There is nothing reverential about the Vladimir Lenin statue in Fremont.
What it really does stand for seems to depend on whom you ask.
The man who initially brought it to the area, the late Lewis Carpenter, believed it had artistic and historic merit and found it worthy of preservation after finding it in a Slovakian scrapyard.
When it was moved to Fremont in the mid-90s, Peter Bevis, the founder of the Fremont Fine Arts Foundry told the Seattle Times that it was, “a picture of an intellectual standing into the future,” while a member of the neighborhood’s chamber of commerce said it was “a symbol of how art outlives politics.”
We certainly seem to treat it as public art more than monument.
Every year, it’s adorned with a red-star and Christmas lights during the holidays. During gay pride, it’s often dressed in drag. Activists frequently paint his hands blood red to protest the glorification of what they believe is a historical villain, a powerful display of dissent in action.
Mayor Ed Murray’s call for its removal is not only misguided, but to mention the statue in the same breath as the confederate monument in Lake View Cemetery reeks of “both sides-ism.”
To compare the two willfully ignores the history of both. Unlike the Capitol Hill monument, erected in the mid-1920s in memory of Confederate soldiers, the Lenin statue was not erected in the “center of the universe” to commemorate or honor him. Intent alone can never be the end-all be-all in this type of discussion, but it matters.
Even if you believe there should be a discussion about the statue’s future, it has no place in the same arena as talks about monuments erected during Jim Crow era in response to the Civil Rights movement. There was a very specific purpose to those statues that does not exist in this instance.
We agree with state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who wrote in a blog post last week that the statue shows that “our very ability to install political art is the triumph of democracy over tyranny.”
“Art can be offensive and painful, but it can also bring us alive with curiosity, wonder, knowledge,” he wrote. “Installing a political statue of a man and regime that would never allow installation of political statues of opponents is a symbolic representation of the victory of democracy and freedom over oppression. And of the role of art itself.”
It’s neither here nor there, ultimately, on what the city says about either display. Both are on private property, and the city has no power over their fate. Unless, of course, the city would like to pay the $250,000 asking price for the Lenin statue to have it removed, if it feels like that is the best use of resources. That’s not a new development either, it’s been available for purchase for quite some time.
Though, if the mayor is serious about removing things that shouldn’t be there, we certainly have one suggestion, and it starts with his office.