After BLM Protests Toppled UK Statues, This Group Is Giving London a Diversity Makeover
A new commission will look at how to ensure the capital's public spaces represent its citizens.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced the 15 panellists selected to take part in a new Landmark Commission, which aims to improve the diversity of the UK capital’s public spaces and landmarks.
Representatives from the arts and heritage sectors, community engagement, and business, will carry out the commission’s work. They include the actor Riz Ahmed, the social rights activist Toyin Agbetu, and Jack Guinness, the founder of the Queer Bible.
The commission was announced last June in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests, which in the UK led to the toppling of a statue of an infamous slave trader, Edward Colston, in Bristol. The action sparked a global debate about the role of statues of historical figures in modern day life.
Anti-racist activists at the time said that having a statue of Colston, who in the 17th century had made a vast fortune trading slaves from West Africa, was inappropriate and served almost as a celebration of racist ideologies — especially as the statue came with a plaque describing Colston as “wise and virtuous.”
Today we've unveiled a new commission to review and improve the diversity of London’s public landmarks.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) June 9, 2020
We must commemorate the achievements and diversity of all in our city - and that includes questioning which legacies are being celebrated. https://t.co/L1KTJqybGY
"Public art absolutely has an impact on our imagination and what we believe is at the core of our society because it's what we hail as important," Aliyah Hasinah, a curator and spokesperson for protest group Black Lives Matter UK, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last June.
“That's why so many people politely petitioned to get the Colston statue removed," she added. "They weren't listened to, so the city of Bristol made their voices heard in another way."
A statement from the London Mayor’s office says that the new commission, with its participants from the worlds of culture, historical research, heritage, and business, will review London’s statues, street names, building names, and memorials to see how they can better reflect the city’s diversity and history.
“The majority of London’s statues, street names, and memorials largely reflect Victorian Britain, but the mayor wants to tell the full story of the capital and to commemorate those from every community who have made London what it is,” the statement explains.
In a nod to the events of last summer, the office clarified that “the commission is not being established to preside over the removal of statues.”
Rather, it will focus on “increasing representation” of the contributions from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities, as well as from women, LGBTQ+, and disabled groups.
Other members of the commission include Robert Bevan, an architecture critic and heritage consultant; Jasvir Singh, Chair of City Sikhs, a network representing Sikhs in the UK; Gillian Jackson, the director of engagement at the homeless charity House of St Barnabas; and Lynette Nabbosa, the founder of a mentorship organisation for Black youth, Elimu.
“For far too long, too many Londoners have felt unrepresented by the statues, street names, and building names all around them,” Khan said. “I’m delighted to bring together this inspiring group of leaders from across London to form the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. Each member brings with them great insight and knowledge that will help to improve the representation of our public landscape.”
Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees added: “We must be secure enough in our identities and proud enough of our inheritance of intellectual curiosity to continue to talk about our public spaces.”
He continued: “Grappling with history, questioning who and what we remember and celebrate, developing a better understanding of our journey, even when it throws up contradictions, is a sign of a society that is moving forward.”