Denmark has just unveiled its first statue of a powerful Black woman in its capital Copenhagen. The 23-foot statue of the black slave rebellion leader, Mary Thomas was created by Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers and Virgin Island native La Vaughn Belle.
Mary Thomas, otherwise known as “Rebel Queen” was a Caribbean woman who led a fierce 19th-century revolt against Danish colonial rule.
The work of the two artists, also known as “I am Queen Mary,” was unveiled on Saturday at the end of the centennial anniversary marking the sale of the Virgin Islands to the United States.
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“I Am Queen Mary represents a bridge between the two countries. It’s a hybrid of our bodies, nations and narratives. It extends the conversation beyond the centennial year and gets people to really question what is their relationship to this history. Who we are as a society is largely about who we remember ourselves to be. This project is about challenging Denmark’s collective memory and changing it,” La Vaughn Belle said in a statement on the project’s website.
In Denmark, 98% of the statues in Denmark are representing white males. The artists said their work is, therefore, to confront “present day’s racism and Eurocentrism by claiming a space for our narratives.”
What more do we know about the woman behind the statue?
Denmark was a colonial power in the Caribbean from 1672 until 1917. Despite the abolishment of slavery in 1848, labour and the living conditions were in a bad state.
Consequently, three women, including Mary Thomas, rose to lead a rebellion against the white plantation owners. Known as the “Fireburn, the Uprising of 1878”, this rebellion became the largest labour revolt in Danish colonial history.
Due to their role in the uprising, the three women came to be known as “queens.” Danish authorities, however, curbed the uprising and shipped off the queens to a prison in Copenhagen.
After serving part of her sentence in a women’s prison in Copenhagen, Thomas was later sent back to a prison in the West Indies. She and the other queens have since not been forgotten as they are widely spoken about in the Caribbean.
Denmark is just following in this regard with the unveiling of her statue in the city where she was first jailed.