back The American Museum of Natural History has promised to remove the Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt because of its white supremacist composition. However, problematic features of the statue can be found throughout the museum’s own exhibitions. This project brings the problematic practices in the depths of the museum out in front of the monument. It turns to anthropological tone and diorama-format, used extensively in the museum, as further critique of its practices. The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt, American Museum of Natural Histroy, New York, NY; erected in 1940

Walking up to the monument

First there is the figure of Theodore Roosevelt, New York asthmatic rich kid, turned North Dakota cowboy, who grew up to become one of the most revered American presidents. He is a complicated turn-of-the-century figure—conservationist, adventurer, military hawk, known both for inspiring the name Teddy Bear and the numerous axioms, most famously for his praise of the `man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again…”

In this monument, erected 22 years after his death, Roosevelt, sits astride the horse, sleeves rolled up to show giant forearms, reins in hand, his other hand resting on a pistol looking the manly hero. If this were the extent of the statue, it would probably be left alone. Another white man of historical prominence and long-debated legacy elevated and enlarged.

However, Theodore Roosevelt is not alone. Standing alongside his horse are two figures whose heads reach his waist. On the left is a figure understood to be Native American with a feathered headdress, braids, and a necklace. On the right is a half-naked man, with braids and a shield on his back—the African. Both figures are draped in almost toga-like clothing and they stare straight ahead with blank expressions. These figures do not represent individuals, they are allegorical—standing for their respective lands. So in a word, Roosevelt is not just leading two figures in this arrangement, he is bridging two lands: North America and Africa. They are accessories to the Roosevelt narrative of exploration, expansion, and strength.

While it would be hard to see all this detail from the angle of the visitor—whose head barely reaches the top of the pedestal—after spending a few minutes contemplating the close-up images, printed at the base of the statue, the values are clear and repulsive. This is a depiction we would not make today and there are unusual points of care and neglect at the artistic level. Care in the rendering, neglect in the narrative.

While this statue will be removed, as requested by the museum and long demanded by local activist groups, it cannot be a solitary act. The hierarchy and attributes that render the monument unacceptable are found throughout the present and past of the museum. If the removal does not follow with greater action and re-evaluation of all of AMNH's exhibitions, the same values, obscured by technical language and scientific rendering, will continue to impact the museum’s visitors, without clear opening for critique.
View through traffic View across the street View up-close Informative plaque
Honoring the museums's benefactors in the Founders Corridor

Flipping the Diorama

It can be challenging to see the inherent bias in the AMNH museum exhibitions. They awe us with their craft and contents; however, they neglect to articulate time periods or question their own observations. However, littered throughout the musuem are plaques thanking and honoring the trustees. What if we were to place them in the glass boxes? How could we understand their "otherness"?