LONDON (Reuters) – Four distinctive British red postboxes have been painted black and gold and decorated with images by or famous black Britons, in a new way to celebrate Black History Month.
One of Britain’s most recognizable symbols, the red pillar box appears on countless postcards and souvenir items, while tourists can often be seen posing for photos next to the post box.
The Royal Mail said it had selected one post box in each of Britain’s four constituent sections – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and painted it black with a gold stripe across the top. They will stay that way during October, which is Black History Month.
In Britain, the post box chosen was located close to the heritage center of the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, an area south of London that has long been a center for the Caribbean community and other black minority groups.
The Brixton postbox features an image of the painting “Queuing in the RA” by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, which appears on a limited edition stamp issued by the Royal Mail in 2018 celebrating the Royal Academy art gallery.
Shonibare is famous for works that grapple with cultural identity and colonial heritage, such as “The Nelson Ship in a Bottle”, a replica of the HMS Victory wrapped in a giant bottle and with 37 sails made of African cloth.
According to the British Arts Fund, which obtained the artwork for exhibition in London, it “considers the legacy of British colonialism and its expansion in trade and the Empire, made possible through the freedom of the sea and the new trade routes that Nelson’s victory provided.”
Scotland’s black post box, located in Glasgow, features a picture of Walter Tull, who was the first black player to be signed by the city’s Rangers football team before being killed in action during World War One.
In the Welsh capital, Cardiff, a black post box features an image of Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole, who cared for wounded soldiers during the 1853-1856 Crime War.
In Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast, the post box selected features an image of comedian Lenny Henry, who according to Royal Mail “was instrumental in helping multi-cultural societies embrace multi-cultural comedy.”
The Royal Mail is the latest agency to have been involved with Britain’s Black heritage in recent months, jolted by the Black Lives Matter movement and by protesters’ dropping of a statue of a slave trader in the city of Bristol in June.
Among other changes, other slave trader statues have been removed by officials in London, a concert hall in Bristol has changed its name to itself and a charity that manages hundreds of stately country estates published an in-depth report on how the properties benefit from slavery and colonialism.
This trend was met with backlash, with some in the media and some politicians calling it a “hoax”. The government has warned a number of major cultural institutions including the British Museum that their public funding could be called into question if they remove statues or other controversial objects.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Edited by Alexandra Hudson