commemorative plaque inaugurated
Neuchâtel changes controversial monument
Neuchâtel casts a new light on the bronze statue of David de Pury, which has been objected to by opponents of racism. A plaque with explanations was inaugurated on Thursday. The merchant was a benefactor to the city, but made part of his fortune from slavery.
The sculpture “Great in the concrete” by the artist Mathias Pfund now stands next to the statue of David de Pury in Neuchâtel. Together with an explanation board, it puts the monument in a new light.
“A public body has a duty to document its past, including its downsides. Without this, there is no democratic, pluralistic and inclusive society,” said Thomas Facchinetti, the local councilor responsible for social cohesion, to a number of guests.
The explanatory plaque is intended to provide a brief overview of the 18th-century merchant’s life and the posthumous erection of the statue. “It should also be a tribute to the people who were deprived of their freedom, exploited and dehumanized in the context of the triangular trade,” explained Facchinetti. There are twelve translations of the text on the plaque, accessible via QR codes on the city’s website.
During the “Black Lives Matter” movement two years ago, the monument was criticized. Activists smeared red paint on the bronze statue of David de Pury, which stands in the square of the same name. The memorial was also the subject of two petitions. One of them demanded the demolition of the monument inaugurated in 1855.
In addition, an award-winning work of art called “Great in the concrete” was unveiled near the statue on Thursday. The sculpture by Geneva-based artist Mathias Pfund is made of bronze on a concrete base and depicts David de Pury standing upside down with his head in the base, similar to the statue by Louis Agassiz at the University of California, which was destroyed by an earthquake in the early 1900s had fallen.
“The work superimposes the memory of two controversial figures associated with Neuchâtel,” said the Geneva artist. Among other things, the natural scientist Agassiz earned great merit for glaciology, but later fell into disrepute because of his racial theory views.
The Agassizhorn in the Bernese Alps and several roads in Switzerland are named after him. In 2019, Neuchâtel renamed the square named after Agassiz. The three local communities of Grindelwald BE, Guttannen BE and Fieschertal VS rejected renaming the Agassizhorn in 2020.
Other works of art will be placed in front of the statue of David de Pury (1709-1786) from next spring. These were selected by a jury headed by the current French Education Minister, Pap Ndiaye.