David Olusoga on the removal of public sculptures inc. Colston’s statue in Bristol.

An essay for Where Strangers Meet: Arts and the Public Realm, published by the British Council and edited by Claire Doherty in 2017.

“The question raised by the current debates around statues is not whether or not we should condemn the crimes and the racism of men from the past, or judge them by modern standards. The question is: do we want to be societies that uncritically memorialise men from the past who we know committed terrible crimes, merely because memorials to them were created before we had the capacity to recognise those crimes? Does the erection of a statue end all debate? Does it fix a figure as a hero and render their reputation untouchable, impervious to revision, no matter what revelations about them later emerge? Is history literally set in stone once a statue is affixed to a pedestal?”

Addendum: On 7th June 2020, the Colston statue in Bristol city centre was torn down during the Black Lives Matter protest.