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Lest We Forget

June 12, 2020

To remember without glorifying

Protesters pulled down the statue of Colston during a Black Lives Matter march in Bristol on Sunday before throwing it into the harbour. It has now been pulled out. Bristol City Council has confirmed the statue, complete with graffiti and some of the rope used to bring it down, will go on display in the M-Shed museum along with placards from the protest. The team at M-Shed said: “Despite only being in the water for a few days, mud had filled the inside and obscured the evidence of its journey into the harbour.

“We spent the morning removing mud from its inside with a hose and extendable brush.The painted graffiti was particularly at risk from the cleaning so this was done very carefully to ensure it wasn’t washed off. The symbolism of his graffitti’d body has been preserved and the significance it has for us will be an important story to tell"

Statues are being attacked and toppled, and not without cause. There had been ongoing requests, including a huge petition, for the Colston statue on Bristol to be removed. No action was taken - not even the compromise solution of attaching a plaque that admitted the real source of the wealth that he bestowed on the city - the slave trade. The final result was the crowd that pulled it down and threw it in the harbour. Just as so many innocent slaves were thrown to thier deaths from slave ships.

So must it always come to this violent iconclasm? Could we review our public art in a more measured way?

How can we - how could Bristol - in all conscience leave up a tribute to a man in that evil trade? What will happen to the many statues now under scritiny could prove to be a model respnse to the conundrum that faces any society that acknowledges its past mistakes and acts to rectify them. Many suggest that the statues could be placed in museums. That would be useful as long as the entire history surrounding the person and thier legacy is clearly shown, as they plan to do in Bristol. In the case of Colston we not only learn about a key source of wealth of the city  - many fine buidlings have been paid for from these ill-gotten gains - but we also learn how to respond to our growing awareness of issues previously hidden from public scrutiny. This will not be that last time we are faced with this process. Having failed to act before, Bristol could now prove to be a role model.