Last month, as global protests were held against systemic racism and police brutality, one of the side effects was folks re-evaluating the casual monuments of racism that exist within their communities. While efforts to remove Confederate monuments have been raging for years, the fight to remove these racist statues is not limited to just America. One of the more powerful moments from the last month was a video from the United Kingdom of a monument to Edward Colston, a British slave trader, being toppled by protesters and thrown into Bristol Harbor.
NBC News reports that British artist Marc Quinn erected a monument to Jen Reid, a protester who stood on the plinth of Colston’s monument and raised her fist in the Black Power salute after the monument was toppled. The statue currently sits upon the plinth where Colston’s monument once stood. Quinn, who is white, saw a picture of Reid on the plinth and asked if she would work with him on the creation of the life-sized statue that he has dubbed, “A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020.” The monument was erected early Wednesday morning without the knowledge of city officials.
“When I was stood there on the plinth, and raised my arm in a Black Power salute, it was totally spontaneous, I didn’t even think about it. It was like an electrical charge of power was running through me,” Reid said in a statement on Wednesday. She added that the statue coming down felt like a historical moment. “I wanted to give George Floyd power, I wanted to give power to Black people like me who have suffered injustices and inequality. A surge of power out to them all.”
“The plinth of Edward Colston in Bristol seems the right place to share this sculpture about the fight against racism, which is undoubtedly the other virus facing society today.” Quinn said. The artist indicated that he didn’t see the monument as a permanent solution but simply as a way to bring continued awareness about systemic racism.
While Reid has said she would like to see the statue permanently remain on the plinth, Marvin Rees, Bristol’s mayor, released a statement saying the statue, “was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed.” While Rees, a Black man, has said that he viewed the statue as “an affront,” he felt his status as an elected official prevented him from condoning the way it was torn down.
From NBC News:
In his statement Wednesday, the mayor said that the future of the plinth “must be decided by the people of Bristol” but described Quin’s sculpture as “the work and decision of a London-based artist.”
The U.K. was among the many countries where people demonstrated in solidarity after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May.
Colston has been the focus of British anti-racism campaigners for many years. He made his fortune in the 17th-century slave trade, donating much of it to the city of Bristol when he died.
I honestly don’t see the problem with the statue remaining there. The people told you what they wanted by forcibly removing the statue of the slave trader. For too long, Black people have had to exist in the presence of monuments to people who gained “glory” through our subjugation. There’s a Confederate monument in my home state of Arizona, a place that wasn’t even in the Confederacy for Christ’s sake. Our permission and feelings clearly weren’t considered when these monuments were erected, so why should it be different this time around? Especially when the replacement monument is far less morally repugnant than the original.