Bristol slave trader's statue replaced with sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester

New monument unveiled at dawn after being placed on empty plinth in secret

The statue of a slave trader pulled down by anti-racism protesters last month in the British city of Bristol has been replaced with a sculpture of a black woman who helped to topple it.

The sculpture, which was erected without permission, shows Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid with her fist raised and occupies the plinth on which Edward Colston’s likeness stood before it was rolled into the nearby harbour.

Titled ‘A Surge of Power’, the black resin figure was created by artist Marc Quinn and put in place early on Wednesday morning.

Its subject, Ms Reid, was at the unveiling and told The Guardian newspaper it was “just incredible”.

“This is going to continue the conversation. I can’t see it coming down in a hurry,” she said. “I think it’s something the people of Bristol really appreciate seeing.”

Mr Quinn said the sculpture was only meant to be temporary, and was intended to keep the conversation about racism going. He said he did not know how long it would remain in place.

“It could be there for a month, it could be there for a year, but it’s not what’s going to be there forever, I wouldn’t have thought,” he said.

The death of George Floyd in May while in police custody in Minneapolis led to protests for racial equality and police reforms across the United States and around the world.

The acknowledgement of Europe’s colonialist history became a central pillar of the anti-racism protests on the continent, which often targeted the statues of historical figures linked to slavery and imperialism.

Edward Colston made a fortune from trading in West African slaves but was also a philanthropist who built schools, churches and hospitals. His name is widely commemorated in Bristol’s landmarks.

Bristol City Council had said any decision to replace the Colston statue, which had occupied the plinth since 1895, would be taken democratically.

The council recovered the statue from the harbour shortly after it was thrown in and plans to display it in a museum alongside placards from the protest.

The toppling of the statue led to renewed calls for other statues to be taken down in Britain, including that of colonialist Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University’s Oriel College.

There were also counter-demonstrations to protect some statues, including one in London commemorating former British leader Winston Churchill, who is revered as a hero for leading the country through the Second World War, but reviled by some for his role in Britain’s imperial past.

Far-right protesters descended on the capital and clashed with police after the statue, which stands beside the Houses of Parliament, was boarded up to protect it from vandalism.

Updated: July 15, 2020 10:39 PM

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