An artist-designed outfit adorning an early-20th-century statue of Queen Victoria—the centrepiece of a major public art project in Liverpool—has been removed, leaving the piece in its original state, organisers say. It is currently unclear how the piece was denuded or by whom.
The monument to the late monarch, made in 1906 by CJ Allen, was covered in contemporary clothing designed by the fashion creative Karen Arthur and the historian Laurence Westgaph. It was a centrepiece of Statues Redressed, an initiative launched by the UK channel Sky Arts and Culture Liverpool, the city’s culture service.
The project sees artists “challenge and celebrate the role of these statues in modern times, as part of the ongoing debate around who and what should be immortalised as public monuments”, says a statement. Some interventions are for a day only; the longest will last around four weeks. No statue is being permanently changed.
A spokeswoman for Sky Arts says that the garments by Westgaph and Arthur, comprising a hessian dress and a satin patchwork cloak, have been removed from the statue in Derby Square. The mysterious removal comes after the right-wing commentator and ex-politician Nigel Farage criticised the art project on a GB News broadcast earlier this week, saying he is “tired of this endless conversation about the UK's complicity with slavery”.
Philip Edgar-Jones, the director of Sky Arts, adds: “We can confirm that the artwork placed upon the Queen Victoria monument has been removed during its time in position. This is the kind of thing we might expect from a project that addresses the conversation around statues and who or what we commemorate in our towns and cities. The project continues to grow and more statues are being redressed today and over the coming weeks.” More than 50 “redressed statues” will be revealed over the summer and presented in a special broadcast on Sky Arts in October.
According to the project website, the satin patchwork cloak that adorned the Queen Victoria statue paid homage to a handmade quilt gifted to the royal by Martha Ricks, a black woman who travelled from Liberia especially to meet her idol. “This piece reflects on Liverpool’s complicity with slavery, and how Queen Victoria and Britain were beneficiaries of that as recently as 150 years ago,” says the project text.
Farage heavily criticised the project, singling out artist Larry Achiampong’s re-imagining of the giant bronze statue of the 19th-century prime minister William Gladstone located in St Johns Gardens.
Achiampong has wrapped a pan-African flag around the 1904 sculpture, reflecting the struggles of the continent. Farage said: “This is a reminder that [Gladstone’s] family fortune came from plantations and slavery. It is difficult to believe that the city council in Liverpool is allowing this sort of thing, but in reality Gladstone became a staunch critic of slavery as he got older and worked for its abolition. None of these complexities are reflected in this artistic re-working nonsense."
Achiampong was unavailable for comment. Liverpool councillor Harry Doyle says in a statement that this “unique project feels like perfect timing and the right thing for us to do as a city”.