“I was born in the USSR, and I am a child of a country that doesn’t exist any more,” Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Milov tells BBC Culture over the phone from Odessa, via his English-speaking wife Margaret. “I wish to save the monuments of history. I’m trying to clean up the operating system and keep them on the hard drive of memory.” Margaret laughs at the metaphor.
Milov’s latest work looks unlike most historical monuments. Standing in an unprepossessing square next to a factory in Odessa, the slick black figure is more likely to be seen on a bedroom poster than in the pages of a textbook. According to the sculptor, this is the world’s first monument to Darth Vader – and it was made out of a statue of Vladimir Lenin that stood in the same place.
Yet it is far from being a publicity stunt. Milov is responding to the so-called ‘de-Communisation’ law passed by the Ukrainian parliament in April 2015, calling for the removal of Communist symbols such as monuments or place names. “We didn’t want to vandalise the statue but the monument to Lenin was due to be dismantled in connection with the new law,” says Milov. “I decided to take a monument to Lenin and transform it into a monument to Darth Vader, because at this moment Darth Vader is a political figure in Ukraine.”
Candidates with the name Darth Vader, and those of other Star Wars characters like Chewbacca and Yoda, registered to run in Ukraine’s 2014 parliamentary elections. “We are non-political,” says Milov, “but we decided with one shot to kill two hares, as the Russian saying goes. To save the Lenin monument but also take it away from the eyes – to make a new art piece with a new sense.”
He hopes to create a park with more Communist monuments. “We are gathering all these statues – like Lenin – and we would like to make a park of forlorn heroes of the epoch,” says Milov. “I want to take the statues out of the central squares of cities and put them in a different place like Disneyland, where they can be visited. It seems to me that if these statues are destroyed, people coming after us will have no possibility to make conclusions for themselves as to whether people needed them or not.”
Ideally, he says, he would keep the statues as they are. “But if we have no other options, I would turn them into characters from Soviet cartoons.”
To create his new sculpture, Milov strengthened the original structure and added a helmet and cape made out of titanium alloy – he also inserted a Wi-Fi router in Vader’s head. Despite the statue’s apparent glibness, it serves as a reminder that we can’t control which memories last and which don’t. “I wanted to make a symbol of American pop culture which appears to be more durable than the Soviet ideal.”