Thanks to artist Marc Quinn, a statue of Black Lives Matter activist Jen Reid now occupies a plinth in Bristol, UK where the statue of 17th Century British slave trader Edward Colston stood before it was toppled during protests against racial injustice on June 7.
Euronews reports: “Quinn said Reid had ‘created the sculpture when she stood on the plinth and raised her arm in the air. Now we’re crystallising it.’ The new statue doesn’t currently have council permission to be there, but Reid said: ‘I’d like the council to keep it here because obviously what it represents and who was there prior. It’s a decision that they’re going to have to make. I think the most important thing is that something is up there replacing Edward Colston. And for people to discuss, educate, learn and just keep talking about, you know, BLM (Black Lives Matter).'”
The new sculpture, titled A Surge of Power, is cast in black resin
“This sculpture captures a moment. It happened in the middle of the news and the worldwide ripple effect from George Floyd’s killing – all of which I had been following. My friend who knew this showed me a picture on Instagram of Jen standing on the plinth in Bristol with her fist in a Black Power salute. My first, instant thought was how incredible it would be to make a sculpture of her, in that instant. 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.
“The public realm feels so vital at the moment, as a space to activate ideas and create change. It feels essential in particular for public art to play its part. In 2005, I made a sculpture of Alison Lapper Pregnant for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth and learnt how effective public art can be in stimulating attention and discussion around urgent issues. 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.
“Jen and I are not putting this sculpture on the plinth as a permanent solution to what should be there – it’s a spark which we hope will help to bring continued attention to this vital and pressing issue. We want to keep highlighting the unacceptable problem of institutionalised and systemic racism that everyone has a duty to face up to. This sculpture had to happen in the public realm now: this is not a new issue, but it feels like there’s been a global tipping point. It’s time for direct action now.
“As well as being a person in the world, I’m an artist and a big part of my work is making art about historical moments within contemporary society. Like my History Paintings which I have been making over the last decade, which started with an image from the London riots following the death of Mark Duggan. In my work I look to the world and am committed to reflecting what I see, including inequalities and injustices. Prejudice, such as racism, is part of that.
“Keeping the issue of Black people’s lives and experiences in the public eye and doing whatever I can to help is so important. Those of us who have privilege have a duty to be part of change. Something that Desmond Tutu said resonates with me strongly: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I think this sums up how we’ve reached the point where white people have to be allies and white people in positions of power need to speak up and actively combat racism. For me this has meant taking time to educate myself, listen to others and find a meaningful way of contributing. The reasons why Jen wanted to do this together are so important, this sculpture is an embodiment and amplification of Jen’s ideas and experiences, and of the past, present and her hope for a better future.”
Said Reid: “On my way home from the protests on 7 June, I felt an overwhelming impulse to climb onto the plinth, just completely driven to do it by the events which had taken place right before. Seeing the statue of Edward Colston being thrown into the river felt like a truly historical moment; huge. When I was 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. 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.”
“I’m collaborating with Marc Quinn on this project as he cares about pushing inclusion to the forefront of people’s minds and uses his art to make people think,” Reid 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.”