Cleo Lake, a Green Councillor and Lord Mayor of Bristol, has taken down the portrait of one of Bristol's most controversial figures, stating she "could not bear" to have the slave trader looking at her.
The portrait is 316 years old and has hung in the Lord Mayor's Office since 1953. The Lord Mayor has played an active role in the "Countering Colston" campaign, that seeks to critically question the large role that the slave trade played to the building of Bristol today. One of the campaign's key aims is to "decolonise Bristol".
Lake told the Bristol Post: “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.
“As part of my role in campaigning with the Countering Colston team, I also think it’s fitting that I don’t share this office with the portrait.
“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.”
When asked about the future of the portrait, Lake said "we do want to put it into a museum. I very much hope that it might re-emerge when we open up an Abolition Shed, that’s the ambition down the line"
Edward Colston is commemorated throughout Bristol, with his imposing statue sitting on Colston Avenue between Colston Tower and Colston Hall, the music venue that will reopen with a new name in 2020.
Born 1636, Colston was a member of parliament and huge donor to Bristol. However, much of his wealth was accumulated through the trans atlantic slave trade, of which Bristol was a key port. Though the exact number is not known, it is said that Colston was responsible, through his company, for the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
His legacy is controversial in Bristol, with some still calling his commemoration deserved. Talking to The Guardian, Conservative councillor Richard Eddy called Lake’s decision a "naive... outrageous stunt"
He continued; “The occupier of this distinguished position should know better than to pander to politically-correct partisan opinion.
“Edward Colston was a great Bristolian in the eyes of many of us and, sadly, Cllr Lake has clearly decided to abandon the impartial role of the lord mayor less than a month into her reign.”
Lake told The Guardian: "Many of the issues today such as Afriphobia, racism and inequality stem from this episode of history where people of African descent were dehumanised 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.
“People have wondered why the portrait wasn’t already removed from the parlour"
Featured image: Twitter/ @EcoJambristol - Lord Mayor Cleo Lake