Fallism and restitution.

AuthorHicks, Dan

'Fallism' is an African movement--and one with a long history. From the moment of independence, it was understood that colonial statues did not just represent colonisers, they operated as enduring and active forms of imperialism.

A 'war on statues' was declared in newly-independent Algeria in 1962, and the revolutionary practice of removing colonial-era statues spread to Mozambique, Congo and beyond.

A watershed moment came in April 2015, almost a generation after the end of apartheid, with the removal of the figure of Cecil John Rhodes from the University of Cape Town. The repercussions of that moment are still unfolding at a global level today.

The far-right violence around the statue of General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 made the removal of Confederate statues across the United States a key element of Black Lives Matter.

Today, in the wake of the racist murder of George Floyd and the period of reflection the coronavirus pandemic has brought, fallism is reversing the tide of colonial remembrance wherever the racist fantasy of a 'White' Atlantic has been monumentalised.

In June 2020, after decades of dialogue and inaction, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was pulled from his plinth in Bristol, England, and cast into the harbour.

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the racist statue of Theodore Roosevelt towering on horseback above African and Indian figures will finally be removed.

Now protesters are questioning why there are tens of thousands of African objects held in the museum's vaults, many looted during the American Museum Congo Expedition of 1909-1915, others 'donated' by the genocidal King Leopold II of Belgium.

At the Museum of London, Docklands, on West India Quay, the statue of slave trader Robert Milligan has gone. Activists are now calling for the museum's display of Benin Bronzes to be removed from the 'London, Sugar and Slavery' gallery, and returned to Nigeria.

Restitution, just like fallism, is a longstanding African decolonising movement. As this new transatlantic civil rights era begins to unfold, these twin movements hold at least three common lessons for the global north.

Change is a crucial element

Dismantling racist monuments is not a movement to close down museums or empty out galleries. Fallism and restitution arose in the half-century from the 1880s to the 1930s, during which culture was aggressively put to work to re-naturalise the idea of racial hierarchy in...

To continue reading

Request your trial