The statue of Bristol slave-trader Edward Colston – toppled during a Black Lives Matter protest a year ago – is to go on display to the public from tomorrow.
The temporary exhibition in the city sees the statue scratched and still covered in spray paint – just as it was recovered from the bottom of Bristol Harbour, where it was dumped by protestors back in June 2020.
Shawn Sobers from the Bristol History Commission has helped the M-Shed Museum organise the display: “What we don’t want people to feel is that this display is in any way celebrating, commemorating, or commiserating Colston as an individual.
“But it is an important part of the history of the city to really get an understanding of his role in trans-Atlantic slave trade, and how we can move beyond this point,” he added.
The statue of the 17th century slave trader was pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest less than two weeks after the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.
It led to a national debate on the future of statues and the changing of other buildings and institutions in Bristol named after Colston.
The exhibition coincides with a new survey which will seek opinions from the public as to what should happen long-term to the statue and the now empty plinth.
“This display is all about gathering people’s opinions on what should happen to the statue next,” said Mr Sobers. “We feel this is an important moment and opportunity to find out how Bristol people want to go forward from this point onwards.”
The statue lies on its side, still covered in graffiti, and surrounded by placards used by protesters on 7 June last year.
Ray Barnett, head of collections and archives for Bristol City Council, told Sky News work has been carried out to keep the protestor’s paint work in place: “Our view was that our role was to keep all options open. From a museum point of view that was about conservation rather than restoration.”
“We’re expecting a great variety of reactions from people to be honest. We want people to use it as a vehicle for people to express their views on how these problematic issues are faced up to as a city,” he added.
The toppling of the statue on 7 June last year divided opinion in Bristol – and reaction to the new exhibition remains mixed.
“Now that they’ve put it on display it’s not a bad thing as it’s an opportunity for people to educate the other people who come to visit to tell them what kind of guy he was – he built a school, okay, but he also did lots and lots of bad things,” said Bristol local Farhap Oshref.
But another lady – who did not want to be named – said she wants the statue to be put back.
“It’s been there for years, just leave it, put it back – why not? It’s just been there, do you know what I mean, and if that was ours, and it is history gone by, I believe things have moved on,” she said.
There is no set time frame for how long the exhibition will last, or when the public survey will close.
Mr Sobers told Sky News this initial display is simply about starting a conversation about the issues raised by the protest, the city’s slave-trade history and the statue’s toppling.
He said: “This display is by no means suggested that those issues have gone away, actually what we want is this display to do is think about and address it what are those issues going on.
“These very strong feelings in the city are still present and how can we start to have a conversation and what actions can we put in place.”
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