"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" -- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Renaissance man: This week, Senegal officially unveiled the African Renaissance Monument, a 160-foot statue of a man, woman, and child emerging from a volcano. The monument is meant to commemorate Senegal's 50 years of independence, but many see it as a monument to the vanity of 83-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade, who has made the $25 million statue his pet project. Religious groups have also condemned its pseudo-Soviet artistic style and the scantily clad female figure.
But Wade is hardly alone in his outsized ambition and dubious aesthetic sensibility. What follows are 10 more examples of why bad art and bad politics are a dangerous combination.
Koba's revenge: Statues of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin were once ubiquitous in the Soviet Union and throughout the communist world. Although it's still not unusual to see Lenin in public places, Stalins are relatively rare. But in his hometown of Gori, Georgia, the 20th century's greatest mass murderer still stands proud over Stalin Square.
Round and round he goes: Saparmurat Niyazov, the late totalitarian leader of Turkmenistan, updated the old Soviet aesthetic with a little bit of Las Vegas excess. In 1998, he ordered the construction of this gold-plated statue of himself, which was placed at the top of a 244-foot tower in the center of the capital city of Ashgabat. As if that weren't enough, the statue rotated throughout the day so that it was always facing the sun. The statue was the crowning achievement of Niyazov's attempt to establish a personality cult around himself that included renaming the months of the year after members of his family and replacing the Quran with the Ruhnama, a book of spiritual lessons written by him. After his death, the statue was taken from its perch and moved to a nearby suburb.
Peter the Terrible: Just because communism ended doesn't mean that Russia has stopped building grotesque, propagandistic statues. The master of the form is Georgian-born artist Zurab Tsereteli, best known for the garish 315-foot maritime statue of Peter the Great looming over the Moskva River. The statue was commissioned by Tsereteli's frequent booster, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, and has fast become a popular tourist attraction, if not exactly for the reasons its planners hoped.
The Jersey teardrop: Tsereteli's efforts to export his vision to the United States have been less successful. A massive statue of Christopher Columbus was rejected by five American cities before being shipped to Puerto Rico, where it still sits unassembled. In 2004, Tsereteli built a 10-story monument to the victims of the September 11 attacks, consisting of a titanium teardrop encased in bronze that continually drips water. The structure, intended as a gift from Russia to the United States, was at first gratefully accepted by the local government of Jersey City, but then rejected once city officials actually saw it. It was eventually unveiled in nearby Bayonne, and widely panned by locals, with one 9/11 survivor describing it as "'a cross between a scar and a female sexual organ."
Woman of the people: Kumari Mayawati, chief minister of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is best known as an advocate for the rights of Dalits, the historically marginalized caste also known as the "untouchables." But Mayawati's populist image took a hit last year when India's Supreme Court rebuked her for spending $425 million in public funds to build statues of herself and other famous Dalits. Mayawati remains popular among Dalits, but the scandal over this lavish public expenditure in one of India's poorest states continues to dog her.
Swine-flu boy: When he grows up, Edgar Hernández might want to be known as something other than "Patient Zero," the first human to contract the H1N1 virus, which went on kill more than 14,000 people around the world. But La Gloria, the small village in eastern Mexico where six-year-old Edgar lives, is determined to remember his contribution (and bring in tourists) and has erected this statue in his honor. The statue is based on another infamous, but much older work of public art, Belgium's urinating Manneken Pis.
Khan!!! Much of the world thinks of Genghis Khan as a brutal conqueror whose empire stretched across most of Asia by the early 13th century, but in Mongolia, he's seen as a national hero and a lucrative tourist draw. Everything from airports and hotels to cigarettes and vodka bear his name, but Mongolia's most extreme instance of Genghis worship may be the 131-foot equestrian statue overlooking the steppes about an hour from Ulan Bator, the capital city. The statue is wrapped in 250 tons of stainless steel, and visitors can take an elevator to the top of the horse's head. Genghis himself would probably be proud.
Serbia's Planet Hollywood: With civil war, dictatorship, and the loss of Montenegro and Kosovo, the last two decades have not been kind to the former Yugoslav state. Perhaps this depressing history has something to do with the strange trend of Serbian villages building statues of foreign celebrities. These include Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, kung fu legend Bruce Lee, reggae star Bob Marley, British topless model turned pop singer Samantha Fox, and actor Johnny Depp. In the tiny town of Zitiste, where the Rocky statue was built, one local told the New York Times, "My generation can't find role models so we have to look elsewhere. Hollywood can provide an answer."
Memorial of convenience: Venezuelan independence hero Simón Bolivár dreamed of a giant empire encompassing all of Latin America, but even he might be surprised to see his likeness gracing the streets of Tehran. A statue of Bolivár was unveiled in the Iranian capital during a 2004 visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The two countries have become close economic allies in recent years thanks to a series of energy deals and a shared opposition to U.S. foreign policy. A statue of the 11th-century Persian scholar Omar Khayyam was unveiled in Caracas a year earlier.
Life after death: Whether they rule a small village in Mexico or a global superpower, most leaders want to be remembered, and large public works are an easy way to make your mark. But as the crumbling Lenins in Eastern Europe's "statue parks" attest, a symbol of immortality can quickly become one of obsolescence. Above, Pyongyang's Mansudae monument depicts former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung gesturing toward a glorious socialist future.