Some of our OSCH Young Collective members have been exploring the global contestation of statues that commemorate slavers and colonisers. In Spring 2020, researchers, poets and young people shared stories about the contemporary discourses around statues in their towns and cities. Researchers drew on discussions about statues in the UK, the US, South Africa, Belgium and Martinique, and collectively we talked about why and how activists have challenged monuments in diverse cities.
In our workshops, we found that young people are keen to critically engage with public space, reflecting upon what is memorialised in the public realm and who makes these decisions and why.
After the workshops, some of the young people shared why it’s important to critically engage with contested histories and heritage. As it stands, the reverence for statues of slavers and colonisers imposes a narrow understanding of Britishness that excludes young people of colour and their communities. And at a time when the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill has passed to the deep dismay of young people and cultural activists, it is all the more urgent for cultural and educational institutions to create safe spaces for critical and creative exploration of place identities and belongings in multicultural Britain.
“Attending the statues workshops was a fantastic opportunity to voice my opinions, in an empowering space alongside other young people. Each workshop allowed for us to think critically about the political, moral and historical implications of such tainted commemorations. It was a pleasure to attend these workshops alongside other young people who shared such inspirational views and creative capacity when we began to put our thoughts into writing. It was a pleasure to be a part of and I’d love to do more workshops like this!”- Rowan Hasan, Manchester Museum OSCH Collective member.
“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, Manchester Museum OSCH Collective member.
“In a country that has ‘wilful amnesia’ over the negative and violent histories of its past, thinking critically about the meanings that statues hold, the histories they make visible and invisible, and the impact of their existence on communities and individuals is extremely necessary. The Whose Statues? Whose Stories? workshops created a space in which timely and important discussions could be held around memorialisation, identity & belonging, and offered an opportunity for creative reflection wherein participants could express their thoughts and opinions through powerful pieces of poetry” – Hawwa Alam, Manchester Museum Collective member.