Mary Thomas, a 19th century rebel from St. Croix (now part of US Virgin Islands), known as one of “the three queens”, who led the largest labor revolt in Danish colonial history, is now honored with a striking statue, entitled “I am Queen Mary”.
The statue is nearly 23 feet tall, and her head is wrapped as she stares straight ahead while sitting barefoot, but regally, in a wide-backed chair. She is clutching a torch in one hand and a tool used to cut sugar cane in the other.
According to a recent press release Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers and Virgin Islander-artist La Vaughn Belle say they teamed up to create a work that “challenges Denmark’s forgotten colonial past.” In Denmark, where most of the public statues represent white men. The rebellion was brutally suppressed and the three queens were arrested, went on trial for their role in the rebellion and served their prison sentence in Copenhagen, just over a mile from where the statue now stands in front of a former warehouse for Caribbean sugar and rum.
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“This project is the first collaborative sculpture to memorialize Denmark’s colonial impact in the Caribbean and those who fought against it,” the artists said on the monument’s website.
Denmark was an active participant in the transatlantic slave trade and greatly benefitted from it. Though Denmark prohibited trans-Atlantic slave trafficking in 1792, it did not rush to enforce the ban. The rule took effect 11 years later, and slavery continued until 1848.
The unveiling comes at the end of a centennial year commemorating the sale by Denmark of three islands to the United States on March 3, 1917: St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas. The price was $25 million.
Ehlers said in a statement: “we are confronting present day’s racism and Eurocentrism by claiming a space for our narratives.” “It takes a statue like this to make forgetting less easy. It takes a monument like this to fight against the silence, neglect, repression and hatred,” Henrik Holm, senior research curator at the National Gallery of Denmark.
The monument currently sits near Copenhagen’s West Indian Warehouse, which once stored goods produced in Denmark’s former Caribbean colonies. “They wanted to fill the stocks first” and ensure enough slaves would remain to keep plantations running, said Niels Brimnes, an associate professor at Aarhus University and a leading expert on colonialism in Denmark.
First Black Woman Monument in Copenhagen, written by Tor Kjolberg