Effigy

An effigy is an often life-size sculptural representation of a specific person, or a prototypical figure.[1] The term is mostly used for the makeshift dummies used for symbolic punishment in political protests and for the figures burned in certain traditions around New Year, Carnival and Easter. In European cultures, effigies were in the past also used for punishment in formal justice, when the perpetrator could not be apprehended, and in popular justice practices of social shaming and exclusion. Additionally, "effigy" is used for certain traditional forms of sculpture, namely tomb effigies, funeral effigies and coin effigies.

Effigy of Ravana, a figure from the Ramayana, with burning sparklers, in Manchester, England in 2006

There is a large overlap and exchange between the ephemeral forms of effigies.[2] Traditional holiday effigies are often politically charged, for instance, when the generalised figures Año Viejo (the Old Year) or Judas in Latin America are substituted by the effigy of a despised politician. Traditional forms are also borrowed for political protests. In India, for instance, effigies in protests regularly take the form of the ten-headed demon king Ravana, as they figure in the traditional Ramlila. In Mexico and the United States piñatas depicting a politician sometimes turn up at protests and are beaten to a pulp.[3] Procedures of formal and popular justice are appropriated, when the effigy of a politician in a protest figures in a mock trial, mock execution and mock funeral.

In all cases, except the traditional effigies, there is an emphasis on the social and political aspects of the depicted person. Tomb effigies and funeral effigies exhibit attire and office insignia that indicate social status; coin effigies are signs of sovereignty; formal punishment of an effigy was synonymous to social death; popular punishment was meant to humiliate and ostracise the depicted; effigies in political protests ridicule and attack the honour of the targeted politician.[4]


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