Decoding Dictatorial Statues explores the visual language of statues. The expression, representation and historical context of statues have all been under scrutiny in recent debates. Though some statues mark a significant point in history, should these statues still stand in celebration of dark colonial times?
A recent publication published by Onomatopee features ten author’s critical writings alongside visual essays and designed by Ted Hyunhak Yoon. The project began while Ted was working towards his master’s degree at the Royal College of Art. Interested in the role of the “designer as a researcher and a content maker”, Ted embarked on the project when he came across an intriguing story. It involved South Korean expatriates trying to erect a statue in Berlin of their former dictator. The plan eventually failed but from then, he was hooked on the subject, “I was shocked by the fact that a leader’s statue can be so controversial in a democratic country” he states.
Since then, Ted’s research has led him to study the statues of several autocratic countries. Over the years his research has expanded into an investigation into gestures of public speakers, comparing them to the motions of dictatorial statues which has now culminated into an extensive publication. With contributions from a number of historians, curators and philosophers, the book is edited by the Dutch writer and artist Berne Klein Zandvoort. Together, the editorial pieces, Ted’s photos and found stock-imagery, combine to create a Dutch-inspired design aesthetic which questions the symbolism of existing statues.
Ten authors act as “decoders”, providing a variety of perspectives to the topic at hand. They discuss statues from different eras and from all over the world, for instance, “what links an outbreak of cultural vandalism against a 2000-year-old Vietnamese devotional subjection, with the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in 2011?” Other pieces explore “Why would a recently liberated African country opt for a North Korean company to tell its history?” as well as, “How can we define historical value in regards to the removal of colonial monuments in South Africa, the Netherlands and the United States?”
Comprehensive, extensive and thought-provoking, the book couples Ted’s sleek design skills with some important questions regarding our perception of history. Fundamentally assessing “how we can decode the agency of their sculptured body language and have their sociopolitical role as relational objects and media icons”.
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