On the 7th of June 2020, the 5.5 meter high bronze statue of Edward Colston was taken down and thrown in the water in Bristol. Colston was a slave trader, who between 1672 and 1689 was responsible for the enslavement of about 80,000 men, women and children, who were deported from Africa to North and South America. Because Colston left part of his income to charity, various streets, schools and monuments were named after him in Bristol.
The statue of Edward Colston is now lying in the river. Its pedestal is an open space. What to put there? The British artist Banksy, who is from Bristol himself, asked on his Instagram profile: “What should we do with the empty plinth in the middle of Bristol?” and proposed his solution:
“Here’s an idea that caters for both those who miss the Colston statue and those who don’t.
We drag him out the water, put him back on the plinth, tie cable round his neck and commission some life size bronze statues of protestors in the act of pulling him down. Everyone happy. A famous day commemorated.”
Statues of people and things are made to honor and/or memorialize a person or an event. Banksy’s conceptual proposal honors this time of protest, and hopefully of change. It memorializes the moment that people stood up and said ‘no more!’
This conceptual art work contributes to the discussion about tearing down the many other colonialist statues and statues of slave traders around the world. It honors the people fighting for justice and change, and it directly addresses those who insist keeping slave traders on their pedestal.