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Actor Riz Ahmed and Chisenhale director Zoé Whitley selected for new commission to diversify London's public monuments

New 15-member body will focus on the capital’s statues, street names and memorials

Riz Ahmed has been chosen as part of a 15 person committee to diversify London's monuments © Flickr

Actor Riz Ahmed and curator Sandy Nairne are among the members of a new diversity commission established by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, which “will drive for greater diversity in the public realm”, reigniting the debate about how to deal with monuments dedicated to controversial historic figures.

A statement from the London Assembly says that “the majority of London’s statues, street names and memorials largely reflect Victorian Britain, but the Mayor wants to tell the full story of the capital”.

Khan said last year: “There are some slavers that should come down, and the commission will advise on that.” The commission statement says however that “[it] is not being established to preside over the removal of statues.”

Fifteen panellists were selected for the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm following an open recruitment process; other members include Zoé Whitley, director of the Chisenhale Gallery in London, the architecture critic Robert Bevan, who also contributes to The Art Newspaper, presenter and curator Aindrea Emelife and Eleanor Pinfield, director of Art on the Underground.

“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,” Khan adds in a statement.

The new commission, co-chaired by the deputy mayor for culture and creative industries, Justine Simons, will focus on increasing representation among Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, women, LGTBQ+ and disabled groups. “The commission will review what currently makes up London’s public realm, discuss what legacies should be celebrated, and make a series of recommendations that will help to establish best practice,” says the London Assembly.

But the move is at odds with the UK government’s new policy aimed at safeguarding historic monuments across England. The law would come into effect from March and apply to England's 12,000 statues. Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary who is leading the reforms, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that he is waging war on “town hall militants and woke worthies” who have written a “single, often negative narrative” about the country’s history.

Khan has pledged his support for a number of new memorials in the capital dedicated to the black British teenager Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993, and the Windrush generation of workers who came to the UK from the Caribbean.