A Russian billionaire's art foundation wants to buy two controversial American statues that Black Lives Matter protesters have campaigned to be removed due to their links to racism and colonialism, reports say.
The statues of Theodore Roosevelt and Alexander Baranov have received heightened criticism in the past month following the killing of George Floyd by police and subsequent protests against racial injustice.
Businessman Andrey Filatov’s Art Russe Foundation has said it wants to purchase the statues as both men left a “positive mark” on Russia and in the name of preserving “cultural and historical heritage", CNN reported.
“Both the 26th President of the United States, Roosevelt, and the governor of Russian settlements in North America, Baranov, were statesmen who left their positive mark in Russia's history. We therefore see the need to preserve their memory for future generations," an Art Russe Foundation spokesperson told the outlet.
The memorial has stood outside the museum since 1940 and depicts a Native American man and a black man standing at the feet of the US president.
Roosevelt's ties to Russia lie in a treaty he brokered between the country and Japan in 1904, bringing their year-and-a-half-long war to an end.
The sculpture of Baranov has stood in the city of Sitka since 1989 and has also long faced calls for removal from Native American communities.
A petition calling for the monument's removal describes Baranov as "a Russian colonist who came to Sitka, Alaska, without an invitation, to enrich himself, his company and his country". The petition currently has over 2,800 signatures out of its 5,000 goal.
Baranov once governed Russian America, the parts of North America owned by Russia before they were sold to the United States.
“We have deep respect and appreciation for individuals who contributed to the development of Russia and were associated with the history of our country,” a foundation spokesperson told CNN.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's office confirmed in June that the Roosevelt statue will be taken down, saying that it "explicitly depicts black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior".
The foundation confirmed to the broadcaster that it had expressed interest in the two statues by contacting Sitka's City Hall, the American Museum of Natural History, and unspecified “New York City authorities”.
The spokesperson did not tell CNN how much they would be willing to offer for the statues, instead stating that the artworks' “monetary value is subject to negotiation”.
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