One day after it was covertly installed on the empty plinth where a statue of a slave trader once stood, a sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protester has been removed by Bristol city council.
The bust of demonstrator Jen Reid, by visual artist Marc Quinn, was positioned in central Bristol early Wednesday morning without permission from authorities, on the former site of a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th century slave trader. This morning, at around 5:20AM, contractors were recorded securing the sculpture with ropes and removing it with a crane. A Bristol city council spokeswoman said: "This morning we removed the sculpture. It will be held at our museum for the artist to collect or donate to our collection."
Yesterday, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said in a statement, "The future of the plinth and what is installed on it must be decided by the people of Bristol." This morning, he elaborated on this point in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live: "This is not about taking down a statue of Jen, who is a very impressive woman. This is about taking down a statue of a London-based artist who came and put it up without permission."
Quinn said Wednesday that the steel and resin sculpture – titled "A Surge of Power (Jen Reid)" – was never intended to be permanent. "Whether it’s there for a day or a week or a month, it’s been there," said Reid. Now it has been removed, Reid and Quinn have said that any money raised from its sale will be donated to two charities working to improve the teaching of Black history in British schools.
Critics have debated Quinn's motivations in making the sculpture. Booker prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo called it an example of "active allyship" – a "a demonstrable commitment to the cause of Black Lives Matter" – while artist Thomas J Price described it as an "opportunistic stunt", telling The Guardian, "I think it would be far more useful if white artists confronted whiteness, as opposed to using the lack of Black representation in art to find relevance for themselves."
Yesterday, when asked if it was an issue that Quinn is white, the statue's subject Jen Reid told The Guardian: "It's not even a question. If we have allies, it doesn't matter what colour they are. He has done something to represent BLM, and to keep the conversation going."
Predictably, reaction to the sculpture's removal on social media was mixed.
A number of people replied to a video of it being hoisted off its plinth with racist messages, suggesting that, like the Edward Colston statue, it should be dropped into Bristol Harbour. Others accused Bristol council of racism for removing the sculpture, while one user wrote, "Great statue, great way to mark the BLM movement in the history books but let's do it properly. For me it dilutes the message if it is plonked on the plinth overnight without a democratic discussion and agreement being reached."
This morning Bernardine Evaristo tweeted, "That was quick! #EdwardColston's statue remained in place for 125 years & he was a notorious slavetrader. Jen Reid, freedom fighter, got 24 hrs. So now it has to find a public spot. If Bristol doesn't have the guts, I nominate Brixton."