Actor Riz Ahmed and Chisenhale Director Zoé Whitley Will Join a New Committee Overseeing Diversity in London’s Public Monuments

Riz Ahmed at the 70th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin in 2020 in Berlin. Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has named the members of his new Committee for Diversity in the Public Realm, which will work to increase representation of people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and disability groups in the city’s public monuments and street and building names, which, the mayor points out, largely reflect Victorian-era Britain.

The committee is not charged with deciding on removing any existing public monuments.

Among the appointees are a number of arts professionals, including Chisenhale Gallery director Zoé Whitley; art historian Aindrea Emelife; Evening Standard architecture critic Robert Bevan; Fourth Plinth commissioner and Art on the Underground director Eleanor Pinfield; architect Pedro Gil, and curator and historian Sandy Nairne. Several other members come from outside the art world: Emmy Award-winning actor Riz Ahmed; Queer Bible founder Jack Guinness, and activist Toyin Agbetu.

Zoe Whitley. Photo by James Gifford-Mead.

Zoe Whitley. Photo by James Gifford-Mead.

“For far too long, too many Londoners have felt unrepresented by the statues, street names, and building names all around them, and it’s important that we do what we can to ensure our rich and diverse history is celebrated and properly commemorated in our city,” said Khan in a statement.

Since the police killing of George Floyd in the US in May 2020, activists around the world have taken it into their own hands to remove monuments and statues commemorating slaveowners, eugenicists, and other objectionable historical figures, as well as calling on museums to acknowledge their colonialist histories. City officials in the UK removed controversial monuments within just weeks of Floyd’s death; London even boarded up statues in an effort to defuse tensions between far-right groups and monument activists.

Justine Simons, the deputy mayor for culture and creative industries, will co-chair the new committee along with deputy mayor for social integration, social mobility, and community engagement Debbie Weekes-Bernard.

The committee will serve alongside a working group of local councils as well as a partners board that includes ActionSpace, Art Fund, English Heritage and Shape Arts, Arts Council England, Black Cultural Archives, Historic England, and Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts).

Those looking for some indication of what the mayor might have in mind might note that he has already commissioned a statue of suffragist Millicent Fawcett and voiced his support for new institutions such as a National Slavery Museum and a National Sikh War Memorial.

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