A Russian billionaire has offered to buy controversial statues that protesters want removed from American cities because of their worrisome ties to racism and colonialism.
Art Russe of the businessman Andre Filatov, who collects and preserves art in the Soviet era, said it was ready to buy pictures of Theodore Roosevelt and settler Alexander Baranov, found in New York and Alaska respectively, where the two men left a “positive sign” on Russia.
The statues are among the hundreds of statues across America facing calls to retreat after the protests of black life sparked the issue nationwide discussions about the memory of different historical figures. The Filatov Foundation hopes to bring them to Saint Petersburg in the name of preserving “cultural and historical heritage”.
“We have deep respect and appreciation for the individuals who have contributed to the development of Russia and have been linked with the history of our country,” Art Ross spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
“The twenty-sixth President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, and the ruler of Russian settlements in North America, Alexander Baranov, were statesmen who left their positive mark in Russia’s history. That is why we see the need to preserve their memories for future generations.”
Andrey Filatov credit: Georges Gobit / AFP / Getty Images
Face the protests
The Roosevelt statue currently in front of the American Museum of Natural History is found in New York City, and has long faced vandalism and calls for its removal due to its depiction of an indigenous American man and black man standing at the feet of the American President.
Theodore Roosevelt Equestrian Statue, located in front of the American Museum of Natural History. credit: Timothy A. Clary / AFP / AFP via Getty Images
Roosevelt’s place in Russian history stems from his role in brokering a treaty between Russia and Japan in 1904, ending the two-and-a-half-year war. His role in the deal, known as the Portsmouth Treaty, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.
Meanwhile, Alexander Baranov was a merchant who once ruled Russian America – parts of North America owned by Russia before being sold to the United States in what is called Alaska Purchase. A bronze statue of Baranov has stood in Sitka since 1989, although Native American communities there have led to calls for his removal.
Statue of Alexander Ivanovich Baranov, Sitka, Baranov Island, Alaska, USA credit: Alamy photo album
“People Show” art
The 48-year-old is famous as a chess player and is president of the Russian Chess Federation.
In 2012, Filatov founded the Art Russe Foundation to collect Russian art – mainly from the Soviet era (1917 to 1991) – and then loaned it to museums and galleries.
Art Ross confirmed that it had written to Sitka City Council, the American Museum of Natural History and unspecified “New York City Authorities” to express interest in the statues. The spokesman did not mention the amount that was presented – or that would be shown – instead he stated that “the monetary value of the artwork is subject to negotiation.”
The spokesman added that the Russian city of Saint Petersburg would be “the appropriate host city” for the statues.