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Mayor says sculpture of protester on Colston plinth ‘will have to be removed’

UK News | Published:

Marvin Rees said the sculpture was erected in Bristol without permission.

The sculpture in Bristol

The mayor of Bristol has said a sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protester erected on the plinth where a statue of slave trader Edward Colston used to stand “will have to be removed”.

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

The sculpture, entitled A Surge of Power (Jen Reid), was installed shortly before 4.30am 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 tweeted: “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.”

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Mr Rees had previously said that any decision on how the plinth should be used would be decided democratically through consultation.

In a statement issued after the sculpture was erected, he said change needs to happen at a pace that “brings people with us”.

“The sculpture that has been installed today was the work and decision of a London-based artist,” Mr Rees said. “It was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed.”

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Mr Rees referenced a commission set up by the 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.

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

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

“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.

“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.”

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

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)

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”.

The city council retrieved the statue on June 11 and said it would be displayed in a museum 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 artist, who had been following events following the death of George Floyd in the US, contacted Mrs Reid after a friend showed him a photograph on Instagram of her standing 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.”

A Surge of Power by Marc Quinn
A Surge of Power by Marc Quinn (Ben Birchall/PA)

Mrs Reid went to his studio and 201 cameras were used to create a 3D print and a mould for the sculpture.

Mr Quinn said it was not 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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