Wales looks forward – this Iron Ring shouldn’t shackle us to the past
Ifan Morgan Jones
Cadw has today released a statement defending the ‘Iron Ring’ sculpture that is due to be to installed at Flint Castle.
It’s heartening that they state their willingness to “continue to listen to a range of views on this important project as it evolves”.
However, their readiness to budge on the issue seems to be limited to the “words inscribed on the sculpture”.
But let’s face facts here. Despite Cadw’s claim that art “can be interpreted in many ways” there is very little debate as to how the sculpture was originally meant to be interpreted.
The architects’ own press release clearly states that the “giant iron ring [is] meant to reference the chain of castles Flint belongs to”.
Cadw’s message is essentially: “It’s a giant iron ring called the Iron Ring designed to symbolise Edward I’s Iron Ring of castles – but you can interpret it however you like!”
Symbols of nationhood
What really rankles is not just that £400,000 is being spent on a sculpture that is essentially a monument to Wales’ conquest.
It’s that this is the first time I can remember the Welsh Government investing in any kind of national monument.
This monument might well have a place within a nation full of monuments to its own history. But what other symbols of our nationhood do we have, other than the Senedd itself?
We’re told that Edward I’s castles are an important driver for tourists and that we need to promote them.
But isn’t that indicative of a larger problem? That 700 years later, we still haven’t built anything else of note?
And when our young, confident nation does get a chance to erect one, we build yet another reminder of our colonial past.
If we’re going to build the Welsh equivalent of the ‘Angel of the North’ – something that sums up our national character – we need to have a long, hard think about what it says about us.
A new narrative
The sculpture will no doubt now go back to the drawing board. When even Cerys Matthews weighs in to criticise, you know a rethink is required.
What seems likely is that rather than symbolising Wales’ subjugation by Edward I, the design will be tweaked slightly to pay homage to Wales’s fortitude in resisting said conquest.
This would be a mistake. While attractive, this ‘Yma o Hyd’ narrative is in truth just as bad as the statue’s original meaning.
It’s just indicative of a post-colonial rather than colonial mentality. ‘We’re stil here’ is in itself a bloody depressing message.
The current design says ‘here are a conquered people’. The likely redesign will say ‘here are a conquered people who are – woohoo! – just about still here’.
The backlash to this sculpture isn’t about resenting the English. Neither is it about revelling in victimhood.
It’s about the fact that we’re past that. Wales is a now a confident nation that is stepping forward into a bright future.
We need a sculpture that will reflect that new reality. If only our Government had the vision to commission it.