'Rapist': Dunedin protesters target two statues of historic figures

Dunedin protester Andrew Tait places a necklace of potatoes around the Queen Victoria statue at...
Dunedin protester Andrew Tait places a necklace of potatoes around the Queen Victoria statue at Queens Gardens on Saturday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The Robbie Burns statue in the Octagon on Saturday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The Robbie Burns statue in the Octagon on Saturday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Does Andrew Tait have a chip on his shoulder?

He doesn’t think so.

The Dunedin protester just dislikes the idea that people are unaware of the darker sides of some historic figures who are now commemorated and celebrated with statues around the city.

While some are calling for the removal of some public statues in light of protests about systemic racism following the death of American George Floyd, Mr Tait said he would prefer to see them left standing and used to highlight their colonialist or racist backgrounds.

On Saturday morning, he placed a necklace made of potatoes around the neck of the Queen Victoria statue in Queens Gardens, to remind the public she was on the throne in the 1840s when Ireland was under English rule, and hundreds of thousands of Irish died when a blight ruined potatoes, their main food source.

As a result, she is often referred to as the "Famine Queen".

"Queen Victoria presided over a famine which saw something like a third of the Irish population die of starvation, while England was exporting grain to other countries overseas at the same time.

"The population of Ireland still hasn’t recovered. It’s still lower than it was before Queen Victoria was queen.

"That’s some of my ancestors."

The statue was also unpopular with Maori because Queen Victoria was on the throne when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Last year it was spray-painted with the words "Return stolen wealth Charles" and "Uphold Te Tiriti".

Others in the city appeared to share Mr Tait’s views, on Saturday.

Rather than pull down the Robbie Burns statue in the Octagon, someone hung signs from it, saying "complicit in slavery" and "rapist".

Critics of Burns have alleged he planned to make his fortune in the slave trade before his early death.

Mr Tait was pleased a debate about public art was finally happening.

"It’s good to have a conversation about it.

"I agree with people that say public art is there for debate. What you do with it, that is the question.

"Rather than pulling it down, I’m using it to make a statement.

"A potato necklace is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time."

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