Removing the statue of Black Lives Matter activist Jen Reid was a mistake | Letters

Jon Bloomfield on claims that the statue is an appropriation, because the artist is white, Lyn Howard on what the empty plinth now says, while Clive Sykes has a suggestion

Your report (The day Bristol woke up to a new statue, 15 July) and feature (G2, 15 July) on the Bristol statue of Jen Reid created by the artist Marc Quinn were marred by the comments of Thomas J Price in a different article (Allyship or stunt? Marc Quinn’s BLM statue divides art world, 15 July). He claims that Quinn has “created the votive statue to appropriation” and it should have been “a black artist’s output, not that of a white cis man”. This is reactionary politics disguised in obscure, trendy jargon.

The core values of all progressive movements are liberty, equality and solidarity. Millions of us didn’t need to be black South Africans to oppose apartheid. Similarly, we don’t need to be black Americans to oppose the endless police brutality meted out to them.

Our empathy lies with the exploited and oppressed. Price offers the worst kind of identity politics, where solidarity is impossible because only direct personal experience counts. That would be a disastrous dead end for Black Lives Matter and for all other social movements, while making broader alliances on social justice all but impossible. At a moment when the hard right is busy and active stirring up social divisions and cultural wars, progressives need to oppose those who unwittingly help them.
Jon Bloomfield

• I went to see the statue of Jen Reid and was horrified, when I got there, to realise I was six hours too late. People kept arriving hoping to see the statue too, but only a void now occupies that plinth.

Marvin Rees, the Labour mayor of Bristol, may believe that the statue’s removal has squashed the issue. But removing it has highlighted a key issue of the Black Lives Matter campaign. It suggests that black people are invisible, an underclass who do not have recognition. That racism is unheard.

A savvy mayor would have left Quinn’s statue there until Bristol city council had decided what could go in its place. There should have been a recognition of the pain and hurt rather than some petty excuse that the artist was not Bristolian. Here in Bristol we know how long it takes for the council to make decisions about controversial statues – Colston’s statue was erected 60 years after abolition, was up for more than 100, and despite 30 years campaigning was only removed through passionate opposition to injustice. If treated the same, the Jen Reid statue would have stood for decades. The empty plinth says more than if the statue had remained. It says we cannot upset the racists. It says black lives are invisible.
Lyn Howard

• I find the swift removal of the Jen Reid statue by Bristol city council regrettable, but it will not be forgotten, and serves to remind us that temporary works of art can be just as memorable as permanent ones. For example, Rachel Whiteread’s House or the wonderful installations by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The latter took years to come to fruition due to planning permits, financing etc, but the swift creation and erection of Quinn’s statue suggests that a series of temporary works could be commissioned, as on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, with a variety of artists (black, white, male, female, LGBTQ+) and subjects (local activists, historical figures, abstract symbols) chosen and voted for by local residents.

This should satisfy the Bristol mayor’s insistence on democratic process, create opportunities for a range of artists, and lead to genuine public involvement and engagement with quickly achieved results.
Clive Sykes


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