Queen Mary statue unveiled in Denmark

Artists La Vaughn Belle of St. Croix and Denmark’s Jeannette Ehlers unveiled their 23-foot statue, “I am Queen Mary,” outside the Danish West Indian Warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark, in March 2018. The landmark, the first public monument to a black woman in Denmark, was heavily damaged during a recent storm.

A storm has caused catastrophic damage to the “I Am Queen Mary” statue in Denmark, but St. Croix artist La Vaughn Belle says the situation could actually be a good thing.

Belle collaborated with Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers on the piece depicting Mary Thomas, one of the primary leaders of St. Croix’s Fireburn labor revolt of 1878, which “brings attention to how our colonial past still has resonance in our present,” according to a statement from the artists.

In March 2018, a version of the statue constructed from hard polystyrene foam on an internal steel structure was installed in front of Copenhagen’s West Indian Warehouse, and is believed to be the city’s first public monument to a Black woman.

The installed statue was always intended to be temporary, but plans to construct a permanent bronze version have been delayed in part due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and by the legal and logistical complexities of collaborating on a piece with an artist in another country, Belle said.

Denmark is currently on lockdown and “they have a surge in their cases right now,” Belle said. “There’s a few things we’re trying to figure out in the midst of a holiday season and a pandemic.”

“We want to at least get the sculpture covered as soon as possible, that’s one thing we’re working on right now,” said Belle, who expects the final piece to be completed sometime this year.

The statue features Queen Mary seated in a broad-backed chair, which Belle said acted like a sail.

“The wind severed the chair and took off the head that was attached,” Belle and Ehlers explained in a joint statement. “Currently, we do not know if these items which were made of polystyrene can be repaired. The temporary monument has been previously damaged in storms and the structure has now been compromised.”

The damage, however, could bring with it a silver — or bronze — lining, as it raises awareness of the need to finish the permanent version.

“We are grateful that the finance committee of the Danish parliament has granted an amount that can secure a part of the cost of creating a new permanent version of the monument that would ensure that the figure be cast in bronze... We also have received important support from the Ministry of Culture that will assist in making it permanent.”

The artists say they are confident Danish philanthropic foundations will close the gap and help finance the permanent version of the statue.

For now, the artists are seeking to dispel rumors that the damage to the statue was an act of vandalism.

A statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid on a rock beside Copenhagen harbor has repeatedly been vandalized — even beheaded multiple times. Unveiled in 1913, the statue’s head was sawed off in 1964, its right arm in 1984, its head again in 1998 and it was knocked from its perch entirely by explosives in 2003. A failed beheading in 1990 left an 7-inch-deep cut in its neck, and far less destructive alterations have included Christmas hats, sports jerseys — including Denmark’s rivals — and on at least two occasions a burqa, according to wire reports.

“We want to emphasize that the damage to I Am Queen Mary is not an act of vandalism,” the artists wrote. “So we kindly ask everyone to not promote any conspiracy theories in this regard.”

Belle said Wednesday that covering the large temporary statue is a massive task in and of itself, and resources will be needed to obtain the needed materials.

“We appreciate the support, and we’re just seeing it as an opportunity to create urgency around the sculpture because it has taken a long time to get the permission,” Belle said. While the storm damage is upsetting, “it helps to create some urgency around the fundraising and the need to get it to the next stage.”

For more information or to contribute to the project, visit www.iamqueenmary.com.

— Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email scarlson@dailynews.vi.