British slave trader statue replaced by sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester

"It was like an electrical charge of power was running through me," protester Jen Reid said of the moment depicted in the sculpture.

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By Alexander Smith

LONDON — If one moment captured the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the U.K. following George Floyd's death, it was of demonstrators tearing down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and throwing it into Bristol harbor.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, and unbeknownst to local authorities, a team directed by the artist Marc Quinn erected a replacement.

The life-size, black resin sculpture shows Jen Reid, a resident of Bristol, around 100 miles west of London, with her fist raised in a Black Power salute.

Reid had stood on the same plinth and performed the same gesture after Colston's statue was toppled last month. Her husband took her picture, and the ensuing Instagram post went viral.

Quinn, one of the U.K.'s best known sculptors, saw that photo and asked Reid whether she would work with him in immortalizing it in sculpture, titled "A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020."

Jen Reid said the statue is "something to feel proud of, to have a sense of belonging, because we actually do belong here and we're not going anywhere."Matt Dunham / AP

"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," Reid said in a statement Wednesday. "It was like an electrical charge of power was running through me."

Seeing Colson's statue thrown into the water "felt like a truly historical moment," she said, and her "immediate thoughts were for the enslaved people who died at the hands of Colston and to give them power."

She added, "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."

Quinn said, "The plinth of Edward Colston in Bristol seems the right place to share this sculpture about the fight against racism, which is undoubtedly the other virus facing society today."

But the artist does not see the sculpture "as a permanent solution to what should be there — it’s a spark which we hope will help to bring continued attention to this vital and pressing issue."

Reid said she would like to see the statue remain in place. But the mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said in a statement that it "was not requested and permission was not given for it to be installed."

The mayor, who is Black, has previously said that he saw Colston's statue as "an affront" but that as an elected official he did not feel he could condone the way it was torn down. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described its removal as a "criminal act" and afterward a man, 24, was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage.

In his statement Wednesday, the mayor said that the future of the plinth "must be decided by the people of Bristol" but described Quinn's sculpture as "the work and decision of a London-based artist."

The U.K. was among the many countries where people demonstrated in solidarity after Floyd's death in Minneapolis in May.

Colston has been the focus of British anti-racism campaigners for many years. He made his fortune in the 17th-century slave trade, donating much of it to the city of Bristol when he died.