The statue of slave trader Edward Colston will go on display this week for the first time since it was toppled on 7 June 2020.
A temporary exhibition of the statue will be unveiled at Bristol Museums’ M Shed on 4 June, along with a survey by the We Are Bristol History Commission asking the city’s citizens for their views on its long-term future.
The statue will sit alongside a selection of placards from the Black Lives Matter protest that took place on the day it was pulled down, as well as a timeline of key events. An online version of the display and survey will also be available.
The statue will be shown as it looked when it was retrieved from Bristol harbour. The conservation team at M Shed have cleaned it and stabilised spray paint graffiti to prevent deterioration from water and silt. A bike tyre that emerged from the water with the statue will also form part of the display.
The accompanying survey will ask Bristol’s citizens to share their thoughts on how they now feel about what happened that day and what they think should happen to the statue in the future.
Feedback from the public survey will inform the History Commission’s recommendation on the long-term future of the Colston statue later this year.
Responses will be archived and made publicly accessible as a resource for researchers, schools and those who wish to learn more about Bristol’s history and the city’s links to the transatlantic traffic of enslaved African people and its present-day legacy.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said: “7 June 2020 is undoubtedly a significant moment in Bristol’s history and had a profound impact not just in our city but also across the country and around the world. The Colston statue: What next? display at M Shed is a temporary exhibition which aims to start a conversation about our history.
“The We Are Bristol History Commission will be leading that conversation with citizens over the coming months. The future of the statue must be decided by the people of Bristol and so I urge everyone to take the opportunity to share their views and help inform future decisions by taking part in the survey.”
Tim Cole, chair of the We Are Bristol History Commission and Professor of Social History at the University of Bristol, said the display “is intended to be a departure point for continuing conversations about our shared history”.
Conservation and documentation manager Fran Coles said: “M Shed’s role is to reflect the history and contemporary issues relating to Bristol, telling the stories that matter to the people of Bristol. Therefore, it is a very suitable location for this short-term display of the statue.
“It will enable visitors to take stock and make their own minds up concerning the future of the statue. The display and survey will also be online, helping to reach people across the city and beyond.”
Museums Association director Sharon Heal welcomed Bristol Museums’ approach to displaying the statue. She said: “The first principle of the Code of Ethics for museums is public engagement and benefit which encourages museums to work in partnership with their communities.
“We therefore welcome the open and consultative approach that Bristol Museums is taking in partnership with the city council. We know that museums can provide space for reflection and debate and this is a great opportunity to engage diverse audiences and foster discussion not just on the fate of the statue but also on the wider impact and legacy of slavery and empire in our collections and institutions.”
The toppling of the statue had far-reaching repercussions, sparking a divisive debate about the representation of slavery and empire in the British public realm. Since it was torn down, the UK Government has introduced stringent new rules to “retain and explain” contested heritage and announced a new board to develop guidelines on how this policy can be put into practice. Museum sector bodies have warned that the retain and explain policy risks breaching the arm’s-length principle.
Other cultural events are also planned to mark the one-year anniversary of the toppling of Colston.
On 5 June, a free multimedia installation, Distant Drums, will take over the Trinity Centre’s Gothic Fyfe Hall, exploring the oral histories of reggae sound system culture and the sound system’s role in the fight for racial equality.
With audio and video content streaming from a rig set on a statue plinth, the installation will feature reminiscences from some of the biggest stars in dub reggae.
Members of original crews will be heard recalling their experiences of sound system culture, as well as talking about the racism that drove Black communities to develop their own entertainment when white venues would not let them in.
Live performances will take place at 2pm and 5pm, using sound and movement to take the audience on a journey from Africa to the Caribbean to the shores of the UK.