Bristol Commission recommends disputed statue go to museum –

The statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston which was toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020 is set to be on permanent display in a museum, on its side and defaced with red paint, according to a newly published report ordered by the mayor of the city. The recommendation follows the acquittal of four protesters accused of causing criminal damage after pulling down the statue and rolling it off the dock in Bristol.

The independent group We Are Bristol History Commission has recommended that the disputed monument be preserved in the degraded condition it was in when it was removed from port. Since then, it has been on display in the city’s M Shed museum alongside information on the transatlantic slave trade. The report also says the still-standing plinth that holds the statue is expected to accommodate temporary art commissions reflecting significant issues for Bristol and, on occasion, be left empty as a reminder of the statue’s toppling.

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In the report, the commission wrote: “We recommend that attention be paid to presenting history in a nuanced, contextualized and engaging way, including information about the broader history of slavery. people of African descent”.

Of the 14,000 people who responded to the citywide survey, around 80% said the law should be displayed in a museum in Bristol, while 65% supported the addition of a plaque on the plinth commemorating the event. More than half of those polled supported using the plinth as a stage for temporary art exhibitions. Some Bristol residents have come up with ideas on how to deal with the monument, including breaking it in half and placing one half on the plinth and the other in a museum. Another respondent suggested relocating it as part of a new tradition of “carrying it out and dumping it in the harbor once a year”.

Colston was a wealthy merchant and major philanthropist in Bristol, and as a member of the Royal African Company he was actively involved in the African slave trade. In June 2020, amid global protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, monuments to historical figures inherited from colonialism and racism were defaced or removed from view around the world. In June, a group of protesters were filmed spraying red paint on the Colston statue before tying ropes around its neck and pulling it from its plinth. The statue was then rolled off the dock to the cheers of the crowd.

Following its withdrawal, Rhian Graham was accused alongside Milo Ponsford and Sage Willoughby of tying the rope, while Jake Skuse was accused of throwing it overboard. All four have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The Colston case comes amid a reignited debate in the UK over the inheritance of public works of art. In January, a man was arrested for attacking a statue of Eric Gill outside BBC headquarters in central London. The suspect pounded the statue with a hammer for four hours while a second man filmed the incident. Gill, one of Britain’s leading sculptors and typographers of the 20th century, was a notorious paedophile. The statue features depictions of Shakespeare’s Prospero and Ariel Storm. Ariel, a spirit in the service of the magician, is represented as a naked child.

Successive campaigners have called on the BBC to remove the sculpture. Following the latest attack, the broadcasting company said in a statement that it “does not condone the views or actions of Eric Gill”. He continued: “There are clearly debates about whether you can separate the work of an artist from the art itself. We think the right thing to do is for people to have these discussions. We don’t think the right approach is to damage the artwork itself.

Aurora J. William