Another woman stands near the base. “I feel full of pride, so much pride,” she says, looking up at the sculpture. It is of itself.
Rewind for a few weeks and this same woman knocks on the door of an artist’s studio, wearing a facial mask. She rushed and asked to stand on a podium, legs slightly apart and fist in the air. She recreates the salute of the black power she made on the pedestal of the statue of Edward Colston on June 7, just after the demonstrators lowered the resemblance of the slave trader. A high-tech 3D scanning machine comes to life, its 201 cameras capturing her provocative pose and all the threads of her clothes, which are the same as she wore on this tumultuous Sunday.
The woman’s name is Jen Reid and this scene took place in the studio of artist Marc Quinn. And today Reid stands on that pedestal again, but rendered in black resin – Quinn’s own guerrilla response to the much-debated question of what should replace the statue, which ended up in the waters of the port of Bristol.
It is an extraordinarily powerful sight, the morning light reflecting on the smooth and ebony surface of the statue, which has just been placed on the base. The feeling of triumph in the air finds a perfect echo in Reid’s pose. This fist, bloated and thrown into the air, exerting energy in the heavens and throwing the psychological pressure of systemic racism into the ether, calling for action and for others to stand with it, with we. From the coils of her afro to the wrinkles of her skin as she clenches her fist, the emotion is powerful and palpable.
It all started with an Instagram post from @biggiesnug, showing Reid on the pedestal with the caption: “My wife. My life. She counts. The post was quickly appreciated by @marcquinnart, Quinn’s Instagram account and, after a lot of organization, this powerful moment was recreated in his studio: first 3D printed in sections, then poured in resin , before being meticulously assembled by Quinn’s team. craftsmen. “Posing for sculpture,” says Reid, “brought back all the memories of getting on the pedestal. Feelings and emotions. I felt powerful. ”
The overthrow of the Colston statue gave the Black Lives Matter movement a moment of symbolism that will reverberate for years. As George Floyd’s last words – “I can’t breathe” – ricocheted around the world, protesters in Bristol took to the streets with renewed energy. Two protesters jumped with a length of rope, others pulled, and soon Colston, who had been watching the city since 1895, left. Reid’s position immediately felt like it should be part of our visual lexicon, an essential part of the long-awaited history lesson on slavery in Britain. Quinn agrees.
“Racism,” says the artist, “is a huge problem, a virus that needs to be treated. I hope this sculpture will continue this dialogue, keep it in the foreground of people’s minds, be an energy conductor. The image Jen created that day – when she stood on the pedestal with all hope of the future of the world flowing through her – made the possibility of greater change more real than before. ”
Quinn, who called her work A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020, continues: “When I saw the photo of Jen on Instagram, I immediately thought it would be great to capture this moment. The image is a silhouette: it already looked like a sculpture. I made portraits of refugees using 3D scanning over the past year and applied the same technology to this. ”
The Instagram image shows Reid’s outline against the gray Bristol sky, with cardboard signs scattered around the base, which has been covered in graffiti. A sign reads as follows: “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is cooperating with him. Maybe this message touched Quinn? As a famous white artist, he could be criticized for entering the debate. He remembers a quote from Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. The artist adds: “Whites in positions of power must speak out and support change in the way blacks are treated, their positions in society.” I listened and learned and one of the sentences that really struck me was, “White silence is violence.” “
Quinn is not a newcomer to the baseboards. In 2004, he became the first artist to be commissioned for the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square in London, placing Alison Lapper Pregnant on the vacant site, a statue of the artist who was born without arms and with shortened legs. “The sculpture has helped advance the narrative on disability in the UK,” says Quinn. “The great thing about the public domain is that it is very democratic and accessible. Museums can be very elitist spaces. It affects everyone. ”
On the question of whether white artists should write these stories, Reid says, “I wanted to do it with Marc Quinn, because he always cared about putting inclusion first and getting people thinking. It is not black or white. If people want to support me, it’s great. ”
The Colston statue was created by a white man, John Cassidy, to commemorate a white slave trader. Now the base is occupied by the work of a white artist who feels compelled to correct the situation, to amplify voices that have been silenced for so long. This recalls the act of athletic protest by the American filmmaker Bree Newsome. In 2015, Newsome climbed a flagpole to remove the Confederate flag hanging in the grounds of the South Carolina state house. She told the Washington Post, “We needed someone who could help me get through the fence. Be careful. We decided it had to be a white man … because we wanted to communicate, it was not only the role of the oppressed, but also of the people who benefited from the oppression and who must be part of the process. “
Many have described the discovery of the Colston statue as an affront to black citizens of Bristol. “Having to see this statue every day does something for you,” says Reid. “Knowing what Colston represented, I felt compelled to take a stand and raise my fist in favor of the slaves who died in his hands. It was as if an electrical surge was passing through me while I was taking the base in memory of George Floyd, and for each black man killed by the police for being black, and for those who suffer injustice daily because of the color of their skin. ”
She pauses and adds, “To those who are listening, keep talking, keep correcting wrongs when you see them. Continue to educate those who want to listen. Unlike Black History Month, I hope this statue approaches darkness every day. ”
The question of removing the Colston statue was not new. Petitions were signed, meetings were held. Artist Hew Locke, in his 2006 restoration series, presented his own response. In a photographic work called Colston, Locke covered the statue with trinkets, pearls and cowrie shells, which were used as currency for slaves.
As for placing Quinn’s sculpture on the base, the project took on a Mission Impossible aspect. NDAs were signed, an appointment at the end of the evening was organized. Quinn was not given permission to mount the sculpture, but he also does not break any laws. His team transported the work of art from the workshop on a truck with an integrated crane to lift it to the base. The bottom of the sculpture is designed to sit securely without drilling, gluing or damaging the base. In many ways, proceeding without authorization makes it a particular type of artistic anarchism, falling within the realm of activism.
How are people going to react? How will the police react? Quinn says that a big motivation for the project is to spark debate, keep attention to this vital issue and see how everyone reacts. “I guess it also includes the authorities,” he said.
Philosopher Jürgen Habermas has written about how institutions and nations suffer from erosion of legitimacy over time if they do not question themselves vigorously. Maybe the statues should be part of this interrogation. Monuments, after all, are symbols of the systems in which we live. Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020 is like a modern statue of liberty. Indeed, Lady Liberty was originally designed to celebrate freed slaves.
In the United States, statues continue to fall. This replacement by Quinn and Reid should, hopefully, catalyze a call to action, for a new world, for a new sculptural heritage. Today, as Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020 stands on its pedestal, the statue of Colston sits on a concrete floor in a wooden container enclosed by the board, covered with scratches from where it was trail on asphalt, hands and face. – painted red for blood. It’s karma for you.