The monument, erected in 1931, has been controversial for decades. Today it is one of a few, and certainly one of the most iconic monuments in honour of Leopold II that are still in the public domain. The image is now hotly contested for Leopold II's crimes in the Congo and its manipulative iconography.
Leopold II was depicted as a 'genius protector' and is worshipped by two groups whose damage during and after his reign is unprecedented. On the one hand, together with the Ostend city council, he suppressed the Fishermen's revolt in 1887 in a bloody and repressive way. On the other hand, there is Congo - where the estimated number of deaths under his rule range from at least 10 to 20 million victims.
The equestrian statue in Ostend, erected in the interwar period, fully reflects the zeitgeist of that time. It was officially founded by the City of Ostend and inaugurated by the royal couple Albert I and Elisabeth in 1931, during the heyday of Belgian colonialism.
Ria Pacquée's video work, which came about almost by accident, points to this ambiguous attitude and the city's struggle with its role in hiding and manipulating the colonial genocide.
In portraying the restoration of vandalism by activists in Washing Away the Past, the red paint flows like blood on Leopold II's feet. The visible damage has been washed away with this, but the clean-up action also clearly shows that we are still far from coming to terms with the past itself.
Produced by Escautville
Cinematography, Editing: Ria Pacquée
The film was screened or exhibited at:
Kunstencentrum KAAP, Ostend, Belgium 2022