Above: Artwork by RTiiiKA
The evening of 10th July 2020 saw a small socially-distanced crowd of people gather below an advertising billboard in the Easton district of Bristol. They gathered in celebration of an image depicting the highly publicised toppling of the Edward Colston statue seen only weeks earlier.
The toppling of the statue of the 17th century British slave trader signified a turning tide of what is considered acceptable and appropriate in our cityscape. Like statues, billboards are part of the furniture of any city. Both are designed to communicate a message, and often it is a message of consumption and of acquisition.
Typically, and not by accident, billboards are located in areas where they are not welcome, but where residents have little choice sharing the space.
Easton is among the least affluent areas of Bristol and is notably littered with a good many advertising billboards as it is located next to several major roads. The verges and roadside real estate of the M32 is undoubtedly seen among some as viable commercial advertising space and in turn this has seen the rise of localised opposition. Adblock Bristol is helping communities to have a say in what they see in the city’s streets.
RTiiiKA and Bristol Rising Tide, who installed the artwork, have said that they were inspired by the successful campaigns carried out by Adblock Bristol since 2017 to prevent new outdoor advertisements and digital displays being erected in the city.
The mostly black illustration by the artist known as RTiiiKA is presented in two panels, each framing an energy and significance of a moment. The left side contains a number of human figures, white lines depict figures each drawn with and somehow interconnected to a thread of red that twists and turns around and through the figures as they grasp and pull at the red thread, toiling in dance they attempt to unify and react to the space they inhabit. On the right panel a prominent figure, once stood high upon a plinth , is now seen being jerked from its position. It seems as though the inanimate figure is actively resisting change, depicted alongside a phase spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. “no one is free until we are all free”. An energy radiates from the scene, emphasising the struggle against the unjust position and hierarchical structure represented by the figure’s very existence.
The crowd that gathered to admire the artwork included artists, photographers, activists and political figures, each present to meet and discuss the message of the piece, what it represents, and the moment in history that it depicts. This moment in the summer of 2020 brought Bristol centre-stage with a debate that had raged locally for many years, but was now suddenly ignited and galvanised by a fresh and renewed energy and message of racial justice.
One thing uniting those involved in both the statue and the billboard debates is the desire to take responsibility for public space and the city environment. RTiiiKA, Adblock Bristol, Rising Arts Agency, Bristol Rising Tide, as well as other creatives have shown that art and culture need not be confined to the parameters prescribed by society but can work together to create positive and inclusive change to a multicultural city that continues to challenge convention.
Text by Simon Davis, Adblock Bristol – Arts Group Member