Bristol City Council has been forced to make changes to its online booking system after its display of the torn-down statue of slave-trader Edward Colston was hit by blockbooking protests.
The free Colston Statue: What Next? exhibition opened to the public at M Shed last week ahead of the first anniversary of the statue’s toppling on 7 June.
But the campaign group Save Our Statues, which formed in response to the toppling of Colston, urged its 24,000 Twitter followers to book up tickets, tweeting: “It would be so embarrassing for them if nobody turned up... Remember, it's free to book, so knock yourself out!”
The group said its protest is “a stand for due process”, describing the exhibition as a “celebration of criminal violence and mob rule”. It said: “As a matter of democratic principle, the first step must be to repair and reinstate the statue, and then if the council wants to run a democratic process it can. Unlike what happened one year ago this is a peaceful and civilised way to exercise our democratic right to protest.”
Heritage professionals have criticised the protest. TV historian Bendor Grosvenor tweeted: “Preventing people from visiting their local museum is not a civilised form of protest.”
Meanwhile historian David Olusoga defended the exhibition after the Daily Telegraph described the statue's treatment as being “like a disgraced celebrity awaiting trial”.
Olusoga said: “There is a real cold flippancy in comparing a slave trader, complicit in the deaths of an estimated 19 thousand people, around 14% of them children, to a 'disgraced celebrity'.”
It is not clear how successful the blockbooking campaign has been at deterring visitors. Tickets remain available for most days this week, although one museum visitor tweeted yesterday that the display was quieter than expected.
A council spokeswoman said the museum has made changes to its online booking system in response to the protest. “We’re always more than happy to accommodate walk-ups if we haven’t reached our Covid secure capacity,” she added.
The statue is displayed in a supine position, alongside a series of placards from the Black Lives Matter protest that led to it being torn down. A public survey will run throughout the exhibition, with the results used to inform the statue’s long-term future.
A plaque commissioned by a group of “guerrilla historians” has been placed at the spot where the statue was thrown into Bristol Harbour. It was designed by artist John Packer and features an excerpt of a poem by Vanessa Kisuule.