A powerful installation has appeared underneath a statue of Edward Colston, the notorious slaver who for some reason is still held in high esteem by some in Bristol. It’s no co-incidence that the installation was placed there on 18 October which was anti-slavery day!
Taking the shape of a hull in a slave ship, the installation features a number of concrete figurines lying as if they were cargo. The arrangement and shape reminiscent of the kind of conditions that slavers like Colston would use to pack people into prior to transportation to the America’s.
It’s no secret of course that Bristol was at the heart of the trans-atlantic slave trade and Edward Colston was a major figure in it. Born in 1636 his ships are thought to have transported over 80,000 men, women and children between 1672 and 1689. It made him extremely wealthy and allowed him in later years to gain a reputation as a philanthropist and supporter of good causes.
In part it explains the high number of place names which commemorate Colston in Bristol. His statue overlooks Colston Avenue whilst nearby stands Colston Hall. There is a Colston Girls School, Colston Almhouses and ceremonies which commemorate the man. It’s a veneration which has lasted years thanks to the bequeaths he made but it’s a veneration soaked in ruined lives.
The installation isn’t just about drawing attention to the hypocrisy of venerating Colston though. This is just as much about modern day slavery as it is about the slave ships transporting to the Americas. Along the hull of the installation the artist has written the names of professions where the risk of exploitation is high. Nail bar workers, sex workers, car wash attendants, domestic servants, fruit pickets, kitchen workers and farm workers. Written along the outside of the sculpture, this is very much about making the association that slavery is not just something that exists in the past.
Positioning the art piece just at the foot of the statue, the work is making the absolute link with the here and now. As the statue of Colston looks down on the concrete effigies that represent the human cargo on which he made his money. It reminds us that there is still much to do.
The installation was placed at the foot of the statue of Edward Colston on Colston Avenue in the centre of Bristol. It was seen during a trip to the city on 18 October 2018 which was also ‘anti-slavery day‘ and all photographs were taken on the day.
ANTI-SLAVERY ART INSTALLATION GALLERY