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BASEL: Statues of slavers or Confederates unbolted or thrown into the water … At the Basel art fair, the British sculptor Thomas J. Price wants to turn the page on the grandiloquent representations of disputed dignitaries to make room to minorities in the public space.

At Art Basel, the art fair held in Switzerland until June 19, this London artist from the mixed-race district of Brixton unveiled a 3.60 meter high bronze statue of a black woman with a pensive, lost in thought, the hint of a half-smile on her lips.

“Her expression is a bit difficult to decipher. Is she smiling slightly? Is she looking at you?”, explained the artist to AFP, who deliberately gave her a blurred expression so that passers-by could interpret themselves even what she may be thinking.

Hands in the pockets, in sneakers, sports pants and T-shirt, her relaxed pose contrasts with the formalism of the postures of uniformed statues usually placed in public spaces, where black women are largely underrepresented.

“My work is a critique of monuments”, continues the artist who questions who we choose to represent us in the squares, parks and squares that adorn our cities.

Rather than these statues of “triumphant” elites that “we see everywhere around us”, this artist prefers to focus on the universalism of emotions with sculptures representing characters from everyday life.

His statues often represent a black man or a black woman in a down jacket or hooded sweatshirt looking at their mobile phone, an object that “connects us and isolates us” at the same time, explains the artist who uses it willingly to symbolize “what connects us to each other”.

“(In my statues) people are black because I’m a black artist myself, even though I don’t define myself that way. I get inspiration from people around me, people I know, who happen to be black”, explains the artist, even if his work intends above all to question the universal emotions which connect us “as human beings”.

An opportunity, not a threat

In 2020, the installation of one of his sculptures of a black woman in a park in East London coincided with the vast protest movements which had seen statues unbolted, torn or even thrown into the water as in Bristol , where the statue of a wealthy city merchant who had made his fortune in the slave trade was thrown into the river and then fished out.

“A lot of these statues need to be removed,” judge Thomas J. Price. “But it should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat. It’s an opportunity to think about how we want to represent ourselves as a society” and “who represents us”.

This questioning must, according to him, also be an opportunity to widen the field of people represented in the public space where “non-white people are historically under-represented”, he adds.

Next week, the artist must inaugurate two bronze statues in homage to the “Windrush generation”, named after a boat which had transported some of the 500,000 immigrants from the Antilles, mainly from Jamaica, between 1948 and 1971 The fate of these West Indians, unfairly treated after having participated in the reconstruction of the country, has been at the heart of a scandal in the United Kingdom.

The statues will be installed in front of the town hall in Hackney, a district of North East London.