Artist Marc Quinn said he had “crystallised” the moment activist Jen Reid stood on top of the empty plinth on 7 June and raised her fist aloft in a black power salute.
The unofficial replacement appears to have caught city officials and police off-guard. Photographer and filmmaker Hassan Akkad said on Twitter that he had worked with Quinn on the project and declared it a “success” shortly before 6am on Wednesday.
Colston worked for the Royal African Company in the 17th Century and was later a Tory MP in Bristol, where many buildings and landmarks are still named after him. The statue of him by sculptor John Cassidy was erected in 1895.
The home secretary Priti Patel called the toppling of the Colston statue, which was then thrown into Bristol Harbour, “utterly disgraceful” and “sheer vandalism”.
But the act, coming in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in the US and after years of petitioning for the statue to be removed, has sparked a national conversation around statues of problematic historical figures.
Ms Reid said in a statement that she had been on her way home from attending the Black Lives Matter protests in Bristol on 7 June when she felt an “overwhelming impulse” to climb up onto the empty plinth.
“This sculpture is about making a stand for my mother, for my daughter, for black people like me,” she said. “It’s about black children seeing it up there. It’s something to feel proud of, to have a sense of belonging, because we actually do belong here and we’re not going anywhere.”
Quinn, who is best known for his “Self” series of self-portraits made using his own blood, has previously immortalised US protests at the death of Alton Sterling in an oil painting, and produced works including a tapestry about the riots following the death of Mark Duggan in 2011.
He told The Guardian: “I’ve always felt it’s part of my job to bring the world into art and art into the world. Jen created the sculpture when she stood on the plinth and raised her arm in the air. Now we’re crystallising it.”
There are already calls on social media for the Bristol authorities to keep the Jen Reid statue, despite it being raised without permission. Bristol mayor Marvin Rees previously said any decision on how the plinth should be used would be decided democratically through consultation.
Quinn said it had been erected in such a way as to make it “extremely difficult to move”, though adding that he did not presume it would be kept in place indefinitely.
“Jen and I are not putting this sculpture on the plinth as a permanent solution to what should be there,” the artist said. “It’s a spark which we hope will help to bring continued attention to this vital and pressing issue.”
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