Posted on September 24, 2009
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From The Guardian

Its advocates describe it as Africa’s long-overdue answer to the Eiffel tower or Statue of Liberty. Its detractors call it an ugly £17m monument to hubris in a country that can ill afford grandiose gestures.

The 49 metre bronze statue, on a hilltop overlooking the Atlantic in Dakar, Senegal, has provoked debate about the role of public art and whether it represents an inspiration or an insult to the poor suffering in its shadow.

The towering structure, depicting a family rising triumphantly from a volcano, is intended to symbolise Africa’s renaissance and prove that the continent can build its own monuments to rival those bequeathed by European colonialists.

Critics regard it rather differently, as Africa’s latest lavish expression of presidential ego at the expense of the people.

On a rubbish-strewn path below, impoverished residents endure incessant power blackouts and flooding. For some, the situation is so desperate that they risk their lives crossing the sea on flimsy wooden boats bound for Europe.

The statue shows a muscular man in a heroic posture, outstretched arms wrapped around his wife and child. Nearly 50 North Korean workers were brought in to build it, because of their expertise with bronze art, and some Senegalese have complained of its communist-era design. It has also drawn criticism from Muslims, who make up 94% of Senegal’s population, because of Islamic prohibitions on representations of the human form.

Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal’s octogenarian president, has compared the work to some of the west’s best-known landmarks, and some Senegalese do regard it as a symbol of pride that has economic spin-offs.

Alassane Cisse, a Senegalese delegate at the world summit on arts and culture in Johannesburg, South Africa, said: “All cities need signatures, but in Dakar we have had only monuments which existed during colonisation. Africa needs its own great monuments like the Eiffel tower and the Statue of Liberty. This symbol of African renaissance will motivate people to rehabilitate and work with Africa.”

He added that the site has exhibition, multimedia and conference rooms, as well as a top-floor viewing platform giving a bird’s eye view of Dakar. “It will be a cultural place. Around the monument there will be a theatre and shops. Many tourists will visit there, so the economic effects will benefit the population.”

But the president has sparked anger by maintaining that he is entitled to 35% of any tourist revenues it generates, because he owns the “intellectual rights”. continue reading


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