¡Adios, Colon! A sculpture of an indigenous woman will replace Columbus in Mexico City

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A towering bronze statue of Christopher Columbus in Mexico City will be replaced with a new sculpture of an indigenous woman, noted Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum this weekend. The monument was removed from its prominent place in the capital’s Paseo de la Reforma last October ahead of annual protests by indigenous groups. Government officials said the work had been removed for restoration, but acknowledged it was “time to reflect on the legacy of Columbus”.

The controversial statue of the Italian colonizer will not rise on its pedestal. Instead, a new sculpture of an Olmec woman by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes will take its place. Sheinbaum made the announcement during a press conference on International Indigenous Women’s Day this Saturday, September 5.

“We owe them. We exist because of them,” she said. “This is the story of our country and our homeland.”

About 15% of the Mexican population is indigenous. Last year, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) made a historic apology to the Mexica people of the country for the violence inflicted upon them by the Spaniards during their conquest of the Aztec Empire in the 16th century. Despite AMLO’s promises to improve the lives of indigenous Mexicans, the community continues to face growing poverty and other challenges, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Statues of colonizers who subjugated, by sword and disease, the people of this continent and others, are descending all over the world,” Reyes told Hyperallergic. “It took us 500 years to change direction, and today we understand that it was not a ‘discovery’, it was an invasion.”

Reyes was inspired by the Nahuatl word tlalli, meaning Earth. “It’s such a beautiful word that it inspired me to create an allegory,” he said. “I asked myself: what form could this word take? Historically, representations of the Earth are feminine, which is why my sculpture is of a woman.

Taking the tradition of Olmec monumental sculpture as a starting point, the finished work will also incorporate elements of La Venta art, including the heavy-lidded eyes and downturned mouth of the “jaguar-were” motif.

Reyes’ piece is set to ride on Día de la Raza, a celebration of diverse Latin American cultures observed by many Spanish-speaking countries on October 12, the day Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492.

Last year, amid historic protests against police brutality and racial violence, statues of Columbus were among many monuments that have been toppled, removed or painted over around the world. The Mexican statue of Christopher Columbus previously at Paseo de la Reforma, however, will not be stored or destroyed but moved to Parque América, a small plaza in the city’s Polanco neighborhood.

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