BY: KARMA ALLEN, ABC NEWS
(LONDON) — Just weeks after protesters illegally toppled a controversial statue of a 17th century British slave trader, an acclaimed sculptor secretly replaced it with a brand new effigy honoring a U.K. Black Lives Matter protester.
British artist Marc Quinn installed a new effigy of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid in Bristol, England, on Wednesday in honor of the ongoing movement against racism and police brutality there and abroad.
The surprise move came just five weeks after angry demonstrators toppled a nearly 200-year-old statue of Edward Colston, a primary benefactor of the British slavery trade who reportedly oversaw the kidnapping and trafficking of 84,000 West African slaves.
Quinn, one of Britain’s most well-known sculptors, said he was inspired to create the figure — entitled A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020 — after seeing the now-viral photo of Jen Reid standing with her fist raised on top of the abandoned plinth where the Colston statue once stood. Protesters tossed the statue into a nearby harbor after toppling it.
“I’d first like to thank Jen for collaborating with me on A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020 at every point in the process of making this new temporary public artwork,” Quinn said in an Instagram post Wednesday. “The sculpture’s title comes from Jen’s powerful description of her experience of standing on the plinth.”
Reid, who said she dedicates her life’s work to fighting racial injustice and inequality, said she felt empowered by the anti-racism movement in Bristol. For a moment, the city found itself as one of the focal points of the protests that erupted in countries around the world after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“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,” Reid said in the aftermath of the statue removal. “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.”
Protesters and anti-racism advocates rallied behind the removal and subsequent replacement on social media, but it’s unclear if city officials will allow the figure to stand. Authorities have recovered the Colston statue and said they’re planning to place it in a museum alongside placards from the Black Lives Matter demonstration.
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees referred to the Closton statue as one of the city’s “dirty” secrets and acknowledged England’s complicated history with slavery. But he said did not condone the statue’s unauthorized removal.
“I am a part of this city and I cannot pretend that the presence of this statue to Colston — a slaver — with a plaque on it that says he was a ‘wise and virtuous son of the city’ is anything other than a personal affront to me and people like me,” Rees said in an interview with ABC News after the statue’s toppling. “And not just black and brown people, but white people too, who are horrified that the city would give a place of honor to someone who made money through the kidnap and enslavement of other human beings.”
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