In Response to Backlash, Mexico City Reverses Decision on Artist to Replace Columbus Statue

In the wake of mounting criticism from the nation’s Indigenous community, Mexico City’s government has backtracked on its commission of contemporary artist Pedro Reyes to replace a Christopher Columbus monument recently removed from the city’s main thoroughfare. This week, nearly 400 Mexican artists, writers, and curators signed an open letter opposing the selection of Reyes, “a male artist who does not identify as Indigenous,” to create a sculpture of an Indigenous woman.

On September 5, Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced that a bust of an Olmec woman by Reyes, titled “Tlalli,” would be erected on a roundabout along Paseo de la Reforma, where the towering bronze of Columbus once stood. The colonizer’s likeness was taken down by local officials last October in advance of Día de la Raza, the day when Columbus arrived to the Americas in 1492. 

But many protested that the government’s appointment of Reyes was a unilateral decision and excluded other artists from lending their vision to the prestigious commission, especially women of Indigenous descent. The Movimiento Indígena de la Ciudad de México published a letter to Sheinbaum “with respect to the monument to be placed on the pedestal that has symbolized colonialism, ferocious and murderous, that for 500 years has exploited our Native people.” The group called for the project to involve Indigenous artists and incorporate their proposals.

Yesterday, Sheinbaum said a committee formed by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and the Culture Ministry would instead be in charge of assigning an artist.

“We’ve decided to put this decision in the hands of the Committee of Monuments and Artworks in Public Spaces in Mexico City, which is made up by institutions of the City and the Mexican Government, like INAH, as well as historians and residents,” she said in a press statement.

Sheinbaum went on to thank Reyes for having accepted and prioritized the commission and said it was “very likely” that his work would be exhibited publicly in the city.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

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