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Decisions on Edward Colston plinth must be made by people of Bristol, mayor says

Marvin Rees issued a statement after a sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid was installed on Wednesday morning.

The Mayor of Bristol has described a sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protester erected on the plinth where a statue of slave trader Edward Colston used to stand as the “work and decision of a London-based artist”.

Marc Quinn created the life-size black resin and steel piece of Jen Reid, from Bristol, after seeing a photograph of her standing on the empty plinth after the Colston statue was toppled.

The sculpture, entitled A Surge of Power (Jen Reid), was installed shortly before 5am on Wednesday by Quinn’s team without the knowledge or consent of Bristol City Council.

A sign reading “Black Lives Still Matter” was placed at the foot of the plinth.

Mayor Marvin Rees previously said any decision on how the plinth should be used would be decided democratically through consultation.

In a statement issued after the sculpture was erected, Mr Rees said “the future of the plinth and what is installed on it must be decided by the people of Bristol”.

Jen Reid
Jen Reid poses in front of her statue (Ben Birchall/PA)

“This will be critical to building a city that is home to those who are elated at the statue being pulled down, those who sympathise with its removal but are dismayed at how it happened and those who feel that in its removal, they’ve lost a piece of the Bristol they know and therefore themselves,” Mr Rees said.

He acknowledged that change was needed but that it had to be done at a pace that “brings people with us”.

“The sculpture that has been installed today was the work and decision of London-based artist,” Mr Rees said.

“It was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed.”

People photograph the piece (Ben Birchall/PA)
People photograph the piece (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mr Rees referenced a commission set up by Bristol City Council to tell a “fuller history” of the city, including the part played by black people, women, the working class, trade unions and children.

He said this would put the city in a better position to understand “who we wish to honour”.

“As the commission shares this information, the city will decide on city memorials and the future of the plinth,” Mr Rees said.

After the sculpture was installed on the plinth, Mrs Reid stood in front of it with her fist in the air.

She recalled climbing onto it after the Colston statue was pulled down and spontaneously raising her arm in a Black Power salute.

Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol (Bristol City Council/PA)
Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol (Bristol City Council/PA)

“It was like an electrical charge of power was running through me,” the stylist said.

“My immediate thoughts were for the enslaved people who died at the hands of Colston and to give them power.

“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.”

She added: “Creating this sculpture is so important as it helps keep the journey towards racial justice and equity moving, because black lives matter every day.

“This sculpture is about making a stand for my mother, for my daughter, for black people like me. It’s about black children seeing it up there.

“It’s something to feel proud of, to have a sense of belonging, because we actually do belong here and we’re not going anywhere.”

The statue was thrown into the harbour on June 7 (Ben Birchall/PA)
The statue was thrown into the harbour on June 7 (Ben Birchall/PA)

On June 7, protesters on the Black Lives Matter march used ropes to pull the Colston statue from its plinth in the city centre.

It was dragged to the harbourside, where it was thrown in the water at Pero’s Bridge – named in honour of enslaved man Pero Jones who lived and died in the city.

Mrs Reid described the Colston statue being thrown into the river as “a truly historical moment”.

Bristol City Council retrieved the statue on June 11 and said it would be displayed in a museum along with placards from the Black Lives Matter protest.

Mr Quinn’s previous works include self-portrait Self and a sculpture entitled Alison Lapper Pregnant, for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

The statue was pulled from the harbour on June 11 (Bristol City Council/PA)
The statue was pulled from the harbour on June 11 (Bristol City Council/PA)

The artist, who had been following events following the death of George Floyd, contacted Mrs Reid after a friend showed him a photograph on Instagram of her stood on the plinth.

“My first, instant thought was how incredible it would be to make a sculpture of her, in that instant,” he said.

“It is such a powerful image, of a moment I felt had to be materialised, forever. I contacted Jen via social media to discuss the idea of the sculpture and she told me she wanted to collaborate.”

He added: “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.”

Mr Quinn said the sculpture was not being put on the plinth as a “permanent solution”, adding that it may only last days or weeks before taken down.

“We want to keep highlighting the unacceptable problem of institutionalised and systemic racism that everyone has a duty to face up to,” he said.

He described the sculpture as “an embodiment and amplification” of Mrs Reid’s ideas and experiences.

If the statue is sold, all profits will be donated to Cargo Classroom and The Black Curriculum – two charities chosen by Mrs Reid, Mr Quinn said.

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