The Confederate Monument Debate: International Perspectives on the Future of Monuments with Difficult Pasts

A Heritage Now Event

This event is part of the Heritage Now series and took place virtually on Friday, October 30, 2020, at 2 PM (EST). See below for more information on the discussion, including the event description and speaker information. 

Event Description 

The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others have led to massive protests across the United States calling for social justice in the name of Black Lives Matter. The destruction of Confederate memorials depicting white supremacists and slave owners has become a central issue in these protests. In recent years, protestors from Paris to Cape Town have made similar demands to remove monuments with roots in colonialism, imperialism, and systemic racism. This global movement highlights fundamental debates surrounding cultural preservation, notions of global heritage and ownership, and the public sphere. How do we make decisions about these monuments and places that are inclusive and representative of multiple perspectives?

On October 30 at 2 PM EDT, join World Monuments Fund (WMF) for a virtual discussion with British-Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, social historian of twentieth-century Europe Dr. Joshua Arthurs, and visual artist, public speaker and performer based in Cape Town, South Africa, Sethembile Msezane. Moderated by WMF President and CEO Bénédicte de Montlaur. 

Date: October 30, 2020
Time: 2pm (EDT)

About the Speakers

Kwame Anthony Appiah, British-Ghanian Philosopher 

Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at New York University in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Law School. Earlier, he taught at Princeton, Harvard, Duke, Cornell, Yale, Cambridge, and the University of Ghana. He grew up in Ghana and was educated at Cambridge, where he took undergraduate and doctoral degrees in philosophy. He has written widely in the philosophy of mind and language, ethics and political philosophy, and the philosophy of art, of culture, and of the social sciences; as well as in literary studies, where his focus has been on African and African-American literature and literary theory. Appiah has served as the President of the Modern Language Association and as Chair of the Board of the American Philosophical Association and the American Council of Learned Societies, and currently serves on the Boards of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the New York Public Library and the Public Theater. In February 2012, President Obama presented him with the National Humanities Medal.

In 1992, he published the prize-winning In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. His publications include Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Norton, 2006) and Lines of Descent: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Emergence of Identity (Harvard, 2014) and The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity (Norton, 2018). He writes the weekly Ethicist column for the New York Times Sunday magazine.


Dr. Joshua Arthurs, Social Historian of twentieth-century Europe

Joshua Arthurs is Associate Professor of History at West Virginia University and a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. He received his MA and Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago, and a BA in Classics and Letters from Wesleyan University. His areas of expertise include the cultural, social and intellectual history of twentieth-century Italy and Europe, with a focus on the politics of memory, monuments and the historical disciplines; fascism and the far right; ideologies of race, empire and the classical tradition; and everyday life in wartime and under dictatorship.

Joshua Arthurs is the author of Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy (Cornell University Press, 2012) and co-editor of the volume Outside the State? The Politics of Everyday Life in Fascist Italy (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017). His current book project, “Forty-Five Days: Emotion, Experience and Memory after Mussolini,” in preparation for Oxford University Press, examines popular responses to the collapse of the Fascist regime in 1943.


Sethembile Msezane, visual artist, public speaker and performer

Sethembile Msezane is a visual artist, public speaker and performer who lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa. Using interdisciplinary practice encompassing performance, photography, film, sculpture and drawing, Msezane creates commanding works heavy with spiritual and political symbolism.

The artist explores issues around spirituality, commemoration and African knowledge systems. She processes her dreams as a medium through a lens of the plurality of existence across space and time, asking questions about the remembrance of ancestry. Part of her work has examined the processes of mythmaking which are used to construct history, calling attention to the absence of the black female body in both the narratives and physical spaces of historical commemoration.

Msezane’s work has been widely exhibited across South Africa and internationally and was included in All Things Being Equal…, the inaugural exhibition of the Zeitz MOCAA (Cape Town), and forms part of the museum’s collection, as well as that of the Royal Ontario (Canada), and others. In 2020 she participated in African Cosmologies exhibition for Fotofest Biennial in Houston. 2019, she performed Signal Her Return III at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham. 2018, she staged a performance for the ICA Arts Live Festival in Cape Town, as well as performing at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, as part of the conference Changing Global Hierarchies of Value? Museums, artifacts, frames, and flows, organized in association with the University of Copenhagen. She also performed at dOCUMENTA 14 in 2017 in both Athens, Greece, and Kassel, Germany, as part of iQhiya Collective.

Msezane is a Mellon Artist Residency Fellow in partnership with Gallery University Stellenbosch and the English Department (2020), she is a National Institute for Human Social Sciences Award nominee (2020), OkayAfrica 100 women 2018 Honoree. Msezane was a TEDGlobal Speaker in Ausha, Tanzania (2017). She was a TAF & Sylt Emerging Artist Residency Award winner (TASA) (2016). Msezane is the first recipient of the Rising Light award at the Mbokodo Awards (2016). She is a Barclays L’Atelier Top 10 Finalist (2016). She is a Sasol New Signatures Merit Award winner (2015).


Bénédicte de Montlaur, President and CEO of World Monuments Fund

Bénédicte de Montlaur is President and Chief Executive Officer of World Monuments Fund (WMF), the world’s foremost private organization dedicated to saving extraordinary places while empowering the communities around them. She is responsible for defining WMF’s strategic vision, currently implementing that vision in more than 30 countries around the world and leading a team that spans the globe. Her background mixes culture and the arts, politics, international diplomacy and human rights. Prior to joining WMF, Montlaur spent two decades working across three continents as a senior diplomat at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Most recently, she served as Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States, leading France’s largest international cultural advocacy network and its two partner foundations—Albertine and FACE—and directing a team of 90 people in ten US offices. Previously, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of North Africa, United Nations Security Council Negotiator on Africa and the Middle East and French Embassy First Secretary in Damascus, Syria.

Background Material 

For more information about the topic of this event and to learn more about the difficult question of contested heritage, take a look at the compiled list of articles, books, and talks below:

About Heritage Now

A series of conversations at the nexus of history, culture and current global issues with top thought leaders, activists, artists, journalists, and politicians, Heritage Now explores why monuments and other cultural heritage sites are such a vital part of our local and global ecosystems; the history and relevance of these sites in our contemporary context; the urgent threats to their preservation; and what we can do—individually and collectively—to protect these irreplaceable treasures.

Co-presented by WMF and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this conversation will take place in the context of the National Trust's PastForward conference.