Race Space and Architecture

Matthew Horwood/Getty Images photo of Jen Reid in front of the sculpture of herself on the plinth where the statue of Edward Colston a slave trader used to stand.

Marc Quinn’s sculpture of Jen Reid replaced the sculpture toppled in June 2020 that commemorated Edward Colston. It was removed 24 hours later by the City Council. As Karen Wells showed in her 2007 article, Symbolic Capital and Material Inequalities: Memorializing Class and “Race” in the Multicultural City, monuments reflect the political order and tie capitalism and racism together. Robert McKee showed the racialized significance of elements of cities and The Symbolic Meanings of Physical Boundaries: The F Street Wall in Las Vegas.

In the case of the Bristol monument, Colston was Deputy Governor of the British Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692. It is estimated that the company transported over 84,000 African men, women and children to the Caribbean and the Americas, of whom as many as 19,000 may have died on the journey. Colston used part of the wealth gained to acquire prestige as a philanthropist and major donor to Bristol charities and causes.

Black Lives Matter: In effect, important historical elements of Bristol were directly produced on the basis of profits from slavery. In many cities, Black lives turned into matter, into the built environment. Black lives matter. The profits of racialized exploitation are directly tied to the creation of urban spaces and architecture. Attempts to refigure this space in ways that problematize such issues and their ongoing legacies are being resisted by those in power now. An important question is whether conflict over symbolic and virtual elements of the city, such as its monuments, can lead to actual, material change or if it is a symptom of resistance to meaningful change.

Space and Culture has borne witness to racialized inequality in the treatment of entire cities, such as the case of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans (see the special issue Vol 9 Issue 1 2006). In a 2013 article, Themis Chronopoulos highlights The Politics of Race and Class and the Changing Spatial Fortunes of the used the case of McCarren Pool in Brooklyn, New York 1936-2010 as a specific site of racial and multicultural coalitions and coexistence. This shows the pathway from Black Lives Matter to making black communities matter as equal participants in society.

The curriculum initiative Race Space and Architecture by Huda Tayob, Suzi Hall and Thandi Loewenson offers a perspective on the interconnections between capitalism, racialization and spatialization from the Global South. It offers a synthesis that organizes knowledge of the dependency of capitalist modernity, historically and currently, on a diverse geography of unjust racial hierarchies and configurations of ‘race’ which are at the same time creatively remade into counterspaces of resistance. Black Lives Matter.

Rob Shields, University of Alberta