Understanding the link between British wealth and slavery is a significant part of what the debates around memorialisation have been about. This film contributes to these debates. It offers a reminder that there is a difference between rewriting history and bringing hidden injustices to light. For not only do the existing memorials hide the country’s links to slavery; the missing memorials to the enslaved furthers the discrepancy between those whose stories are heard and those who are silenced.
If monuments are so important to remembering the past, why do we not have a prominent monument to the enslaved? Why did the government reject a chance to help fund the charity Memorial 2007’s sculpture, that the present Prime Minister had previously supported?
The question of statues relates to wider debates about how Britain remembers slavery and colonialism. And the government’s unwillingness to engage meaningfully in this debate is not new. In 1999, MP Bernie Grant raised the connection between monuments to enslavers and the continued denial of the contribution of enslaved people during Prime Minister’s Question Time when he said:
"There has been no acknowledgement of the contribution made to the wealth of Britain, Europe and America by millions of African people. The Guildhall and other places in London have monuments to the slavers, not the enslaved."
In his reply, then Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged the contributions made by African Caribbean people to the United Kingdom, but did not comment on the monuments
This brings us to a talk given Turner Prize winning artist Professor Lubaina Himid in 2011 called ‘What Are Monuments For?’
In her talk, Himid spoke about alternative guide books she had created, which placed statues to luminaries from the African diaspora within the landscapes of Paris and London. She mused:
"I often wonder how powerful and dignified London and Paris would be now if their citizens and politicians had really sanctioned and paid for […] dynamically visible, beautifully located, commemorations, memorials and monuments to the people of the Black Diaspora."
She ended the talk with a slight adjustment to her question asking: ‘Who are monuments for?’
It is important for us to collectively address who we feel should be commemorated in the public spaces we all share. This includes considerations of alternative forms of memorialisation, as not everything needs to be set in stone. Making room for all the stories that have been forgotten and purposely side-lined also means adjusting the narratives found in museums and radically transforming the school curriculum. It requires a national reckoning of the way Britain profited from the enslavement and deaths of millions of Africans over more than two centuries. It also necessitates addressing the continued denial of the contributions they and their descendants have made to this country.