Replacing the Columbus Statue: Liv Barney's Unity
Four androgynous bronze figures honor Native Americans and celebrate peace and diversity.
It’s hard to imagine a better replacement for the Christopher Columbus statue, given his horrific treatment of the people he met when he arrived in North America, than a monument to Indigenous Americans that honors both the past and the present. That’s exactly what artist Liv Barney, a member of the Navajo tribe, has proposed.
Barney’s work often revolves around her Native American identity. She works primarily with paints and inks or creates digital art. Her two-dimensional pieces frequently honor Indigenous ceremonies, dances and lives, both from the past and the present.
Her imagined sculpture, titled Unity, is made of bronze and depicts four people holding hands and standing on a platform that literally lifts them up. The number of people is symbolic: Barney says she chose four figures to represent the four cardinal directions, which have deep meaning in Native American culture. “I wanted to show that people [who] come from all directions, from all parts of the world, can still come together,” she says.
The two figures on either end have their hands outstretched, an invitation to passersby to join them, symbolically welcoming anyone who comes to City Hall and, by extension, our city. In the spaces between the four figures are the Three Sisters, a companion-planting crop system used by Indigenous people across the Americas to grow corn, squash and climbing beans, each plant supporting the other to feed a community.
“I was using that as a symbol of the way communities support each other,” Barney says. “And to recognize that there are agricultural systems that have been here for years, and we should honor those.”
In an agricultural state like Ohio, especially in a region like Columbus built on Indigenous lands, it’s an important symbol. Another important symbol: The figures are not inherently male or female; their genders and sexual orientations could go in any direction.
“I want this sculpture to be open to and acknowledging of people who are various genders, to our LGBTQ, nonbinary, dual-spirit community,” she says. “I want it to be open to people to see themselves in it, and for it still to pay homage to Indigenous people.”
And, perhaps most importantly, the figures are not locked into any particular time. That’s especially significant for a people that have often been relegated—incorrectly—to history books.
“Indigenous people are living among us—I am one of them! We go to the grocery store and to school, and we experience those things, and it’s important to recognize how we’ve contributed to this country too. This is our original homeland, and having that presence, so that people can see that, is key.'