Pictured above: The ‘Freedom Statue’ on display in Franklin Powell Park in Cruz Bay, St. John.
Photos provided by St. John Historical Society. [hr gap=”1″]
The Virgin Islands has made history by gifting three statues of Virgin Islands freedom fighters to Denmark in recognition of the upcoming 2017 centennial. The gift marks the first time in history that monuments depicting Danish subjects of African descent will be on permanent public display in Denmark.
The three statues, created by renowned Ghanaian sculptor Bright Bimpong, were commissioned by St. Croix art collector and political consultant to former Governor Roy L. Schneider, Walter G. Brunner. Upon Brunner’s death, the statues were inherited by his sister and her husband, Carol and Ted Whittier. The Whittiers donated these valuable works of art to the St. John Historical Society under the guidance of Matt Eckstein and David W. Knight Sr. of the St. Thomas-St. John Committee of the V.I. Historic Preservation Commission. In turn, the SJHS transferred the statues to Denmark.
Bimpong’s commissioned works were replicas of his originals, which are highly recognized among Virgin Islands residents. One of them is the “Freedom” statue which is on display in public parks throughout the territory; the other two are busts of John “Buddhoe” Gottlieb and D. Hamilton Jackson, which are on public display in St. Croix. The statues have arrived in Denmark and are in the care of Karen Munk-Nielsen, head of the Holbæk Museum, which will be the primary facilitator for what’s been dubbed the “Freedom Project.”
Plans are already in the works for the statues. The D. Hamilton Jackson statue is at the Workers Museum in Copenhagen, which will have an exhibition in 2017 about the civil rights leader and how slavery and workers rights remain an issue in the modern world. The Buddhoe statue will become part of a new, permanent exhibition at the Holbæk Museum about the many connections between the former Danish West Indies and the museum’s home region of Sjælland.
“It is my ambition that the ‘Freedom’ statue will be placed in a central location in Copenhagen and will therefore be the first monument ever to mark the Danish colonial past in a public space,” said Munk-Nielsen. “In the meantime, different museums in Copenhagen have shown an interest in having it on display in 2017.”
The SJHS continues to seek donations to help cover the approximately $5,000 expense of shipping the statues to Denmark.
“With the upcoming centennial, we wanted to spark the conversation in Denmark and here in the Virgin Islands to discuss our history, and to ensure our children know about their history,” said SJHS president Lonnie Willis. “We were really pleased to be part of this effort.”
The statues’ arrival in Denmark has already begun to initiate awareness among educators and institutions there, Munk-Nielsen explained.
“The statues tell important stories,” she said. “For Denmark as a whole, these statues are important as we have no monuments marking our colonial past. It’s an unpleasant history, but we have to face it, and monuments on public display remind us about our past and our place in the world.”
Carol Whittier, who donated the statues, and Karen Munk-Nielsen will be in the territory next month to continue the dialogue started by the Freedom Project. To donate to the SJHS to help cover shipping costs, call Willis at 693-8590 or email [email protected].