelled to Rocky Flats to join hands around the 17-mile perimeter fence as part of a peace protest. Finally in 1987, the plant was raided by the FBI and its managers were fined what at the time amounted to the largest fine in history for an environmental crime. Although officially cleaned up in the early 2000s, the site is still heavily contaminated and uninhabited by humans, and has since been designated the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

The Cold War Horse was made by sculptor Jeff Gipe, who grew up near to Rocky Flats and whose father worked at the plant for over 20 years and now suffers from serious health problems as a result. The statue was dedicated in September 2015, ten years after the cleanup of the site was declared complete. But this is no memorial. The Cold War Horse is intended as a renegade artwork, to symbolise the locals affected by the scandal who have yet to be recompensated, and a protest against plans to construct a large housing development near the contaminated land.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Just a week after the Cold War Horse was installed, it was knocked to the ground and attacked with sledge hammers by unidentified assailants. The horse is now under repair and Gipe has set up the coldwarhorse.com website for people who would like to donate towards its reinstallation.

Image: Jeff Gipe, Cold War Horse, 2015. Image courtesy Jeff Werkheiser

Witness to the Lebanese Civil War

On 13 April 1975, the start of the Lebanese Civil War was sparked by an incident known as the Bus Massacre. Early morning skirmishes on the streets of Beirut – between guerrilla fighters linked to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and right-wing Lebanese Christian militiamen – escalated dramatically, as the indiscriminate shooting at a church congregation led to a retaliatory assault on a bus full of Palestinian men, women, and children. From the late 1950s, the Cold War had caused the disintegration of Lebanese civil society, as Western nations and Soviet-aligned Arab countries frequently intervened in the domestic conflict between rival religious groups. Ill-feeling resulting from the Bus Massacre pushed this tension to breaking point, and Lebanon rapidly spiralled into a fully-fledged civil war that would continue throughout the 1980s.

Working in the shadow of a vicious conflict that raged for almost 16 years and left one million people homeless, Lebanese artists were and continue to be affected powerfully by the country’s civil war. The tragic destruction of the capital city is epitomised for many in the broken, bullet-ridden remains of the Martyrs’ Monument. Completed by Italian sculptor Renato Marino Mazzacurati in 1960, the four-meter-high statue stands at the centre of Martyrs’ Square, so named after the Lebanese revolutionaries executed there by the Ottomans in 1916. During the civil war, this public space in the heart of downtown Beirut became the demarcation line that divided the city in half. Although restored in the late 1990s, the damage to the monument was preserved as a sign of the long years of suffering.

Beirut-born installation and video artist, Mona Hatoum, is just one of many artists who have produced work focusing on the Lebanese Civil War as a cathartic response to the havoc wrought on their homeland. Hatoum has returned to the image of the Martyrs’ Monument several times to commemorate the destruction of Lebanese arts and culture, as well as the psychological impact of the civil war on the Lebanese people. In 2008, she worked in collaboration with Iraq al Amir Women Cooperative Society to produce a small, simplified version of the monument in ceramics and stone. The following year, while she undertook a five-week residency in Beirut, Hatoum produced a second replica of the statue, this time a more faithful rendition in porcelain. Both sculptures feature the bullet holes and broken limbs of the mutilated bronze original and are entitled Witness, a word that personifies the Martyrs’ Monument as a silent witness to the civil war, and has its root in the Arabic word for ‘martyr’ (‘shahid’).

Hatoum’s return to the image demonstrates her interest in how the meaning of memorials changes over time, and also points to the effect of the civil war on her own sense of self, as an artist who identifies as Palestinian-British. In 2010, Hatoum used the title of the work for her homecoming solo exhibition at the Beirut Art Center.

Image: Renato Marino Mazzacurati, Martyrs’ Monument, 1960. Photographed in Martyrs’ Square, Beirut, by beirutmabitmoot.wordpress.com; Mona Hatoum, Witness, 2008. Ceramics and stone, 84 x 57 x 35 cm. The Khalid Shoman Collection; Mona Hatoum, Witness, 2009. Porcelain biscuit, 49 x 24.3 x 24.3 cm.

The African Renaissance Monument, Built by North Korea

While visiting the Things Fall Apart exhibition (part of the recent “Red Africa” season) at Calvert 22 in London, I was intrigued by Onejoon Che’s model of the African Renaissance Monument. This was one of a series of models and photographs of African monuments on display by the South Korean artist. Firstly, I was struck by how closely the design for the monument mirrored Soviet statuary and monumental sculptures erected under other Communist regimes. Several examples have previously been featured on ESPIONART, such as the golden statue in Vieng Xay District, Laos and Choi Young-jeep’s Statue of Brothers at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. What led this statue to be built in Dakar, Senegal as recently as 2010? And then there was the small matter of the North Koreans. While the sculpture has been credited as being based on an idea of President Abdoulaye Wade and designed alternatively by Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby or  Romanian sculptor Virgil Magherusan, the object itself was built by a North Korean company called Mansudae Overseas Projects. I decided to investigate further.

Standing 49 metres tall and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from a scenic hilltop, the African Renaissance Monument looks as though it has been in place for many years. The tallest statue in Africa, this imposing bronze effigy is of a scale and spirit that is rarely seen in 21st-century statuary (although China recently bucked the trend with a 32-metre high bust of a young Chairman Mao that was unveiled in 2009). But in fact the African Renaissance Monument is a very recent addition to the Senegalese landscape, with construction only beginning in 2008 and the formal dedication taking place on 4 April 2010, to commemorate 50 years of independence from France.

The statue consists of three full-length figures in deep bronze, that appear to depict an idealised African family group. On the left, a scantily-clad young woman leans against a rock, her head tilted back and her arms spread behind her in a submissive pose; in the middle, a muscular young man wearing nothing but a loincloth and a traditional kufi cap straddles the rock, his right arm around the girl’s waist, and a small child held aloft in his left hand; on the left, the naked child sits perched on the man’s shoulder and points westward towards the sea, with the direction of his arm completing the upward trajectory of the entire scene. All three figures stare upwards with determination, a common trope in Socialist Realism.
mukhina
The statue was unveiled in front of 19 African heads of state, in recognition of its status as a symbol of the African Renaissance, a campaign for postcolonial African nations to work together to achieve success. President Wade announced that after “several centuries of imprisonment in the abyssal depths of ignorance, intolerance and racism,” the statue “brings to life our common destiny. Africa has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands”. Yet despite this utopian proclamation, riot police had to be deployed to control a protest by thousands of Senegalese citizens who denounced the use of US$27 million of public money to build the “horrible” statue. In a 92% Muslim country, the colossal display of naked flesh also provoked uproar. Some Senegalese opposition leaders even labelled the sculpture “Stalinist”, acknowledging its similarities to works such as Vera Mukhina’s iconic statue of the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, first displayed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1937 and now once again erected in Moscow.

Also in attendance at the opening ceremony were representatives of North Korea. Mansudae Overseas Projects is the international division of Mansudae Art Studio, run by the North Korean government and responsible for numerous propaganda monuments across the secretive nation. In recent years, the Pyongyang-based company has produced a number of monuments across Africa celebrating independence from European colonial powers. Other works, also reproduced as models by Onejoon Che, include the bronze Three Dikgosi Monument that was unveiled in Gaborone, Botswana in 2005, and Heroes’ Acre, a war memorial erected in the Namibian capital of Windhoek. Other projects include a statue memorialising the 19th-century King Béhanzin, on display in Abomey, Benin. The involvement of North Korea in the construction of the African Renaissance Monument was previously explored in Frieze Magazine, while other statues built in Africa by Mansudae Overseas Projects can be seen in an article on Quartz.

It has been reported that as a reward for its involvement, North Korea was granted a large portion of state land in Senegal, meaning that a statue purported to celebrate freedom from colonisation has ironically resulted in yet another non-African nation securing land rights in Africa.

Images: Onejoon Che, Model of the African Renaissance Monument, 2014. Fibre-reinforced plastic. Courtesy the artist; African Renaissance Monument, 2010. Bronze, 49 metres. Dakar, Senegal; Vera Mukhina, Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, 1937. Stainless steel, 24.5 metres. Moscow, Russia.