Statue backers try to sabotage Edward Colston exhibition

·4-min read

Campaigners who want a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston restored to its plinth in Bristol are trying to sabotage an exhibition marking one year since it was torn down during a Black Lives Matter protest.

Save Our Statues has been encouraging its Twitter followers to book spaces at a free exhibition at the M Shed museum titled The Colston Statue: What Next, so as few people as possible can attend.

The museum says the event is intended to “start a city-wide conversation” about the statue’s future.

Review of the Year 2020
The state of Edward Colston was dumped in Bristol Harbour on June 7 last year (Ben Birchall/PA)

The exhibition features the statue, which was pulled from Bristol Harbour a few days after it was dumped there by protesters, as well as placards and banners made by BLM demonstrators.

On Sunday, Save Our Statues’ Twitter account posted: “Join the virtual protest against @mshedbristol’s Colston display and celebration of mob violence.

“Tuesday is now booked up. Keep going with the rest of the week. It’s free to book (and it would be a real shame if nobody turned up ;)”

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The campaign received a barrage of criticism, including from historian David Olusoga, who tweeted: “Don’t let people who care more about monuments to slave traders than victims of the slave trade bully our museums.”

Save Our Statues responded: “Our fight is a fight FOR museums. As it is for history, art and culture.

“The violent destruction of Colston and the misguided exhibition legitimising it undermine these things. Know thine enemy. Recognise its face.”

In a longer statement, it added: “The intent behind the Colston Exhibition protest is very simple: It is a stand for due protest.

“The display in its current format is a celebration of criminal violence and mob rule. As a grade II listed piece of UK heritage, the council has a legal obligation to repair it.

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“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 a year ago today, this is a peaceful and civilised way to run our democratic right to protest.”

The protest is not thought to have had any impact on attendance, as the gallery operates a “traffic light” system – green means members of the public can enter without a booking as there is space in the exhibition.

M Shed said on Monday that following changes to its online booking systems, most time slots were still available, as administrators can see duplicate or block reservations.

The display is on the same floor as a permanent exhibition that details Bristol’s role in the transatlantic slave trade.

Members of the public are being asked what should happen next by the We Are Bristol History Commission, which was set up following the protest.

‘The Colston statue: What next?’
Some of the protest placards collected after the Colston statue was torn down (Ben Birchall/PA)

Options include removing the statue from public view, creating a museum or exhibition about the transatlantic slave trade, or restoring the statue to its plinth.

Dr Shawn Sobers, associate professor at the University of the West of England and part of the commission, accused Save Our Statues of trying to stop people from seeing the wider history around the statue.

He said in a tweet: “See how the Reactionaries are trying to stop anyone seeing the Colston display at @mshedbristol.

“It’s too much for them that in a democratic society, people can choose to visit it for themselves and see the wider history, rather than the narrow narrative from the Colston Cult.”