The statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford, should be turned to face the wall in shame, the sculptor Antony Gormley has proposed.
Gormley’s suggestion, made in an interview with the Financial Times, would be an innovative solution to a years-long battle over whether the 19th-century colonialist and white supremacist should remain in pride of place at the university.
Gormley said the statue should stay, the FT reported. But he added: “If we need to readdress our relationship to him, I would just simply turn him to face the wall rather than facing outwards.”
Turning Rhodes to face the wall would be “an acknowledgment of collective shame” that would also “reassert the fact that Oriel College and many institutions have property from Rhodes’s riches”, the FT quoted Gormley as saying.
Rhodes was instrumental in the establishment of the British colony of Rhodesia, covering what is now Zambia and Zimbabwe, and set up the diamond company De Beers. His last will endowed Oxford University to set up the Rhodes scholarship, the oldest graduate scholarship in the world, which was initially restricted to men from territories of the British empire, Germany and the US.
Critics say Rhodes’s racism and his role in British imperial expansion and the establishment of apartheid in Africa mean he should be condemned. A campaign to remove statues of Rhodes began in Africa in 2015, and led swiftly to one being removed from the University of Cape Town. Students at Oxford began their campaign at around the same time.
Oriel had previously warned of the possibility that it would lose about £100m in gifts should the statue be taken down, but insisted financial concerns were not the motive for keeping it. Last month, following the recommendation that Rhodes be removed, the college said it would not “begin the legal process” of moving the statue at this stage owing to “regulatory and financial challenges” presented by its removal.
Nearly 70 tributes to slave traders, colonialists and racists across the UK have been removed since last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, according to a Guardian analysis. The number includes an estimated 39 names – including streets, buildings and schools – and 30 statues, plaques and other memorials which have been or are undergoing changes or removal.