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Removal, Re-interpretation or Re-contextualisation? A Conversation on Contested Statues, Resistance and the Reimagination of Public Spaces

Wednesday 4 May 2022, 5.30PM to 7.00pm

Speaker(s): Cleo Lake Trevor Sterling Frances Swaine Max Farrar

Event Details

In June 2020, the statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled by anti-racism protestors in one of the defining events during the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown, and was later viewed as an example of ‘contested heritage’. It was just one statue which was marked, destroyed, or removed during the BLM protests following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in May 2020. This moment echoed the sentiments raised in the earlier ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ Campaign in 2015 at the University of Cape Town around the removal of the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes. As individuals and communities rallied against the injustices of the present, further attention was also paid to the legacies of past injustices and how these are presented in institutional and public spaces. Negative reactions have frequently equated statue removal with “erasing history”, constructing a fictional binary wherein the only choices available are to either leave them untouched or remove them. This event aims to move away from such binary choices and will include speakers who will consider how contested statues portray the past, how they have been resisted over time and whether they should be removed, reinterpreted or recontextualised. Alongside this, we also hope to facilitate discussions on what other actions can be taken to create more inclusive public environments and consider which voices and perspectives should be at the forefront of such conversations.


Cleo Lake is the former Lord Mayor of Bristol (2018-2019) and a recent candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset securing almost 65,000 votes to finish 3rd. During her term as Councillor she was instrumental in getting a Reparations and Atonement motion passed at Bristol City Council. Cleo is a founding member of campaign group Countering Colston and she made international news during her term as Lord Mayor for removing portraits of enslavers from the Lord Mayors Parlour in City Hall. Involved within the arts and culture sector for almost two decades, Cleo’s experience includes being Chair of St Pauls Carnival, Radio producer and presenter on Ujima 98FM, an ADAD (Association of Dance of the African Diaspora)Trailblazer, writer in residence at the Arnolfini and a Bristol + Bath Creative R & Inclusion fellow. As a community engagement professional, Cleo was recently the lead researcher and consultant for the pioneering Bristol Legacy Steering Group commissioned, Project T.R.U.T.H. Cleo is a qualified dance therapist and leads a weekly online elders creative dance exercise class ‘Moving Words,’ and is a research associate at Bristol University on the UKRI funded ‘Decolonising Memory : Digital Bodies In Movement’ project. Cleo is driven by the idea of utilising creativity, dance and expanded performance to aid civic engagement and to reframe storytelling as a resilience tool to embed cultural knowledge, empathy, understanding and cohesion.

Trevor Sterling is Major Trauma Lawyer and Senior Partner at Moore Barlow, with over 35 years’ experience. He also sits on the firm’s Partnership Council and has a leading role in respect of Diversity and Inclusion. At age 28, he became the first black and youngest partner in the history of his previous firm and in 2021 he was appointed Senior Partner at Moore Barlow Solicitor becoming the first black Senior Partner of a top 100 UK firm. Trevor became involved in the latter stages of the campaign for the bronze statue of Nelson Mandela unveiled at Parliament Sq. in 2007. He subsequently became involved in the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal as a trustee, leading to his appointment as Chair following the unveiling of the Mary Seacole statue in 2016, the first bronze statue of a named black female in the UK. Trevor leads the Mary Seacole Trust, on a number of legacy projects including its education and diversity programmes. He has been particularly vocal on the relationship between statues and Black Lives Matters, creating the Mary Seacole Trust “Black Plaques” proposal arguing against the toppling of statues. Trevor has appeared in the media on numerous occasions, most notably he was involved in campaigns in respect of the Windrush Scandal being the son of Windrush immigrants and an advocate for racial and social equality.

Frances Swaine was Leigh Day’s first managing partner and served as Compliance Officer for the Legal Practice from 2011 to 2019. She is now working in the Immigration Team, headed by partner Jacqueline Mckenzie, working with clients applying to the Windrush Compensation Scheme, with those misclassified as Educationally Subnormal during the 1960s and 1970s, and those who were interracially adopted by force at a similar time. She is an experienced human rights lawyer with over 30 years in practice, representing those who have suffered human rights abuses (physical, mental and sexual abuse - and abuse of process in the legal field) and those who have suffered racial discrimination in various parts of society. Her longest running case, (29 years) for the Former Child Migrants to Commonwealth countries, resulted in a government apology and a global compensation scheme.

Max Farrar Max Farrar is the Secretary of the David Oluwale Memorial Association, which started life in 2008 and became a charity in 2012. Its big idea is a Memory Garden for David Oluwale, near where he was drowned in 1969, featuring a new sculpture by Yinka Shonibare, CBE, RA. Max Farrar's sociology PhD, published as The Struggle for 'Community', traced the work of black and multi-ethnic radical social movements in Chapeltown, Leeds, from the 1970s to the 1990s. He has lived and worked  in Leeds since 1968. In the 1970s and early 80s he was a member of the socialist, feminist and internationalist organisation Big Flame. 

David Oluwale was a Nigerian-British citizen who was born around 1930 in Lagos, Nigeria, and died in Leeds, England, in 1969. David arrived in Hull in East Yorkshire in 1949 as a stowaway in a cargo ship from Lagos and, like all migrants, had travelled in the hope of a brighter future. From 1949 to 1953 he had a relatively good experience in Leeds and worked to rebuild post-war Britain and enjoyed the night life of this developing city. From 1953 to 1969 he endured mental ill-health, homelessness, racism, destitution and police persecution, culminating in what DOMA believe to be his drowning on 18th April 1969 in the River Aire, near Leeds Bridge, at the hands of two policemen. More information about the life of David Oluwale can be found at The David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA) promotes knowledge and understanding of the life and death of David Oluwale, campaigning to support all of those who continue to endure the same problems in Leeds today that David experienced and to help the city come to terms with its past, to improve its care for those who remain marginalised, and to promote compassion, cohesion, inclusion and social justice in Leeds. In partnership with Leeds Civic Trust, DOMA will unveil a Blue Plaque for David Oluwale at 5pm on Monday 25th April on Leeds Bridge, almost 53 years since David's death. 

Find out more about the Anti-Racism Working Group (ARWG) on social media:

Event organisers: Emma Bryning, Gwendoline Pepper, Mel Williams, Izzie Gill-Brown and Gemma Shearwood, in collaboration with the ARWG. This event is funded by Centre for Modern Studies Small Project Grants and HRC Collaborative Awards scheme.

Location: Online