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White Man, Black Woman.

July 17, 2020

Jen Reid, Bristol Black lives matter protestor, has been immortalised by Marc Quinn in a statue "Surge of Power", that was put up clandestinely overnight on the plinth that was formerly the seat of the slave trader Colston. It is interesting that no action to remove his statue was taken for so many years, despite the thousands of signatories to a petition for its removal and the great weight of public opinion against him. Then, suddenly, when a rich white man is taken down and a young black woman takes his place, the action to remove her is so immediate and unhesitating.

In an interview art activist Deasy Bamford said
"It took them 35 years to do nothing and 24 hours to do something."

Of course, Bristol must decide in a democratic way  who or what they choose to honour in their city. Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees has issued a statement about the need for a democratic process where the people of Bristol decide the future of the plinth.  He said that a commission was being set up to tell a “fuller history” of Bristol, all of which is entirely laudable. However, it is sad that when civic statues of women are so extremely rare; less than 3% in the UK, at the last count ( and in Bristol they have 14 men on plinths and just 1 woman; the ubiquitous Queen Victoria ) and when statues of black women are even more rare, this one was removed without even giving people a chance to consider it. It seems harsh, especially when black women are arguably the human beings most discriminated against on the planet.  There could have been a period of grace with an acknowledgement that her statue would be removed to allow democratic consultation.

There are also questions about whether a white man is the appropriate person at act in this situation. In response to this Marc Quin recalls a quote from Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The artist adds: “White people in positions of power need to speak up and support change in the way black people are treated, their positions in society. I have been listening and learning and one of the phrases that really struck me was, ‘White silence is violence.’ 

The statue will now be held at the museum for the artist to collect or donate to the collection. Let us hope the people of Bristol take the opportunity to make their views known.