Panellists appointed to improve diversity of London's statues and memorials - Museums Association

Panellists appointed to improve diversity of London’s statues and memorials

Geffrye statue critic among members of Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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(Top row, left to right): David Bryan, Binki Taylor, Jack Guinness, Lynette Nabbosa, Keith Magee. (Middle row, left to right) Robert Bevan, Riz Ahmed, Gillian Jackson, Aindrea Emelife, Toyin Agbetu. (Bottom row, left to right) Pedro Gil, Zoé Whitley, Jasvir Singh, Eleanor Pinfield, Sandy Nairne
(Top row, left to right): David Bryan, Binki Taylor, Jack Guinness, Lynette Nabbosa, Keith Magee. (Middle row, left to right) Robert Bevan, Riz Ahmed, Gillian Jackson, Aindrea Emelife, Toyin Agbetu. (Bottom row, left to right) Pedro Gil, Zoé Whitley, Jasvir Singh, Eleanor Pinfield, Sandy Nairne

Fifteen panellists drawn from across the culture, heritage, media and voluntary sectors have been appointed to the London mayor’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, which aims to create greater diversity in statues, street names, building names and memorials.

The panel includes Toyin Agbetu, a community educator and social activist who led a boycott of the Museum of the Home last year following its decision not to remove a statue of slave trade beneficiary Robert Geffrye. He is the founder of Ligali, a pan-African activist collective that challenges the misrepresentation of African people, culture and history in the British media.

Culture and heritage professionals joining the commission include Chisenhale Gallery director Zoé Whitley, former National Portrait Gallery director Sandy Nairne, and art critic and curator Aindrea Emelife.

Members of the commission
  • David Bryan, chair of Battersea Arts Centre, Brixton House and Voluntary Arts
  • Binki Taylor, Brixton business owner and partner in the Brixton Project
  • Jack Guinness, founder of The Queer Bible
  • Lynette Nabbosa, founder of Elimu
  • Keith Magee, senior fellow in culture and justice at UCL and chair and professor of social justice at Newcastle University
  • Robert Bevan, architecture critic for the Evening Standard
  • Riz Ahmed, actor, writer, creator, producer, musician, director and activist
  • Gillian Jackson, director of engagement at the House of St Barnabas and a trustee of Culture24
  • Aindrea Emelife, art critic and independent curator
  • Toyin Agbetu, social rights activist and founder of Ligali
  • Pedro Gil, director and founder of Studio Gil
  • Zoé Whitley, director at Chisenhale Gallery
  • Jasvir Singh, chair of City Sikhs
  • Eleanor Pinfield, director of Art on the Underground and member of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group
  • Sandy Nairne, historian and curator.

London mayor Sadiq Khan announced the commission in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020 and the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Its role will be to “enrich and add to the current public realm, and advise on better ways to raise public understanding behind existing statues, street names, building names and memorials”.

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The mayor’s office made clear that the commission “is not being established to preside over the removal of statues”.

The panellists will review what currently makes up London’s public realm, discuss what legacies should be celebrated, and make a series of recommendations that will help to establish best practice.

It will focus on increasing representation among Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, women, LGTBQ+ and disabled groups, as well as those from a range of social and economic backgrounds.

The commission will work alongside a Borough Working Group of local councils, and a partners board made up of institutions including the Museum of London, Art Fund, English Heritage, Shape Arts, Arts Council England, Black Cultural Archives, Historic England and Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts).

Khan said: “For far too long, too many Londoners have felt unrepresented by the statues, street names and building names all around them, and it’s important that we do what we can to ensure our rich and diverse history is celebrated and properly commemorated in our city.

“I’m delighted to bring together this inspiring group of leaders from across London to form the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. Each member brings with them great insight and knowledge that will help to improve the representation of our public landscape.”

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The announcement comes amid an intense debate about heritage in the public realm. The UK Government recently announced tougher planning rules to ensure local authorities abide by its “retain and explain” policy for dealing with contested or controversial heritage.  

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