The Vandalism of the Little Mermaid

Who would have thought that the Little Mermaid would amass such great controversy in the country of Denmark?

The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg beer as a gift to the city. Based on the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Little Mermaid,” the bronze statue was completed by the Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen in 1913. She resides in the busy port of Copenhagen, where she attracts a great amount of tourist traffic.

However, not only tourists are drawn to the attraction. Vandals and protesters abuse and use the world-famous mermaid as well. The statue has undergone a lot of mistreatment; some of it was more destructive than others, but all of it has made an impact nonetheless.

The first attack on her occurred in 1964; she was decapitated by the Danish artist Jørgen Nash because he was upset about his love life and the women involved in it. His admission offset hundreds of “imposter” vandals who wanted to take credit for the decapitation. Twenty years later, in 1984, her arm was sawn off by two drunk men who admitted to the vandalism and returned the limb. In 1998, her head was stolen again but anonymously returned. She was blown off from her base with explosives in 2003 (supposedly to protest Denmark’s involvement with Iraq). Other instances involve her wearing a burqa in 2004 (potentially to protest Turkey joining the European Union) and holding a dildo on International Women’s Day in 2006.

The most recent act of vandalism was in June 2017; the statue was painted over in blue and white (the colors of the Somalian flag) and had “Befri Abdulle,” or “Free Abdulle,” spray painted on the pavement in front of it. Supposedly, it refers to the Somalian refugee Abdulle Ahmed who has been held in a psychiatric hospital in Denmark for sixteen years. The government of Denmark wants to send back Somalian refugees who have had asylum denied, but before it can begin the process of doing so, Somalia has first demanded the return of Ahmed.

Only a month prior to this was the statue painted red in protest of the whale-hunting occurring in the Faroe Islands, which is an autonomous country in the Kingdom of Denmark.

The statue and the continuous vandalism that is acted upon it raise many questions: Why is the innocent Little Mermaid statue so appealing to vandals? Why is it not under surveillance? Why has it not been moved? With such a beloved monument, the lack of surveillance and the poor placement of the landmark are surprising as they continue to invite mischievous acts against the statue. Both solutions have been discussed, but after two beheadings and an encounter with explosives, one could wonder why no one has not done anything sooner.

Though it is not their artwork to alter, Danish individuals take the freedom to modify the statue in a meaningful and political fashion. It gains media attention, shedding light on different causes, but the vandalism is quickly erased by removing paint or reattaching limbs. Should the protesters turn away from vandalism to support their cause, or should they continue to project their beliefs onto the beloved statue? Protesters could circulate more buzz by creating something entirely their own, something that cannot be erased as easily as damage to the statue. However, because the statue garners media attention every time something happens to it, protesters would be hard-pressed to ignore such an opportunity.

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One thought on “The Vandalism of the Little Mermaid

  1. This was very nostalgic to read as I used to live in Denmark. I knew this statue had been vandalized but I never knew why or how and all of that. I think there is power behind letting the statue remain as the original artist put it there and although the intention behind it or the story itself may have been controversial, it has become a landmark to Denmark. I think there are many ways to gain attention especially for urgent causes, but I don’t think vandalizing landmarks should be the first outlet. I hope those who needed a voice were able to get it. But I hope things in general get better. I think they will continue to just “repair” it each time it gets vandalized, but I think it should be more protected or simply relocated to a safer place as eventually it will not carry the same meaning due to all the vandalism.

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