Should we take the statue down?

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In the course of making the Closes & Opens film, the filmmakers had an opportunity to speak with Sir Geoff Palmer about Scotland’s role in the slave trade and the shadow of its history evident across the city of Edinburgh...

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer reflects on the statue of Henry Dundas at the centre of Edinburgh’s New Town

Two months ago EFI premiered the film Closes & Opens. In the course of making the film, the filmmakers had an opportunity to speak with Sir Geoff Palmer extensively about Scotland’s role in the slave trade and the shadow of this history that is evident across the city of Edinburgh.

This interview with Professor Sir Geoff Palmer was shot in the process of making the film Closes and Opens: A history of Edinburgh’s futures. The film set out to explore how the past weighs on visions of the future. We know that city planning never starts with a blank slate but faces choices about how to deal with the past. What should be kept or restored? What should be removed or demolished? Which histories are commemorated, which are forgotten and which are erased? As Sir Geoff explains, some of the worst parts of Edinburgh’s history are hidden in plain sight, in monuments and street names that commemorate people who derived vast wealth from enslaving people. How should we deal with the remnants of that history?

As Sir Geoff says in the film:

“…if you remove the evidence, you remove the deed – street names, statues, buildings, should not be touched, a plaque should be attached, explaining the history… we cannot change the past, we can change the consequences.”

Watch the full excerpt of Professor Sir Geoff Palmer:

YouTube video

Professor Lesley McAra, Director of Edinburgh Futures Institute, comments on the film’s relevance at this critical time where Universities must acknowledge our own culpability and failings while being part of the solution:

Contradictions abound in public life – Edinburgh was a city at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment and yet one with seldom acknowledged links to the slave trade. Why should it take the shocking death of George Floyd and the differential impacts of the covid-19 pandemic on BAME communities, to bring attention to inequalities and discriminatory practices, when there is overt commitment to human rights, inclusivity and ‘levelling up’? We should not be frightened to address our history and acknowledge past wrongs: we need to learn from such wrongs and act now to bring about change. The film ‘Closes and Opens’ grapples with these challenging matters and gives hope that better futures can come from critical engagement with the past.

Further information

Legacies of British Slavery website

Freedom of Information Request about reparations to slave owners

RACE.ED is a cross university hub for research and teaching on race and ethnicity

Closes and Opens premiered in a live stream screening on Thursday 30 April, 2020. The film was produced, written and narrated by Liz McFall and AWED, a collective comprising artist filmmaker Sapphire Goss, Liz McFall, Darren Umney and David Moats, for the Edinburgh Futures Institute. You can watch the entire film below:

YouTube video

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