Current Affairs

Bristol City Council removes statue of Black Lives Matter protestor that replaced Edward Colston

A Bristol statue of a Black Lives Matter protestor installed on the empty plinth where a monument to the slave trader Edward Colston previosuly stood has been removed after just 24 hours.

The statue was created by the artist Marc Quinn and secretly installed in the early hours of Wednesday morning on the empty plinth in Bristol city centre.

Entitled “A Surge of Power”, the replacement statue depicted Jen Reid, who was photographed standing on the plinth after the statue of Colston was toppled by local residents and activists in June.

The installation was removed by Bristol City Council in the early hours of Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after Bristol woke to a new monument where Edward Colston had stood for 125 years.

Reaction to the statue of Reid had been mixed. Many criticised Quinn’s failure to seek official permission to install the statue, but others praised it as an inspiring tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement and the cause of racial equality. Some have expressed frustration at the rapidity of the removal of the new statue, arguing that Bristol City Council had not listened to campaigners who had spent years fighting to take down the monument to Colston.

Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, confirmed that permission to install Quinn’s statue was not sought from the City Council and even urged Quinn to contribute towards the costs of removing it.

On Twitter, Rees said, “I understand people want expression, but the statue has been put up without permission. Anything put on the plinth outside of the process we’ve put in place will have to be removed. The people of Bristol will decide its future.”

The statue, described as a “temporary intervention” by another local councillor, will be kept in a museum until Quinn reclaims or donates it.

Speaking to BBC News, Reid described the statue of her as “something the people of Bristol really appreciate seeing” and said that it represented “making a stand for my mother, for my daughter, for black people like me”.

The removal of the original statue of Edward Colston, which was first installed in 1895, made headlines in early June as activists dragged the monument to Bristol harbour and cast it into the river. Bristol City Council plans to install the old statue in a museum along with signs from recent local Black Lives Matter protests.

Edward Colston, who died in 1721, was a merchant, Tory MP and key figure in the Royal African Company, which controlled the English slave trade in the late 17th century. It is believed that the Company transported over 84,000 African men, women and children to America and the Caribbean, where they were sold to tobacco and sugar plantations.

The news comes after the governing body of Oxford University’s Oriel College launched an inquiry into the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the 19th century imperialist and mining magnate, which stands high above the High Street entrance to the college. Close to 200,000 have now signed an online petition calling for the removal of the statue, which has been the focal point for recent Black Lives Matter protests in Oxford.

Speaking to The Oxford Blue, Rhodes Must Fall Oxford said, “As a decolonial movement, Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford stands in solidarity with sibling movements here in the UK and elsewhere who are advocating for the same democratization of conversation and an end to white supremacy and colonial apologism primarily through the removal of colonial iconography.”

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign began at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in 2015, where a controversial monument to Rhodes was eventually taken down. The movement reached Oxford University soon after, but Oriel College’s statue remains in place. Rhodes Must Fall Oxford point to Rhodes’ endorsement of white supremacy and his belief in the superiority of British people and institutions as grounds for the statue’s removal.

Oliver Shaw

Oliver (he/him) is the Senior Current Affairs Editor at The Oxford Blue for the summer vacation and Michaelmas 2020. Oliver lives in Warwickshire and is entering his final year studying History at Merton College.