March 26, 2007

"The Equestrian" glorifies conquest

El Paso confronts its messy past

A naming controversy over a statue of a brutal Spanish conqueror grips the Southwest city.When organizers officially unveil the world's largest equestrian statue late next month—the very time of year when Oñate and his band of 500-odd settlers entered the region—it won't carry the explorer's name. Four years ago, in an attempt to quash the project, Native American activists successfully persuaded the El Paso City Council to name the statue "The Equestrian."Dueling perspectives:The Native American activists who demanded that Oñate's name be withdrawn argued that he was a brutal conqueror. And no one disagrees with them. From almost the beginning, New Mexico, the site of Oñate's settlement, was a disappointment to the Spaniards, and not long after they arrived, disgruntled and mutinous soldiers began to prey on the local Pueblo Indians.

Before the first year was out, the Indians of Acoma rebelled and killed 11 Spanish soldiers, including Oñate's nephew. Oñate's response was swift and harsh, wiping out their village, killing hundreds of men, women and children and famously severing one foot of each adult male survivor.

Sculptor John Sherrill Houser, who worked 10 years on the Oñate statue, says his goal was never to honor the man as an individual. "People think monumental sculpture is supposed to glorify heroes," he told me, "but I wanted to find a figure to represent a stage in history. It's not a value judgment but a way to make people aware of the past."
Comment:  Are you kidding me? A huge statue of a man astride a horse is inherently ennobling. There's nothing neutral about it.

If you want to represent history, show Oñate butchering an Acoma Indian. Then tell people there's no value judgment and you're just depicting history the way it was.

You'll never see the non-Native majority sanction such a statue. Why not? Because this is all about glorifying Hispanic heroes--despite the sculptor's disingenous remarks.

See Best Monuments to Topple for more on the subject.


Anonymous said...

Reminds of those Russians faced with what to do of those Lenin statues which enobled one of the worst arch-fiends in history.

Anonymous said...

"The Natives of this land would not have objected, as we were equestrians long before the Russians were"

Perhaps the Russians were equestrians long before anyone else anywhere was.


"4,000 B. C.
The first "bridle" appeared in what is now eastern Europe and southern Russia. These bridles and antler or bone cheekpieces, and the mouthpieces were of rope, sinew, or rawhide"

There are other references to the horse first being domesticated in the area of Russia.