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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The installation and removal of ‘Jen Reid’ — the statue that has split opinion in Bristol

In the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests, an attempt at replacing the statue of a philanthropist slave trader by that of a protester who helped bring it down, has been thwarted by the authorities. What are these statues, and what are the issues at the heart of the incident?

Written by Vandana Kalra , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: July 19, 2020 11:15:19 am
Jen Reid, Jen Reid statue, Jen Reid statue removed, Bristol statue removed, Bristol Jen Reid statue removed, Black Lives Matter protests, US protests, Express Explained Contractors remove the statue “A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020” by artist Marc Quinn, which had been installed on the site of the fallen statue of the slave trader Edward Colston, in Bristol, England, Thursday, July 16, 2020. The sculpture of protester Jen Reid was installed without the knowledge or consent of Bristol City Council and was removed by the council 24 hours later. (Ben Birchall/PA via AP)

The statue of a Black Lives Matter protester was removed about 24 hours after it was installed on a plinth in Bristol, England. This sculpture, titled “A Surge of Power (Jen Reid), 2020”, had itself replaced the statue of a 17th century slave trader named Edward Colston, which had been pulled down by protesters on June 7.

The Jen Reid statue was removed by workers on the orders of the Britstol city council sometime after dawn on Thursday (July 16). A city council spokeswoman said that the sculpture would be “held at our museum for the artist to collect or donate to our collection”, The Guardian reported. The BBC reported that the sculptor, British artist Marc Quinn, would be charged the cost of removal of the statue.

Here is what you should know about the two statues.

Who was Edward Colston and why was his statue removed?

Edward Colston (1636-1721) was a Bristol born slave trader who transported thousands of African slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to work in sugar plantations in the Caribbean and tobacco fields in the North American colony of Virginia. Colston was also a Member of the Royal African Company and a Tory Member of Parliament. He donated large sums of money to charities, and his money funded schools in Bristol.

Opinion | Statue toppling spree: It’s pointless to fight the past. It’s today’s evils which need to be battled

On June 7, anti-racism demonstrators pulled down the 18-foot bronze statue — a sculpture by the Irish sculptor John Cassidy that had stood since 1895 on a plinth in what is now a public open space in the centre of Bristol — jumped on it and defaced it with blue and red paint, and dragged it to Bristol harbour and dumped in the river Avon.

And who is Jen Reid whose statue replaced Colston’s?

Jen Reid is a Bristol-based stylist and one of the Black Lives Matter protesters who brought down the Colston statue. She was subsequently photographed standing on top of the then vacant plinth with her fist in the air.

In an interview to the BBC, Reid said, “When I stood there on the plinth, and raised my arm in a Black Power salute, it was totally spontaneous…I didn’t even think about it. It was like an electrical charge of power was running through me.”

Read | #BlackLivesMatter: ‘There has never been a reckoning for (American) policing’s slave-patrol origins’

Her picture was put on social media by her husband, and was seen by Marc Quinn — a visual artist whose subjects include the body and identity and who works with material including human blood — contacted them with the idea of recreating the moment in his studio for a sculpture.

“When I saw the picture of Jen on Instagram, I immediately thought it would be great to immortalise that moment,” Quinn told The Guardian. The image is a silhouette: she looked like a sculpture already. I’ve been making portraits of refugees using 3D scanning over the last year and applied the same technology to this.”

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Under what circumstances was the Marc Quinn statue erected?

In the early hours of July 15, Quinn installed the Reid sculpture on the vacant Colston plinth. While photographs of Reid posing with it immediately went viral, opinion was divided on the step taken by Quinn.

Also in Explained: Why a capital ‘B’ in ‘Black’ is culmination of very long journey

While some applauded Quinn’s gesture and noted how it extends support to the Black Lives Matter movement, others were critical. In an article in The Art Newspaper, artist Thomas J Price said, “For a white artist to suddenly capitalise on the experiences of Black pain, by putting themselves forward to replace the statutes of white slave owners seems like a clear example of a saviour complex and cannot be the precedent that is set for genuine allyship.”

And why did the city council remove Quinn’s statue?

The Bristol city council removed the statue less than 24 hours after it was installed. On Twitter, the mayor of Bristol Marvin 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.”

Don’t miss from Explained | Understanding the politics of pulling down statues: what does it convey, and what does it miss?

Rees has been quoted as saying that the decision about what replaces the statue of Colston must be made by the people of the city. Reports have said that if sold, profits from the sale of “A Surge of Power” will be donated to two charities chosen by Reid — Cargo Classroom, a Black history syllabus created for Bristol teenagers, and The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise founded to address the lack of Black British history in the UK curriculum.

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