In June, Black Lives Matters protestors in Bristol toppled a monument to 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston. The 18-foot-tall statue was then thrown into the Bristol harbor amid cheers from a crowd of onlookers. Since then, artists and activists have proposed replacements for the sculpture’s empty plinth.
Last night, British artist Marc Quinn installed in the Colston statue’s place a new sculpture, A Surge of Power (Jen Reid), which depicts Bristol protestor Jen Reid, who was photographed standing atop the empty platform with her fist raised. Bristol’s city council has stated that Quinn’s work was installed without formal consent, referring to it as a “new temporary, public installation.”
The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said in a statement, “We have established a history commission which help us tell our full city history,” adding, “As we learn this fuller history including the part played by black people, women, the working class, trade unions, and children among others, we will be in a better position to understand who we are, how we got here and who we wish to honor…As the commission shares this information, the city will decide on city memorials and the future of the plinth.”
The debate over public art’s role in perpetuating racist legacies was reignited amid protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in the United States. In Richmond, Virginia, officials have slated a controversial monument to Robert E. Lee for removal. Statues of Leopold II, a 19th-century Belgian monarch who killed countless Congolese in a brutal colonization campaign, have been defaced or removed across Belgium.
Quinn said in a statement that he reached out to collaborate with Reid on a replacement monument after images of her spread across social media.
“We want to keep highlighting the unacceptable problem of institutionalized and systemic racism that everyone has a duty to face up to,” Quinn said.