The artist wanted to highlight the "unacceptable problem of institutionalized and systemic racism" with his resin-and-steel sculpture
Jen Reid had never participated in a Black Lives Matter protests before June 7. However, that day, as she marched on the streets of Bristol, England, she felt compelled to clamber onto the plinth that held the statue of the 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston. Standing in the spot left vacant after demonstrators pulled down the likeness of the notorious merchant and dumped it into the River Avon, Reid clenched her right fist and thrust the arm upward in a gesture of defiance. This powerful image of a Black woman—one fighting against centuries of racism—struck a chord with many as the perfect reproach to Colston's cruel legacy.
For a little over 24 hours this week, passersby saw her up there again; this time, in the form of a resin-and-steel sculpture by British sculptor Marc Quinn. According to The New York Times, Quinn—who is known for his provocative work—said the viral image of Reid atop the plinth struck him as an opportunity for an act of guerrilla art. He got in touch with her and proposed that they work together on a clandestine project. Reid, who works as a fashion stylist, traveled to a film production studio outside London and recreated the pose for Quinn, who photographed her from every angle using 200 cameras.
A sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protester has replaced a slave trader statue in the UK.— CNN (@CNN) July 15, 2020
The work is officially titled "A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020" and depicts a woman with her fist raised in a Black Power salute. https://t.co/Qx42f7ntNK pic.twitter.com/aOVVCzxdmH
He then created the sculpture from resin as working in bronze would've taken him months to finish the statue and he wanted to install the piece while memories of that day were still fresh. "She created this iconic image," said Quinn. "I'm just amplifying the moment she created."
Speaking of the project, Reid said she found it "surreal" to have an artist immortalize her split-second decision to climb up on the plinth. "Looking back on that moment, it just gives me goose-pimples," she said. "Marc has just captured all of it in the statue."
"It looks like it belongs there."— SkyNews (@SkyNews) July 15, 2020
Black Lives Matter supporter Jen Reid says she's "filled with pride" after she was the inspiration for a sculpture that now sits on the empty plinth where a slave trader's statue once stood.
More here: https://t.co/IyTqBGajnQ pic.twitter.com/x2CkRaItYb
"We want to keep highlighting the unacceptable problem of institutionalized and systemic racism that everyone has a duty to face up to," Quinn, said in a joint statement with Reid released on Wednesday, reports NPR. "This sculpture had to happen in the public realm now: this is not a new issue, but it feels like there's been a global tipping point. It's time for direct action now.".
Out with the slave trader, in with black power.— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) July 15, 2020
The statue of Edward Colston has been unofficially replaced with a sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protester. pic.twitter.com/32kst0HOjr
"When I was stood there on the plinth, and raised my arm in a Black Power salute, it was totally spontaneous, I didn’t even think about it. It was like an electrical charge of power was running through me. My immediate thoughts were for the enslaved people who died at the hands of Colston and to give them power. I wanted to give George Floyd power, I wanted to give power to Black people like me who have suffered injustices and inequality. A surge of power out to them all," Reid said. "This sculpture is about making a stand for my mother, for my daughter, for Black people like me. 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."
Although Quinn and Reid did not expect the black resin statue—named A Surge of Power—to stay on the plinth permanently, they hoped it would spark continued attention toward the issues of systemic racism and police brutality. However, according to BBC, the sculpture was pulled down by Bristol City Council just over 24 hours after it was erected.
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said in a statement on Wednesday that it was up to the people of Bristol to decide what would replace the Colston statue. "The sculpture that has been installed today was the work and decision of a London based artist. It was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed," he said.
I understand people want expression, but the statue has been put up without permission.— Marvin Rees (@MarvinJRees) July 15, 2020
Anything put on the plinth outside of the process we've put in place will have to be removed.
The people of Bristol will decide its future. https://t.co/dEsZF9kNRt
It was there for 24 hours ⏰— BBC Radio Bristol (@bbcrb) July 16, 2020
The statue of protestor Jen Reid, which was placed on top of Edward Colston’s plinth, has been removed by @BristolCouncil
The authority says it will be held in a museum for the artist to pick up, or he can donate it to the museum’s collection. pic.twitter.com/pKdjI8oF4x
Reid and Quinn explained in their statement that the sculpture "is not-for-profit. If sold, all profit will be donated to two charities chosen by Jen Reid, namely Cargo Classroom, a Black history syllabus created for Bristol teenagers and The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise founded in 2019 by young people to address the lack of Black British history in the UK curriculum."
So they dithered for years on removing the racist guy, but this gets taken down in 24 hours. Guess they can act quickly on some statues.— Jack Davy (@jackyd1001) July 16, 2020
Jen Reid: Bristol Black Lives Matter statue removed https://t.co/mGdcBEEhdb