I Am Queen Mary is a transnational public art project created by La Vaughn Belle of the US Virgin Islands and Jeannette Ehlers of Denmark-two artists connected by their shared Caribbean roots and colonial histories. Together they created the first collaborative sculpture to memorialize Denmark’s colonial impact in the Caribbean and those who fought against it. This monumental work debuted in March 2018 in front of the West Indian warehouse in Copenhagen in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sale and transfer of the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) to the United States. As the first monument to a Black woman in Denmark, I Am Queen Mary made international headlines as a symbol that celebrates and centers the story of people who resisted Danish colonialism in the Caribbean. In 2020 the Danish government granted permission to permanently install I Am Queen Mary in front of a former colonial warehouse in Copenhagen, acknowledging the work’s shift from a temporary artwork to an important landmark in the city. To now build the permanent sculpture, and a twin monument on St. Croix, USVI, an international funding campaign will begin in August 2021.
I Am Queen Mary is a monument with many reference points and layers. Standing seven meters (23ft tall) the figure sits on top of a plinth made of coral stones cut out of the ocean by enslaved Africans. These stones make visible their labor and presence as foundational to the colonial societies. The figure is an allegorical portrait of Mary Thomas, a sugarcane plantation worker who came to be named as one of the “Queens of the Fireburn” for leading the largest labor revolt in Danish colonial history in 1878. Fifty plantations and most of the town of Frederiksted in St. Croix were burned in protest of slavery-like conditions.
I Am Queen Mary aims to change whose stories get to be told in the public space by centering the stories and agency of those who were brought to the Danish West Indies. This project also demonstrates how artists can be leaders in conversations around monuments and memory work around colonialism and slavery.
In December 2020 a winter storm severely damaged the monument. The figure was removed and an Augmented Reality version of the sculpture was developed to hold space for the work and activate new dialogues. The artists are currently working towards raising the funds to ensure that this towering monument stays at the entrance to Copenhagen’s port for generations to come. Acknowledging the imbalances between colonial powers and their former colonies, the fundraising campaign will leverage the visibility and resources generated by the existing monument in Copenhagen to secure the funds to make a companion one possible in St. Croix.
We are open for any agencies or foundations who would like to support our project. Please contact us at email@example.com.La Vaughn Belle of the US Virgin Islands and Jeannette Ehlers of Denmark