On Saturday morning it was already placed up there, almost eleven meters above the ground. A bear and a hooded boy embracing each other, red. Very red. The French sculptor James Colomina, 46, had moved a crane truck to the Plaza de Idrissa Diallo (21-year-old Guinean migrant who died after being detained at the Free Zone CIE). There, at night and at the foot of the immense empty pedestal of the Barcelona square, the crane unfolded its several-meter arm, carrying the 120-kilo piece to the base of the pedestal. Then the sculptor anchored the ephemeral work of art to the place that for more than 130 years the slaver Antonio López y López had been honored (1817-1883). "That is the paradox: I must act as stealthily as possible so that the sculpture is as visible as possible," the sculptor from Toulouse told elDiario.es.
The vandalized sculpture of the slaver Edward Colston is exposed in Bristol so that the neighbors decide their future
His movement discovered an unusual event in the national popular calendar: Colomina explains that on January 30, 1837 the Spanish celebrate the abolition of the slave trade, although it is true that slavery continued to be produced clandestinely and massively for decades and prohibited until 1880. "It doesn't just happen in Spain, no country wants to remember its slave-owning past. It's always difficult to feel responsible for what previous generations did. That's why I find it very satisfying that the statue dedicated to Antonio López y López was removed. It was the first step, but there is still a long way to go," explains the artist. In fact, the original sculpture by Venancio Vallmitjana was erected a few months after the death of the honoree and destroyed during the Civil War. The piece removed from the public road four years ago it was a 1940 copy.
The urban sculptor had designed the entire strategy, taken measures and references so that nothing would fail in the early hours of Friday to Saturday. He did not notify any authority. "That's my way of doing it. If you ask, it doesn't work. It breaks the artistic act. Street art is completely free and spontaneous art," Colomina details. The street artist, who performs throughout Europe with his pieces although not as popular as this one, wanted to neutralize the power of the slave image as an affirmation of the dominance of the white population with another much more tender and rebellious one. A bear and an activist who hides. He recognizes himself as an artist sensitive to current affairs and prefers to act on emblematic places, but also in marginal spaces. It is clear that he plays with contrast and surprise.
That's my way of doing it. If you ask, it doesn't work. Break the artistic act. Street art is a completely free and spontaneous art
Why that hug from this odd couple? "The boy brings his little stuffed animals to life without worrying about appearance. That's what interests me in this sculpture. He is 1.90 meters tall and the teddy bear is 2 meters tall. They hug each other without worrying about their differences This is a symbol of reconciliation between humanity, regardless of class, race, sex or religion. Wealth is in the difference," Colomina tells elDiario.es.
art to think
Two years before North American society exploded against the monuments to Confederate racists in its streets —in response to the murder of George Floyd, suffocated by a Minneapolis police officer during a brutal arrest—, Barcelona had already moved against that presence . The population rose up against the perpetuation of the tribute to an anachronistic practice, maintained with taxpayers' money. The Barcelona City Council has already announced that it will keep the piece on the pedestal and James Colomina celebrates it. He says he doesn't know what the council will do, but stresses the fact that he has just set up "a sculpture that values tolerance on an empty base." "I only hope that the sculpture Humanity make us think," he says.
From the district of Barcelona they indicate to this newspaper that the councilor Jordi Rabassa has spoken with the artist about the reason for his action, his intentions and that the piece was well fixed to the base. They explain that the square is in the process of being reformed and that the enormous pedestal will disappear when they are executed, probably within three years. Then, they add, they will decide what to do with the sculpture, but they understand that it is an ephemeral art action. "It is logical that in a city someone wants to express themselves and we have an empty pedestal in a square. If no one's rights are violated, these ephemeral expressions must be respected. So we will remove it, but we are in no hurry to do so", The district councilor of Ciutat Vella and councilor for Democratic Memory, Jordi Rabassa, recognize this newspaper.
It is logical that in a city someone wants to express themselves and we have an empty pedestal in a square. If no one's rights are violated, these ephemeral expressions must be respected
— Councilor of the Ciutat Vella district
"The city is open to free expression. Although this is not a spontaneous gesture, it is valid because it was not foreseen on the political agenda and we have to live it normally. Public art is no longer what it was: they no longer do it alone the institutions and that is the debate that we hold from the Department of Democratic Memory, what do we do with Antonio López, Colón and Cambó", says Rabassa. The councilor likes that citizens can express themselves, but everything has a limit and in this case it is the promotion of an artist's work.
The hug stays
The artist Marc Quinn wanted the same thing as James Colomina when a couple of years ago he placed his sculpture to occupy the empty pedestal of the slaver Edward Colston (1636-1721). The pedestal had been empty since June 7, 2020, when protesters knocked down and threw the figure of the honoree into the River Avon in Bristol (England). Reid was one of the protesters who responded to the call to take down. He climbed to the base and once on it, he raised his arm with a clenched fist. That photograph flooded social networks.
"My immediate thoughts went to the enslaved people who died at the hands of Colston. I wanted to empower George Floyd, I wanted to empower black people like me who have suffered injustice and inequality. A surge of power for all of them." , told the media the protagonist of the supplanting of the official memory by the memory of the street.
Quinn, a member of the Young British Artist generation in the nineties, made a sculptural replica of that gesture of the citizen. He turned Reid into an all-black resin sculpture and placed a cardboard sign on the pedestal that read "Black Lives Still Matter." He took the place of the slaver for just a few hours, until the English town hall ordered the improvised tribute to the victims to be removed and the bronze piece to be rescued from the waters. Quinn clarified, unlike Colomina, that he did not intend this to be a permanent solution, but rather a "spark" that he had lit in the hope that it would help draw attention to an unfinished business.
"Racism is an unacceptable, institutionalized problem that we all must face," the artist explained. But in Bristol they did not understand the action as in Barcelona. "I am in favor of these sculptures disappearing from the streets. They represent a model for our society. What Antonio López and Edward Colston say about human beings is horrible. Can they be the model for our children?" asks James Colomina. "The important thing about sculptures on public roads is the values they show and the message they carry, not so much that they indicate to the society in which they act what is important," adds James Colominas to clarify that he is not interested in moral art .