Residents of Bristol, England woke up on Wednesday morning to find a new public sculpture in their midst, depicting local resident Jen Reid, with her right fist raised in a Black Power salute during the George Floyd protests. By Thursday morning, it had been taken down.

Bristol City Council Tweeted: ‘It will be held at our museum for the artist to collect or donate to our collection,’ before referring to a prior statement issued by Bristol City Mayor. ‘The statue has been put up without permission,’ reads the Tweet from mayor Marvin Rees. ‘Anything put on the plinth outside of the process we’ve put in place will have to be removed. The people of Bristol will decide its future.’

Titled A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020, the life-size artwork is the brainchild of artist Marc Quinn, who had come across an image of Reid on Instagram and contacted her to suggest a collaboration. It occupies a plinth that used to house the statue of the 17th century slave trader and politician Edward Colston, which had been toppled and thrown into Bristol Harbour amid a nationwide reckoning about the moral implications of public monuments.

A Surge of Power, Bristol
A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020, Marc Quinn, 2020. Courtesy of Marc Quinn studio

In a joint statement by the artist and his subject, Reid recalls, ‘on my way home from the protests on 7 June, I felt an overwhelming impulse to climb onto the plinth.’ She further explains that the Black Power salute was a spontaneous act. ‘It was like an electrical charge of power was running through me. My immediate thoughts were for the enslaved people who died at the hands of Colston and to give them power. I wanted to give George Floyd power, I wanted to give power to Black people like me who have suffered injustices and inequality. A surge of power out to them all.’

On his part, Quinn highlights the importance of the public realm ‘as a space to activate ideas and create change’. Referencing his 2005 work Alison Lapper Pregnant, which had expanded the notion of beauty by immortalising its disabled subject in marble on London’s Trafalgar Square, the artist hopes that his new work can likewise stimulate awareness and discussion around a critical issue. ‘The plinth of Edward Colston in Bristol seems the right place to share this sculpture about the fight against racism, which is undoubtedly the other virus facing society today.’

Cast in black resin, A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020 was intended as a temporary fixture, erected under the cover of night by art logistics experts Mtec without the formal consent of local authorities. It’s rapid creation and installation reflects the urgency of the moment, embodying the experiences and aspirations of Black citizens who have braved injustice for too long. Institutionalised and systemic racism ‘is not a new issue,’ as Quinn points out. ‘But it feels there’s been a global tipping point. It’s time for direct action now.’

If the artwork is sold, all proceeds will be donated to two charities chosen by Reid: Cargo Classroom, a Black history syllabus created for Bristol teenagers, and The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise addressing the lack of Black British history in the UK curriculum.

‘Creating this sculpture is so important as it helps keep the journey towards racial justice and equity moving, because Black Lives matter every day,’ concludes Reid. ‘It’s something to feel proud of, to have a sense of belonging, because [Black people] actually do belong here and we’re not going anywhere.’ §