There’s a new statue in town. Early last month, protesters in Bristol toppled a statue of Edward Colston, a man who made a living in the 17th century off the slave trade, and threw it in the harbour. The plinth which once supported Colston’s statue stood empty with the question of what should come next looming over it, until today. Early this morning, a new statue was unveiled atop the plinth paying homage to the Black Lives Matter protesters who have taken to the streets in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, making their voices heard in the fight for racial justice.
A Black woman, hand raised in the Black Power salute, now stands where Colston once stood thanks to artist Marc Quinn. If she looks familiar, it’s because you might have seen her picture before. Jen Reid, a Bristol resident, was there the day Edward Colston was brought down and shortly after he fell to the ground, she climbed onto the empty plinth and raised her fist in solidarity. The image was shared on Instagram and it caught the attention of Quinn who, after a lot of organisation, was able to use Reid as the model for the statue.
Titled A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020, Quinn created the work using 3D scanning, a system that he’s usually worked with to make portraits of refugees. In Quinn’s studio, Reid mimicked her pose, wearing the same clothes from early June, posing for the scan which became the statue unveiled today.
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Today, Bristol resident Jen Reid and I have unveiled a new temporary, public installation, ‘A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020’, on top of Edward Colston’s empty plinth in Bristol, England. This life-sized sculpture is based on an image I saw on Instagram of local resident Jen Reid standing on the vacant plinth with her fist raised in a Black Power salute, a spontaneous moment following a Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020. During the protest, a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled from this spot. Cast in black resin, this new sculpture ‘A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020’ takes its place – no formal consent has been sought for the installation. Read the full statement – link in bio. #blacklivesmatter #marcquinnart #5thplinth
The Colston statue was at the heart of controversy for many years, and it had little context to tell a holistic story of Colston’s life and work. “Having to see that statue daily does something to you,” Reid told The Guardian. “Knowing what Colston represented, I felt compelled to take a stand and raise my fist in empowerment for the slaves who died at his hands. It was like an electrical surge of power was running through me as I took the plinth in memory of George Floyd, and for every black person killed by police for being black, and those who face injustice daily based on the colour of their skin. […] Unlike Black History Month, I hope this statue address blackness [sic] every day.”
When the statue of Colston was brought down, it was a catalyst for questions of what would come next. Banksy even weighed in with their own ideas for how to commemorate the day protesters were victorious in toppling the statue. While Quinn’s statue is a welcome addition to the port city for many, it wasn’t made and positioned with the permission of Bristol and it isn’t intended to be a permanent fixture. Installed without using any bolts or glues, Quinn and his team haven’t specifically broken any laws by placing the statue on the plinth. However, the artist recognizes that the work will become a point of debate and authorities will have to weigh in on the matter. For now, though, A Surge of Power is a statue unlike any other, commemorating a significant point of history in the making.