The renaissance of Stalinist art – in Africa

 

"African Renaissance"

IF, LIKE ME, YOU had the privilege of traveling widely in Eastern Europe both before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, you will also remember a certain style of monument – usually called “Stalinist” – depicting eager young men and women with giant hands and rippling muscles. You used to find them everywhere in places like East Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, and Moscow. After the fall of communism, most people thought Stalinist art belonged on the scrap heap of history, and the scrap heap is where many of these pieces landed. Only the Hungarian government cleverly decided to transform this communist legacy into a tourist attraction, so-called “Monument Park,” where it has preserved most of its monuments as a cautionary tale for future generations. And yet the Stalinist monument is experiencing a rebirth in a place few would have expected it: Africa.

Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, now 83, had a dream: a gigantic monument, taller than the Statue of Liberty, that would not only commemorate Africa’s liberation from “centuries of ignorance, intolerance and racism,” but also put his country on the global tourist map. Now this dream is becoming a 164-foot tall reality of stone and brass. Built upon a 330-foot artificial hill, “African Renaissance” depicts a Senegalese family consisting of a man, woman, and child emerging from a volcano and ascending towards a promising future. Upon completion later this year, it will not only be Africa’s largest statue by far, but also a prominent new landmark on the main road from Leopold Sédar Senghor International Airport to central Dakar. Wade designed the statue himself, drawing upon imagery from his own writings on the continent’s future, and brought in fifty North Korean construction workers from the state-owned Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang to build it. Construction began in 2006 and the monument is scheduled to open on April 4, 2010…

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