Black British Mayor Makes Her First Order Of Business Chucking Office's Slaveholder Commemoration
"I’d rather something modern and vibrant – a [Jean-Michel] Basquiat or a Banksy, if anyone is offering."
June 25, 2018 at 3:08 pm
The new Lord Mayor of the British town of Bristol, Cleo Lake, just made her first order of business removing a 316-year-old painting of an infamous slave trader from the wall above her desk.
According to the Daily Mail, Lake ordered the removal of the portrait because she "simply could not stand" sharing her space with the portrait of Edward Colston. We don't know too many people of color who would want a slave trader in their area either.
"I'm coming to the end of my first month in office, and this is my parlour, which is a lovely space," Lake said. "I spend a lot of time here — I'm here nearly every day. I won't be comfortable sharing it with the portrait of Colston."
According to historians, Colston played a vital role in the original Royal Africa Company in the mid-to-late 17th century. He is believed to be responsible for the deaths of 20,000 people upon his ships. As a local merchant, he gave fellow Bristol residents access to slave trade routes and raked in huge profits by transporting enslaved blacks over the next several decades. He established slave trade routes as far as Asia.
“I love art, and the portrait as a piece of art does not resonate. I’d rather something modern and vibrant – a [Jean-Michel] Basquiat or a Banksy, if anyone is offering. Or work by other Bristol artists, Bristol landscapes or other portraits of people of note who are less controversial," Lake told The Guardian.
Thankfully, Lake, who describes herself of Scottish, Bristolian and Afro-Caribbean heritage, says she's received much more support than backlash.
"Luckily, there's been a lot of support, and the council has agreed to take it down and today is the day it goes into storage," Lake says.
Despite the monetary gains Bristol received thanks to Colston, he has long been a divisive figure in the town. Schools, businesses and other establishments named after the infamous trader are now trying to distance themselves from him, according to the Daily Mail.
The portrait that once hung in the Mayor's chambers dated back to 1702 and was done so in 1953 when City Hall opened. However, Lake now wants it to hang in a museum where visitors can learn about his role in the slave trade as well as the city of Bristol's work to abolish slavery.
“Many of the issues today such as Afriphobia, racism and inequality stem from this episode of history where people of African descent were dehumanized to justify enslaving them. We are partway through the UN Decade for People of African Descent, so change must also be ushered in, and this is in line with that.”
Lake will replace the portrait with a photo of a lion she purchased at Help Bristol’s Homeless auction.
“It’s by a Bristol-based artist,” she said. “It’s something that’s a bit different, modern, with a nice bit of nature – a nice bit of heraldry. I wanted something more vibrant.”