Contesting statues of empire and slavery
The changing shape of cultural activism.
The global resurgence of Black Lives Matter in 2020 ignited a global debate on the role of memorialising histories of slavery and colonialism, mobilising activists and community alongside academics, policymakers, pundits, and cultural institutions. Viewing statues as sites for legitimising and contesting institutions, public space, and history, our research asked:
- What are the processes by which statues are removed?
- Are certain processes more successful than others?
- How does the process of removing a statue change the dominant discourse on both the statue and the historical figure it represents?
The research team examined political discourse and policy literature and conducted interviews with activists to compare the contestation of statues across fifteen sites in the UK, the US, South Africa, Martinique, and Belgium.
- The Changing Shape of Cultural Activism: Legislating Statues in the Context of the Black Lives Matter Movement – Five-page briefing paper with The Runnymede Trust on the legislation and removal of statues in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.
- A meaningful debate about statues is happening – the government just doesn’t seem to be taking part – article in The Conversation.
- Why every single statue should come down – long read in The Guardian.
- Statues, street names, and contested memory – article in Red Pepper.
- Listen to Chloe Peacock and Gary Younge discussing their research on statues with Anushka Asthana on the 'Today in Focus' podcast by The Guardian.
- White Supremacy’s Monuments: On the Removal of Robert E. Lee - RACE.ED blog on the removal of this infamous Michigan statue.
- 'From Bristol to Manchester: history and memory in our cities' Sadia Habib and Rowan Hassan (OSCH) joined the panel for this event comparing how different cities approached the legislation of statues, and OSCH members contributed poetry readings. 5 October 2021, University of Manchester.
- 'Not Set in Stone: Remembering Empire and Contesting Statues' Gary Younge joined the panel for this event, part of the Alternative Futures and Popular Protest Conference, 9 June 2021. Chaired by Meghan Tinsley.
Whose Statues, Whose Stories? workshops
In this strand of the project, led by Sadia Habib, we ran a series of workshops in collaboration with the 'Our Shared Cultural Heritage' (OSCH) Young Collective and Manchester Museum. Collective members investigated debates around statues in their local areas, proposing their own interventions and producing creative responses.
Read Sadia's blog 'Histories of Empire and Colonialism: Whose Statues? Whose Stories?' for more detail on the workshop programme.
Her longer article 'Horrible British Histories: Young people in museums interrogating national identity through principles and practices of critical pedagogy' has more information about the role and value of young people's groups such as OSCH.
The importance of engaging with history, through the imposing art form of statues, is always necessary. The workshops gave a great introduction into how the public perception of personas influence and mutate history. As such, the workshops opened up practical modes of thinking about history and how statues so heavily influence a public space.Urussa Malik / OSCH Collective member