Melania Trump Statue in Slovenia Set on Fire


LONDON — After a wooden statue of Melania Trump was burned near her birthplace in Slovenia over the weekend, the American artist who commissioned it said that he now wants to interview the arsonist as part of a new project.

The life-size, rustic sculpture of Mrs. Trump, which was carved out of a linden tree last year by a local folk artist, showed the first lady waving a hand in the powder blue cashmere dress she wore at her husband’s inauguration in 2017.

“There’s a lot of buzz around the destruction of monuments, so it could come from left-leaning people,” Brad Downey, the artist who commissioned the statue, said about the charred work near Sevnica, a rural town of 5,000 people where Mrs. Trump grew up. “Or it could be from right-leaning people, because they don’t like how it looks or think it’s disrespectful, aesthetically.”

Mr. Downey had said that the statue was torched on July 4, but a spokesman for the police in Sevnica said that the blaze was started in the early hours of July 5. In an email, the spokesman, Robert Perc, added that investigations were continuing.

Standing nine feet tall on the banks of the Sava, a major river in Slovenia, the sculpture drew mixed reactions when it was unveiled: with its rough-hewed features and naïve appearance, locals deemed it grotesque or said it looked like a scarecrow. But Mr. Downey said that people there generally liked the sculpture and had taken care of it — until last weekend.

“The face is burned but the features are intact — we can still see the face,” said Mr. Downey, who has stored the sculpture in a temporary studio in Slovenia. He said that he planned to show the charred version at an exhibition in the country in September. “The blue dress is still all blue,” he noted.

From the state of the remains, Mr. Downey said that whoever had set the statue afire had most likely put tires around the head and then dumped gasoline on it.

A local police officer said the investigation was continuing and refused to comment further. A wooden statue representing President Trump in northeastern Slovenia was burned to the ground in January.

The town of Sevnica has built a tourism industry around the Mrs. Trump’s origins ever since her husband entered the presidential race in 2015, with offerings such as Melania salami, Melania slippers and Melania wine. While the rural town has attracted tens of thousands of visitors, the first lady hasn’t visited Slovenia since then.

Mr. Downey, a 39-year-old Berlin-based artist who defined his work as “contextual public art,” said that the sculpture was intended to question President Trump’s anti-immigration policy and what he described as a “heavy rhetoric of xenophobia.”

He said he had commissioned a local sculptor, Ales Zupevc, known as Max, to create the statue because Mr. Zupevc was born in the same hospital the same month and year as Mrs. Trump: April 1970.

Mr. Zupevc said in a 2019 short film made by Mr. Downey that he had never met the first lady — and that he had never before made a full human statue.

Mr. Downey said that he did not want to press charges against the culprits, but he expressed a wish to interview them. “Why did you do this? Who are you? I’d love to speak to you,” he said.

He added that the charred sculpture, wrapped in plastic, would remain in his temporary studio near the seaside town of Koper, in southwestern Slovenia.

“I had also made a silicon mold of it, just out of precaution,” Mr. Downey said. “The statue is still here.”

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