Sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester taken down from Colston plinth

A sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protester has been removed from the former plinth of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston just 24 hours after being erected.

Artist Marc Quinn created the life-size black resin and steel piece of Jen Reid after seeing a photograph of her standing on the empty plinth following the toppling of the Colston statue in Bristol.

The sculpture, A Surge Of Power (Jen Reid) 2020, was installed shortly before 4.30am on Wednesday by Mr Quinn’s team without the knowledge or consent of Bristol City Council.

At around 5.20am on Thursday, council contractors used webbing straps to hoist the 7.5ft high piece off the plinth and place it into a skip lorry.

Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, said the sculpture had to be removed as the decision to install it had not been part of a democratic process involving people in the city.

“It was a London-based artist who took a decision to put a statue up without talking to the people of Bristol,” Mr Rees said.

Bristol City Council previously announced a commission to explore Bristol’s full history, including the part played by black people, women, the working class, trade unions and children.

Mr Rees said this process would enable people to discuss what they wanted to put on the plinth, adding he believed that currently leaving it empty was a “powerful statement”.

Both Mr Quinn and the city council have confirmed that no permission was sought to install the sculpture on the plinth.

On Thursday, Mr Rees called for the artist – whose previous works include the sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square – to contribute towards the costs of removing it.

The mayor said funds had been taken from the account for children’s and adult services in the city to pay for the operation.

“I hope that a high-profile artist will make a contribution to the local authority to make sure that our services don’t pay the price for the action we’ve had to take,” Mr Rees said.

He told the PA news agency that Mr Quinn had not contacted the council since the sculpture was taken down.

Mr Rees said he had previously spoken to the artist about the wider situation in Bristol, including an attack on the grave of Scipio Africanus.

The historic memorial, situated in St Mary’s churchyard in Henbury, Bristol, was smashed in an apparent retaliation attack following the toppling of the Colston statue in June.

The smashed grave in Henbury, Bristol
The smashed grave in Henbury, Bristol (Ben Birchall/PA)

“We did have a conversation some weeks ago and I raised some of the issues that would become live,” Mr Rees said.

“If you wade into a situation without local knowledge, without nuance and understanding, you can have unintended consequences.

“Tackling racism, and tackling institutional racism in particular, is not a short sprint at the end of a quick burst of energy, it’s a long journey.”

He said that however that journey was achieved, it had to happen by taking “the whole city with us”.

“Unitary actions by people coming in from outside the city making decisions are not the best way to bring people together,” Mr Rees added.

It is understood that Mr Rees has received more than 3,600 emails organised through Britain First since the sculpture of Ms Reid was installed.

Conversations will now take place between the council and Mr Quinn to decide what happens next with the artwork.

Mr Quinn has previously said that if the sculpture is sold, all profits will be donated to Cargo Classroom and the Black Curriculum – two charities chosen by Ms Reid.

This morning we removed the sculpture. It will be held at our museum for the artist to collect or donate to our collection. Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees issued a statement yesterday about the need for a democratic process where the people of Bristol decide the future of the plinth

— Bristol City Council (@BristolCouncil) July 16, 2020

He created the piece after seeing an image on Instagram of Ms Reid standing on the empty plinth with her fist in the air shortly after the Colston statue had been toppled.

In a statement issued after the sculpture was erected, Ms Reid described it as “so important” and said it helped keep the journey towards racial justice moving.

“This sculpture is about making a stand for my mother, for my daughter, for black people like me,” she said.

Mr Quinn, who did not respond to requests for interviews on Thursday, said on Wednesday that the sculpture was not put on the plinth as a “permanent solution”.

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

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 rolled 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.

The city council retrieved the statue on June 11. It will be put on display in a museum with placards from the Black Lives Matter protest at a later date.

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