All 'state-sanctioned' art under a dictatorship is propaganda. It exists purely to create and preserve an image that the government wants its people to see. Such works maintain a vision held by the few that is perfectly tailored to interest and influence the many. Sculptures, perhaps more than any other form of art are the embodiment of ideals.
Friedrich Nietzsche, in his 1896 book, Thus Spoke Zarathrustra began to develop his idea of the Übermensch, or literally 'superman'. For Nietzsche, in the absence of God, man would fill that space. His philosophical idea of the death of God and the subsequent replacement by man was a thought experiment that had no clearly defied objective - he was imagining an idealised man.
Warped under Nazi rule in Germany, it was an aspirational and achievable target for every man in the country - it became a symbol of the Master Race and through the culture created by Adolf Hitler and the party - it became a part of everyday life and, grossly misinterpreting the philosopher's work, the party had a means for their goal to take shape.
A lot of art was suppressed during the time of Nazi Germany, but the kind that portrayed mythical power, mainly through architecture and sculpture, flourished for their permanence and their realised physicality. They could be seen, touched, aspired to and most importantly - believe. These works of art allowed the Nazi party to manifest their societal vision.
The use of one of Nietzsche's ideas is a strong indicator of the Nazi party's mentality. They weren't concerned with understanding a culture as much as bending it to their own will. Prometheus gifted human life to the world under the nose of Zeus. He also stole fire from him as a gift to humanity - the giver and taker of life, as capable of building and nourishing as ravaging. It's this image that the Nazi party wanted to convey. Prometheus was Nietzsche's idea in flesh.
The pre-eminent sculptors in Germany at the time were Josef Thorak and Hitler's favourite Arno Breker, best known for his 'Die Partei' statue. It depicts a muscular nude male, in a neoclassical style closely modelled on sculptures of ancient Greek gods. It embodied the idea they had of themselves and the one they wanted to project onto society. Klaus Staek, the president of the German Academy of Arts, observed that "It was Breker who gave a form to the human image held by the Nazis, their racism."
Sculpture has always carried with it an adherence to tradition and thus, a strong relationship between philosophy, science and nature. Thus, it is accessible in the same way a tree, a flower or a thunderstorm is. We know what it means without understanding it. Sculpture's are often the art-form that will stand out to children, yet manage to be as equally effecting to older generations. Their mystical qualities give it additional credence in a war of propaganda.
In constant flux, ideas and society are forever changing, and modes of thinking become outdated. This is prevalent now in the U.S. with statues of Southern Confederate soldiers being torn down for their representation of racial oppression that reached fever-pitch during the 19th century American Civil War. These symbolic gestures (the destruction of sculptures and monuments) often summarise the culmination of a collective belief or attitude coming to an end.
Although it's now debated whether it was a media stunt, the removal of Saddam Hussein's statue in 2003 marked the end of the Battle of Baghdad and changed the psychogeographic understanding we have of the public space. Similarly, the statue of Horatio Nelson that stood in the centre of Dublin was perceived to be a constant reminder of the country's colonial past. In 1966 the Irish Republican Army bombed the monument and it has since been replaced by the Spire of Dublin, a large needle-like structure that symbolises hope and fresh beginnings. In both its current and previous form - it held a deep symbolic value in ways that most art is unable to, due in large part to their predominantly public situation.
Not all ancient statues succumb to destruction throughout the changing social, political and economic landscapes. On the contrary, time has endowed certain pieces with a heightened sense of mythological and folkloric relevance. The Moai of Easter Island are one particularly iconic example. These famous stone heads are imposing and iconic, thought to have been constructed to represent the islanders power, might and spirituality.
The permanence and scale of these figures have allowed them to stand the test of time, from their creation in the mid 13th century until now, dumbfounding archaeologists and researchers as to how exactly their roughly 80 ton masses were transported around the island.
The study of beauty is as old as humankind itself, and now, a more contemporary version of the idealised aesthetic is emerging online. The culture of the 'selfie' shares many similarities. It creates an artistic impression that can be equally used as a vanity project, to portray a lifestyle (true or not) or as a means of artistic expression. There is an inherent ego attached to statues, similarly true of the 'selfie'. Associations with idealised perfection and our obsession with portraying it has appeared in art since time immemorial, but rarely has any medium been so charged with a political and social context. The contemporary manifestation may be Kim Kardashian's social media feeds. Her photographs are used to promote certain ideas, going so far as to have greatly influenced the most widely acknowledged image of beauty. She is the 21st-century ubermensch. Her army is one built on consumers.
Even if the medium shifts over time, the message behind it never does. Instead of museums dedicated to human beauty and ego, we have apps. These are virtual cities whereby we are all capable of being our own sculptor and to create our own sculptures, whether it be with the intention of portraying beauty to sell products or to utilise the space for propaganda.
For Nietzsche, the idea of the ubermensch was bastardised by a political ideology that he would have hated. He created the philosophical framework for what 'man' could be. The Nazi party turned it into what their idea of man should be with a philosopher's work used as a false means of justification. It's worth considering what the true purpose of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter was and whether we are using them in accordance to the original vision or if we have hijacked them for our own gain - to push ourselves and our agendas.
Like Nietzsche, they just gave us a possibility and for better or for worse, we turned it into what we wanted it to be. Statues and sculptures have been erected, defaced and torn down through history. That's because ideas and ideologies change and they will continue to do so. There will always be another political party that fill a vacuum, likewise there will always be another Kim Kardashian to take her place. As long as ideas and the idea of beauty exist - we will always have sculptors and sculptures - they just might not always be using chisels and marble.
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