There's Debate Over the Placement of a Queen Elizabeth Memorial

Royal officials and UK ministers are trying to figure out the appropriate location for a memorial to Queen Elizabeth. One contender is Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth in London, but many are unhappy with the suggestion.

Photo credit: Jason Hawkes
Photo credit: Jason Hawkes

Their are four plinths, or large bases for statues, in Trafalgar Square. Two have sculptures of British generals Henry Havelock and Charles James Napier, and a third has one of King George IV. The fourth was intended to hold a statue of King William IV, but that never materialized. Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, said in 2013, "The understanding is that the fourth plinth is being reserved for Queen Elizabeth II."

Since 1998, the so-called Fourth Plinth has exhibited contemporary works. Prue Leith, one of the judges on Great British Bake Off, helped initiate the Fourth Plinth sculpture program. "I am proud of it. If there’s one thing that I’ve done in my life that I would be delighted to see continue, it would be the Fourth Plinth. It’s been hugely successful," Leith told the Guardian.

Photo credit: Leon Neal
Photo credit: Leon Neal

The 14th sculpture since the program's inception was unveiled today—a sculpture entitled "Antelope" of Malawian Baptist preacher John Chilembwe, who was killed in an uprising in 1915, standing with a missionary, John Chorley, by artist Samson Kambalu. "Many people may not know who John Chilembwe is. And that is the whole point," Kambalu, an associate professor of fine art at Oxford, told the Evening Standard.

The Fourth Plinth, Leith said, "keeps the debate about contemporary art going and has become part of the national curriculum for children to think about public art. It’s really important that the contemporary stuff stays in the square. Each sculpture has had its fans and its detractors. Even if you hate what’s there, you know it’s coming down next year."

Last week, however, Conservative former minister John Hayes floated the idea to the House of Commons to use the Fourth Plinth for a statue of the late monarch.

"Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II we have witnessed an extraordinary nationwide, indeed kingdom-wide, response – a moving mix of sorrow at our loss and celebration of a life of remarkable service," Hayes said. "So that that mood is marked forever and remembrance can last for generations to come, a fitting national memorial needs to be established. Will the Leader of the House therefore agree with me that a statement be brought to this House on what form that memorial might take? For me, a statue on the final plinth on Trafalgar Square would be ideal."

Yet, not all politicians agreed with this suggestion. Conservative MP David Jones told Express, "It needs to be sufficiently prominent and in my view being one of four statues in Trafalgar Square is not good enough. You can’t have her statue at a lower level than Lord Nelson."

Artists, too, pushed back against the idea that the Fourth Plinth is a fitting spot for a tribute to Queen Elizabeth. "Through many of the amazing artistic contributions over the years I think the Fourth Plinth has become The People’s Plinth and is no longer a suitable site for celebrating members of the royal family," artist Michael Elmgreen, who has previously displayed on work on the plinth, told The Art Newspaper.

Photo credit: Bettmann
Photo credit: Bettmann

Leith, too, is against the idea, saying, "I don’t think the Fourth Plinth is special enough for the Queen. I think there should be a statue for her outside Westminster Abbey where she was crowned." Sandy Nairne, the former director of the National Portrait Gallery, echoed the concerns of others, saying, "There’s no way a back corner of Trafalgar Square is appropriate. Just think of the scale of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. I’m not suggesting something as huge as that, but she had a longer reign than Queen Victoria."

No decision has been made for a location of a permanent memorial to Queen Elizabeth.

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