Replacing a Monument to Slavery
A Black Lives Matter statue now rests where a slave owner’s likeness once stood in England
The original statue of slave owner Edward Colston now sits at the bottom of the harbor at Bristol in England. Anti-Black racism activists put it there as the news of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police in Minneapolis reinvigorated calls for racial fairness and equality around the world.
In old Ed’s place stands a statue of Jen Reid with her fist in the air, put there as a kind of counterprotest. The black resin statue, created by Marc Quinn, can’t stay, city officials say, but the point has been made.
[UPDATE 7/16/20 — The statue was removed by city officials less than 24 hours after it was installed by the protest artists.]
Per NPR and The Guardian, here is the backstory:
“The sculpture that has been installed today was the work and decision of a London based artist. It was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed,” Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said in a statement.
The city is setting up a process to determine what happens with the plinth. “The people will decide its future,” Rees added in a tweet.
The sculpture represents a stark departure from the figure that once occupied the same plinth. Colston’s contributions to Bristol around the turn of the 18th century earned him a reputation as one of the city’s fathers, honored with not only a monument but also a number of buildings and streets named in his honor.
Those contributions, though, were funded by Colston’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. For years, the executive was a leader of the Royal African Company, which had a British monopoly on the slave trade from West Africa. The company abducted and sold thousands of people per year into enslavement in the Americas. Thousands more died on the journey and had their bodies tossed overboard.”
Placing a Black woman’s statue on the pedestal originally intended for the executive who once led the profitable Royal African Company was a bold move. Protest art is always a part of the movement and has been for centuries. Quinn’s sculpture is one of many in a long lineage of affirming that all narratives are represented in public art spaces.