Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Submerged Histories - Statues, Stories, Salvage

A panel discussion with La Vaughn Belle (artist), Jeannette Ehlers (artist), Isaac Julien (artist), Keith Piper (artist/Middlesex U.), John Siblon (Birkbeck) and Tony Warner (Black History Walks).

30 July 2020

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This event took place on 02 July 2020, 5:30 pm–7:00 pm
Co-chaired by Tamar Garb (IAS, UCL) and Paul Gilroy (SPRC, UCL); organised by Albert Brenchat-Aguilar (IAS, UCL)
We are pleased to be hosting a panel to discuss artistic and cultural practices that address memorialization and historical legacies, especially in relation to controversial statues and public monuments. We are struck by the performative and aesthetic questions that public gestures, like the removal of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol suggest, and how these are imbricated by political and ethical imperatives. The image of Colston’s effigy descending into the harbour has invoked, for some, the image of a watery grave, resonant of the tens of thousands of African captives who drowned on the Atlantic Passage and the ongoing disaster of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.  While enslaved and destitute people have been left at the bottom of the sea, Colston’s statue has been dredged up to be restored and repurposed as a didactic or symbolic token.  In the context of the Black Lives Matter campaigns, ‘statue wars’ have been central, providing a spur for activism and reflection on historical narratives and their embodiment in public space. Artists and cultural activists have long addressed these totems, transforming, appropriating, altering and assaulting their visual rhetorics and material presences. Here they will reflect on their own practices in the intensity of this moment and will think together about how statues form part of a public archive that ostensibly belongs to all but only speaks for some.


  • La Vaughn Belle  makes visible the unremembered. She is a visual artist working in a variety of disciplines that include: video, performance, painting, installation and public art. She explores the material culture of coloniality and her art presents countervisualities and narratives that challenge colonial hierarchies and invisibility. She has exhibited in the Caribbean, the USA and Europe. Her work has been featured in a wide range of media including: the NY Times, Politiken, VICE, The Guardian, Caribbean Beat, the BBC and Le Monde. She holds an MFA from the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba, an MA and a BA from Columbia University in NY. Her studio is based in the Virgin Islands.
  • Jeannette Ehlers is a Copenhagen-based artist of Danish and Trinidadian descent whose practice takes shape experimentally across photography, video, installation, sculpture and performance. Her work often makes use of self-representation and image manipulation to bring about decolonial hauntings and disruptions.
  • Filmmaker and installation artist, Isaac Julien CBE RA, was born in 1960 in London, where he currently lives and works. His multi-screen film installations and photographs incorporate different artistic disciplines to create a poetic and unique visual language.
  • Keith Piper is a British based artist and academic. His creative practice responds to specific social and political issues, historical relationships and geographical sites. Adopting a research driven approach, and using a variety of media, his work has ranged from painting, through photography and installation to a use of digital media, video and computer based interactivity.
  • John Siblon is history teacher & PhD candidate at Birkbeck College researching hierarchy, memory, and commemoration of African & Caribbean service personnel post-WW1.
  • Tony Warner is the director of Black History Walks, a collective of athletes, IT professionals, teachers, artists, authors and film-makers who collaborate to produce events on British history which includes African/Caribbean people, throughout the year.

Image: UK: Black Lives Matter Protest, Bristol, UK . (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Flickr / Keir Gravil.