Memorable memorials

Great leaders all over the world have been memorialised in various ways.

Rachel Au-Yong takes a look at some of the more controversial monuments, and the lessons they may hold for the committee in charge of conceptualising the Founders' Memorial for Singapore.

Park Chung Hee

WHO IS HE? The South Korean president has been compared to Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his successful economic policies in the 1960s. He led the country until his assassination in 1979, at the age of 61.


The statue of South Korean president Park Chung Hee.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? A memorial hall was opened in 2012, but not without vocal opposition and more than a decade of delay. The project was launched in 1999 but halted in 2005 by the liberal Roh Moo Hyun administration. After a long legal battle, construction was restarted in 2009.

Proponents said the memorial would boost awareness of Mr Park’s “economic miracle” that characterised his presidency, but opponents thought the facility idolised an “iron-fisted dictator”.

After it was opened, some civic groups complained that the association in charge of the memorial had violated its contract by filling the memorial’s library only with books on Mr Park.

Martin Luther King Jr


The Stone of Hope at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington DC, USA. PHOTO: EPA

WHO IS HE? The leader of the African-American civil rights movement, Dr King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, aged 39.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? Pretty much every aspect of Dr King’s monument in Washington DC, unveiled in 2011, drew some form of criticism.

Some wondered why Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin was hired, instead of an African-American artist. Human rights activists also took issue with the fact that Lei had previously created a sculpture of Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who was criticised for suppressing free speech and his enemies.

And despite promises that local stonemasons would be hired, it appeared that only Chinese labourers worked on the memorial. Granite from China was also used, leading to accusations that the contract was awarded based on financial considerations, given that the Chinese government had pledged a $25 million donation to help fund the monument.

Many also slammed the depiction of Dr King in the 9m-tall statue, arms crossed, as being “too stern” and having a “socialist realist” style more commonly associated with art forms in communist countries.

To make matters worse, etched in granite alongside the statue was a quote from Dr King that drew ire because of the way it was paraphrased.

Diana, Princess of Wales


Visitors enjoy the tranquility of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park central London. -- PHOTO: EPA

WHO IS SHE? The first wife of Prince Charles, who is the heir apparent to the British throne. She died in a car crash in Paris on Aug 31, 1997. She was 36.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park, London, opened in 2004 to numerous complaints almost immediately.

First, there was the issue of cost. Some wondered if the monument, which cost £3.6 million (S$11.3 million at 2004 rates), was an appropriate use of money to remember a princess loved for being down-to-earth and accessible.

There was also criticism that calling the Mobius strip-like pond of water a fountain was a misnomer.

The fountain was open to members of the public, who could wade in the water. But this decision was the cause of three hospitalisations, as some people slipped and broke their ankles. Leaves from nearby trees fell into the water, making it unsafe to walk in and unsightly, and the fountain was closed temporarily.

Franklin D. Roosevelt


A statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his dog Fala are seen at the FDR Memorial. PHOTO: AFP

WHO IS HE? The American president guided the country out of its worst depression and led it through a brutal war. He died on April 12, 1945, after a stroke, aged 63.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC was delayed for decades over design and financing issues.

Though the 1974 design competition was won by architect Lawrence Halpin, Congress could not appropriate the funds to build it for over 20 years. The memorial was finally opened in May 1997.

One of the biggest controversies involved whether to depict Roosevelt in a wheelchair, which he used after contracting polio. Designers decided against doing so, as Roosevelt had been careful not to be seen in public on a wheelchair, to avoid being viewed as physically weak.

Halpin’s statue shows the former president seated with his cloak covering his chair, which some felt obscured the truth and furthered prejudice against the disabled.

The memorial’s inauguration looked set to be marred by a protest from disabled activists, until then President Bill Clinton stepped in at the last moment and helped pass legislation to ensure that there would be another statue in the memorial showing Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

In January 2001, another statue that clearly showed the president in a wheelchair was placed near the entrance. The National Organization on Disability had raised US$1.65 million to erect it.

Chiang Kai-shek


A local feeds pigeons outside the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall in Taipei. PHOTO: EPA

WHO IS HE? The leader of the Kuomintang party was president of Taiwan from 1950 till his death in 1975. He was 87.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was planned immediately after his death, and completed in 1980.

It soon became the site of many pro-democracy protests, including the 1990 Wild Lily student movement that culminated in the first popular elections of national leaders six years later.

In 2007, President Chen Shui-bian renamed the memorial the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. This was met with hostility from Kuomintang officials, who felt that Mr Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was trying to denounce Taiwan’s historical heritage.

The Kuomintang made good on its promise to restore the site’s original name after it wrested back power from the DPP in the 2008 elections. However, Mr Chen’s renaming of the memorial’s surrounding area as Liberty Square was allowed to stand.

Christopher Columbus


The lighthouse monument to the memory of Christopher Columbus on the coast of the city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. PHOTO: EPA

WHO IS HE? An Italian explorer whose voyages to new islands across the world helped establish contact between Europe and the Americas. He died on May 20, 1506, at the age of 54, after prolonged illness.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? Many monuments have been erected in his memory, but the Columbus Lighthouse in Santo Domingo Este, Dominican Republic, was notable for the discontent it generated when construction began in 1986. The structure was completed in 1992.

Criticism centred on the eviction of some 8,000 families to make room for the sprawling lighthouse, which stands 210m long and 10 storeys high.

The monument also projected beams of light in the shape of a cross that could be seen from more than 100km away. This taxed the power grids and caused blackouts in surrounding homes.

Controversy also arose over the monument’s ballooning cost. It had cost about US$70 million, more than six times the government’s original estimate of US$11 million.

Jose Rizal


Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva lays a wreath at the foot of the monument of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal. PHOTO: EPA

WHO IS HE? The Filipino poet and revolutionary sought self-government for his country through peaceful means. He was executed by a firing squad on Dec 30, 1896, aged 35, for rebellion, sedition and conspiracy.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? In 1901, the United States Philippines Commission agreed to the use of public land to erect a monument to Rizal. An international design competition for the structure was held from 1905 to 1907.

Though Italian Carlos Niccoli won the competition, the contract was awarded to second-placed Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling, with no official explanation. Some say Kissling offered a lower quotation for the monument, while others insist that Niccoli simply did not show up to sign the contract.

Even after Kissling signed the contract, many criticised his model. Others took issue with the jury for the design competition, none of whose members were artists, architects or engineers.

Kissling’s design – a bronze figure of Rizal, holding copies of his novels and flanked by an obelisk – was eventually left as is, mainly because the statue had already been cast. The monument opened in 1913.

Horatio Nelson


The Lights go out on Nelson column in Trafalgar square in London, Britain. PHOTO: EPA

WHO IS HE? Admiral Nelson led England to a number of decisive naval victories against France’s Napoleon. He died on Oct 21, 1805, at the age of 47.

WHAT’S THE MEMORIAL? Nelson inspired a cult of statues and memorials all across Britain. Among the first and grandest of these was the 41m-tall Nelson Pillar in Dublin, Ireland, on which work was started within a month of Nelson’s death.

But it was not without its critics, who said the base was unsightly and that it was a traffic obstruction.

In March 1966, anti-British protesters blew up the pillar. Today, the Spire of Dublin stands in its place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2015, with the headline ''. Print Edition | Subscribe