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.

Articles and briefings

Academic articles

These are longer articles in academic journals. If you are stopped by a paywall please contact the author for a free version. 


Event recordings

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