Everything you need to know about the Jen Reid statue replacing slave-trader Edward Colston
The statue of the BLM campaigner appeared overnight
A brand-new statue of a Black Lives Matter protester has been installed where the statue of slave-trader Edward Colston used to stand.
Artist Mark Quinn erected the statue of Jen Reid before 5am, before any police or council workers could stop them, with Reid saying: “It’s just incredible. That’s pretty fucking ballsy, that is.”
On June 7th, the statue of Edward Colston was torn down in Bristol City Centre, and then rolled into the harbour, making headlines around the world.
Who is Jen Reid, the activist whose statue has replaced Edward Colston?
Bristol resident Reid took part in the Black Lives Matter protests that ended with the toppling of the Colston statue, and became known as she stood on the plinth where the statue used to stand with her arm raised, which she called “spontaneous”.
Reid said: “On my way home from the protests on 7 June, I felt an overwhelming impulse to climb onto the plinth, just wholly 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 genuinely historical moment; huge.
“When I was stood there on the plinth, and raised my arm in a Black Power salute, it was 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 provide power to Black people like me who have suffered injustices and inequality. A surge of power out to them all.”
How was the replacement Edward Colston statue made and installed?
On the day of the Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, a friend of artist Marc Quinn showed him a photo on Instagram of Jen Reid stood on top of the Colston plinth.
He said: “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.”
Quinn contacted Reid via Instagram, and soon she was in Quinn’s studio being recorded with a 3D scanner, capturing in immaculate detail the iconic pose, and the detail of her clothing (the same ones she wore when the statue came down).
Fast forward to this morning, and in the cover of the thin, early-morning light, 10 people in hi-vis waited for the statue to arrive, to install it before the authorities found out. They had practiced in advance so they could install it in as little time as possible, to avoid being stopped.
“The only thing that could have stopped it would have been some kind of official intervention,” said artist Marc Quinn, “but it didn’t happen. It looks like it’s always been here.”
Who is Marc Quinn (the artist)?
Quinn, age 56, is an internationally celebrated artist based in London, who has exhibited works at galleries such as the Tate Modern, the South London Gallery, and Sir John Soane’s museum.
According to his Wikipedia page, Quinn explores “what it is to be human in the world today”, which is very apt.
On the new statue, called “A Surge of Power“, he said: “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.
“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 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.”
How long will the statue stay up?
Mayor Marvin Rees released a statement saying that the statue is “the work and decision of London based artist” that was “not requested and permission was not given”, and that “the city will decided on city memorials”.
“We have set out a process to manage our journey. We have established a history commission which help us tell our full city history. As we learn this fuller history including the part played by black people, women, the working class, trade unions, and children among others, we will be in a better position to understand who we are, how we got here and who we wish to honour. Crucial to our heritage has been the harbour and the docks, manufacturing and industry, research and innovation, transport, slum clearances, housing, modern gentrification and faith. As the commission shares this information, the city will decide on city memorials and the future of the plinth.”
However, the artist, Marc Quinn, has said the statue isn’t intended to be permanent but to spark change and debate.
Jen Reid said: “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 do belong here and we’re not going anywhere.”
Featured image: SWNS