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Edward Colston Statue

Edward Colston Statue Replaced With Sculpture Of Black Lives Matter Protester

Black Lives Matter protests have been occurring all across the world for the past couple of months in wake of the untimely death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and countless other black individuals at the hands of the police. One of the newest aspects of these demonstrations calls for a removal of countless statues and monuments that honor historical figures who were either slave owners, political figures who made racist policies targeted at black people, etc. 

In Bristol, UK, protestors made headlines last month when they tore down a statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader from the 17th century. Once they tore down the statue they dumped it into the River Avon, a body of water Colston often used to bring black people into the UK to be traded as slaves. 

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Now, the city has decided to reckon their past mistake of honoring Colston and instead have mounted a new statue that honors the Black Lives Matter movement. Marc Quinn is the British artist who was hired to create the new statue, which now depicts a young woman standing with her fist raised in a Black Power salute in the same exact spot that Colston’s statue stood for decades. 

The statue is inspired specifically by Jen Reid, a Bristol resident whose photo has circulated social media within the past month after she climbed up onto the empty podium where Colston’s statue once stood and raised her fist. After Quinn contacted Reid he made a life-sized sculpture of her based off the photograph using black resign.

“It is such a powerful image, of a moment I felt had to be materialized, forever. I contacted Jen via social media to discuss the idea of the sculpture and she told me she wanted to collaborate.”

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Quinn stated that his friend was the one who initially showed him the photograph of Reid and right away he thought to himself “how incredible it would be to make a sculpture of her.” The sculpture is officially titled “A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020,” and unfortunately will only be temporarily erected where it currently stands. 

Quinn didn’t receive permission to erect the statue there, however, if it sells before it’s forcibly removed, Quinn claims the money made will be donated among two charities that will be chosen by Reid and work to promote the inclusion of Black history in school curriculums. The goal of the statue is to “highlight the unacceptable problem of institutionalized and systemic racism” and force individuals with privilege to confront the ways in which they’ve fueled that fire. 

Reid also spoke with media outlets, claiming that her climbing onto the statue’s platform during the June demonstration was a complete impulse decision. The protest itself was on June 7th in Bristol and brought in an estimated 10,000 participants. She claimed she initially agreed to collaborate with Quinn in order to “keep the journey towards racial justice and equality moving.” 

“It’s about Black children seeing it up there. It’s something to feel proud of, to have a sense of belonging, because we actually do belong here and we’re not going anywhere.”

The trend of tearing down statues and petitioning for their removal based on the individuals depicted having extremely racist pasts is growing large all around the world. As protests continue throughout America and the rest of the world every single day, one of the goals will now be to replace them all with individuals who made real lasting impacts on the history of this country.

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The Importance of Remembrance

It is an obvious statement to say that time moves forward. Particular events move further and further away as we accelerate into the future but one can always find threads of the past woven into the present day. Every new year brings with it another marker on the tally of memorialization and 2020 in particular yields some rather relevant anniversaries. January saw the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, whose memorials brought the horrors of the Holocaust back to the forefront of the public mind. September this year will also mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of the second world war. Both occasions mark an “ending” but hold with them the weight of trauma and horror that cannot be undone or turned away from.

Many of us believe, on a personal level, to try not to live in the past. Indeed, it is the basis of many mindfulness practices. The past cannot be changed and it is the present moment that is important. Nevertheless, acts of remembrance and memorialization are an important part of our culture. Each year we celebrate days dedicated to public figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. (January 20th), days celebrating the country’s history such as Independence Day (July 4th) and days that deliver respect for those who have suffered for the country, Memorial Day (May 25th).

Public memory is short-term and with our faces turned to the future, we understandably get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Yet, some events shook the world so undeniably that they are remembered not only on designated public days, but in the teachings of histories, literature’s and physical memorials in our cities. The after effects of events such as the holocaust and World War 2 resonate clearly into the future.

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It can be argued that regularly remembering these events can stop history from repeating itself, recognize where we have evolved and where we have yet to change. Unfortunately, the Holocaust, although a chilling warning against fascism, is not a stand-alone event or a blip in human nature. We have seen it again and again throughout history and since, with Apartheid and most recently the coordinated attacks on the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Sadly, therefore, the Holocaust has important messages that still need to be repeated today.

The anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz relived the historical fact, shared the narratives of survivors and told the stories of those lost. The importance of remembering such an event not only pays homage to those affected, understanding that even after seventy-five years the damage has not lessened, but it holds a scrutinizing mirror up to society as we recognize the depths of evil that humankind is capable of.

The honoring of the victims of the Holocaust prompted important discussions of Antisemitism to come further forward. Like racism and many other forms of prejudice Antisemitism is still not a thing of the past and concern is mounting due to a rise in this form of discrimination. An article from the BBC noted that the Anti Defamation League had recorded 1879 incidents of Antisemitism in 2018 which, although down from the previous year, demonstrates a growing trend. Worldwide studies of Antisemitism indicated a rising level of prejudiced crimes overall.

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Although many of the year’s anniversaries fall under the title of “seventy-five years since the end of World War 2” scattered through 2020 are many anniversaries of importance within that cohort. Notably, August will mark seventy-five years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A subject which is fraught with moral complexities but the true atrocity of which is undeniable. Sadness and respect and for the 70,000 innocent Japanese people is still felt today and is very important to memorialize. In today’s society the fear of Nuclear warfare has a firm placement at the precipice of the worlds mind as countries attempt to avoid conflict. Dubbed “the bomb that shook the world,” the unprecedented and unpredictable volume of its devastation still shocks and scares us today.

Memorialization is a crucial and cathartic pillar of society that allows both a communal grief, respect and solidarity. After times of such devastation this is important. Although seventy-five years may have passed there are still those alive who directly experienced World War 2, the Holocaust or the atomic bomb and those who dealt with loss or witnessed the after-effects and struggles of their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and so on. 2021 will mark twenty years since the Twin Tower Attacks. A memory that is painfully held in the minds of many, the losses of which still play a significant role in many of our lives today. Memorializing such events spread awareness and understanding in the public sphere. Just as teaching children in history classes can, in a controlled environment, appropriately educate and inform in order for a public evolvement to take place. Clear rights and wrongs can be underlined and through understanding prevent history from repeating itself.