The official publication from the British Government in response to the bicentenary included a message from Prime Minister Tony Blair. It set out the history of transatlantic slavery and resistance to it, and featured a calendar of upcoming events for 2007 relating to slavery and abolition. The publication also detailed contemporary efforts to end modern slavery. Later in 2007, 'The way forward: bicentenary of the abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807-2007' reflected on some of the commemorative activity that had taken place in Bristol, Hull, Liverpool, London and Greater Manchester. With a foreword by the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the theme of the publication was 'Reflecting on the past, looking to the future' and it linked efforts for the abolition of historical and contemporary slavery. The publication also looked to how to tackle inequality and poverty in the UK, Africa and the Caribbean.
Two plays, Slave Ship by Amiri Baraka and Land by Edson Burton, were presented in Bristol by Say It Loud, a multicultural arts development organisation. Slave Ship was first performed in the United States in 1967. Land was written especially for the bicentenary project. In conjunction with the project, Say It Loud organised drama workshops on the subject of slavery in Bristol schools.
The sculpture Blue Earth 1807-2007 by African artist Taslim Martin was permanently installed in the newly updated African Worlds Gallery at the Horniman Museum in 2007, to mark the bicentenary. The large iron globe, inscribed with the 18th century image of the slave ship Brookes, traces the routes along which enslaved Africans were transported to the New World, alongside the movement of the products of enslaved labour. The major British ports of Liverpool, London and Bristol are depicted, as well as ports in West Africa and some of the destination ports in North America, the Caribbean and South America. Visitors are encouraged to spin the globe to view slave routes across the world. In 2007-2008, the Horniman Museum also hosted 'La Bouche du Roi' by Romuald Hazoumé.
Truth 2007 was an educational and information resource-based initiative that was instigated in Bristol by (Operation) Truth 2007 led by Jendayi Serwah. It became a national coalition of UK-based Pan-African organisations which aimed to raise the awareness of the African perspective on local and national government plans to mark the bicentenary. Truth 2007 featured a series of lectures, debates, interactive workshops and informal social-political gatherings organised by community groups. The Truth 2007 coalition expressed dissatisfaction with much of the terminology and focus of the 'official' commemorations.
La Bouche du Roi was created by artist Romauld Hazoumé, who lives and work in the Republic of Benin, West Africa. The multi-media artwork is named after a place on the coast of Benin from where enslaved Africans were transported. It comprised 304 plastic petrol can 'masks', each representing a person, arranged in the shape of the woodcut of the Liverpool slave ship Brookes. The aroma of tobacco and spices are represented alongside the terrible smells of a slave ship. The artwork was accompanied by a film showing the motorcyclists who transport petrol illegally between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. The cans and motorcyclists are metaphors for modern forms of enslavement and resistance. First exhibited at the British Museum in London, La Bouche du Roi toured to the following venues during 2007-9: Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery, Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, and the Horniman Museum in London.
The In Stitches project was led by the African Families Foundation (TAFF) and brought together British, African and African-Caribbean women's quilting groups meeting in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham. The In Stitches Quilt, designed by Janice Gunner, included 60 squares of embroidered images, texts and symbols, depicting historic figures, scenes and artefacts associated with the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. The Quilt used several of the Adinkra symbols from Africa, originally printed on fabrics worn at funerals by the Akan peoples of Ghana. The accompanying work pack was designed to support learning about slavery based on the four themes of the Quilt: Capture, the Middle Passage, Life in the 'New World', and Proscription of Slavery. The Quilt was unveiled at City Hall in London, and then toured to the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (Bristol), Central Library (Liverpool), Soho House (Birmingham), the International Quilt Festival (Birmingham) and Central Library (Manchester).
The Diverse Stories project began in 2007 with participants from Malcolm X Elders, an Afro Caribbean elders and community group in Bristol, taking part in a creative writing project to mark the bicentenary. This was jointly supported by Show of Strength Theatre Company, Our Stories Make Waves and English Heritage. Participants visited the ruined Temple Church in Bristol and explored its links with the slave trade and abolition movement. Their responses included a range of dramatic monologues covering themes such as slavery, racism, trade, childhood memories of Jamaica and migration from the Caribbean. These were read at a performance by a professional actor. In 2008 the project was given a permanent record by a selection of the stories being recorded on audio CD.
Re:interpretation was a participatory media project carried out by Firstborn Creatives in partnership with the National Trust. The project explored transatlantic slavery and its connection with three National Trust properties in South West England: Clevedon Court, Dyrham Park and Tyntesfield. It focused on the feelings and opinions of invited community groups towards those histories, who produced a range of creative responses and commentaries to their findings and also their own personal emotional responses. The project produced a multi-layered interactive exhibit, available on DVD.
This exhibition and booklet were produced as part of South Gloucestershire's Engage 2007 project, in partnership with Yate and District Heritage Centre. Both the exhibition and booklet explored local connections with the history of slavery and anti-slavery in South Gloucestershire. Links identified included the career of Robert Jenkinson of Hawkesbury (later Prime Minister Lord Liverpool), the Caribbean plantations of the Codrington family, the campaign efforts of abolitionist Joseph Sturge and, looking further back in history, St Wulfstan's attempts to abolish the trade in slaves to Ireland in the 11th century. The booklet was written and edited by Lorna Brooks and David Hardill. The exhibition toured the local area, including Thornbury and District Museum, pictured here.
As part of the Abolition 200 programme, the Bristol 1807 project set out to explore the lives of ordinary Bristolians in 1807. An exhibition in the Central Library, and a series of touring exhibitions in Bristol's libraries and community centres explored society, culture, trade and travel in 19th century Bristol, a city and port with many ties to transatlantic slavery. The project collaborated with local schools to provide creative art workshops for children around themes of slavery and freedom. There were also 'Treasures in Store' hands-on sessions with rare library artefacts concerned with the period of abolition including books, newspapers and everyday objects. A book emerging from the project, 'Bristol in 1807: Impressions of the City at the Time of Abolition' by Anthony Beeson, was published in 2009.
Down at the Bamboo Club was organised by Picture This, an artists' film and video commissioning agency in Bristol. The project was an exhibition of artists' video exploring Bristol's cultural histories and ideas of legacy. Contemporary artists worked with community groups to develop films and events that used the device of re-enactment to explore subjects such as community relations, identity, the legacy of slave trading in the city and histories of division and solidarity. One such film was 'Bamboo Memories' by Barby Asante. The Bamboo Club was a legendary Bristol nightclub in the 1960's and 1970's which holds great significance for older generations in the city as a place where first groups of African-Caribbeans socialised with white Bristolians.
The project to produce the booklet Myths, Facts and Feelings: Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery began in 2007. The Bristol Race Forum aimed to tackle some of the sensitivities, misunderstandings and popular opinions about the subject, and particularly in the Bristol area. The book's development went through a number of stages until it was published in 2012. The booklet and accompanying website for schools and communities across Bristol were produced with a view to sharing lessons from Bristol's past, and as a driver for future debate, activism and challenging prejudices. The contents were developed out of workshops with young people from the African Caribbean community and visits to community groups across Bristol.
COSTA stood for 'Commemoration of Slave Trade Abolition' and was a project of Sul'Art, a community art organisation in Bristol. Sul'Art delivered a programme of music, drama, art and dance to a number of schools and community groups to explore meanings of the bicentenary, working around themes such as migration, identity, celebration of difference, critiques of consumerism and intergenerational dialogue. Sul'Art also presented a number of performances of the professional jazz show ‘King Cotton’, dramatising the story of the cotton industry in music, song and film.
The Reconciliation Reredos project to develop a major public artwork was the response by Saint Stephen’s Church in Bristol city centre to a complex historical legacy. St Stephen's was the harbour church which benefitted from merchant’s donations, which effectively ‘blessed’ slave trade ships leaving the port, and which served as the burial site for Africans living in Bristol in the era of the transatlantic slave trade. The project involved the commissioning of a new altarpiece: four pieces of contemporary artwork exploring the mercantile connections that built the city of Bristol were created by artist Graeme Mortimer Evelyn, transforming the stone-carved Victorian Reredos housed in the church since 1875. A community learning programme engaged groups of people from the city through workshops, forums and events around the four focus concepts: Creation, Imago Dei (the Image of God in humanity), Reconciliation and Hope.
The Two Coins was a site-specific visual sculpture and moving image installation by artist Graeme Mortimer Evelyn that revolved around the bronze statue of 18th century Bristol slave trader Edward Colston, erected as a memorial in Bristol city centre in 1895. The monument and the memories it evokes of Colston's trading in enslaved Africans is frequently used as a point of reference for Bristol's contribution to the transatlantic slave trade. The installation aimed to present an unprejudiced historical legacy while highlighting collective responsibility to prevent forms of 21st century slavery.
Port City was a large-scale exhibition featuring over 40 international artists and addressing issues of migration, trade and contemporary slavery. Set in the arts centre and gallery Arnolfini, it was accompanied by a programme of art, music, film, literature and educational activities. Coinciding with the bicentenary year, several works explored Bristol's histories of trade, as well as a contemporary port. For Seeds of Change, Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves researched sites around the Floating Harbour where ballast would have been off-loaded. The ballast seeds discovered were germinated by local groups so as to make a garden of ‘living history’, reflecting the different routes travelled by Bristol merchants. Other highlights included a model of a 'global village' made from sugar by Meschac Gaba and kaleidoscopes showing contemporary scenes from the triangle of the transatlantic slave trade by Mary Evans.
The Bristol Black Archives Partnership (BBAP) was set up to collect, protect and make available the heritage of Bristol's local black history. The partnership involved communities, heritage organisations and academic organisations coming together to collect and make accessible the archives - films, photographs, documents and objects - that reflected the experience and contribution of black people in Bristol. BBAP aimed to provide learning resources for a better understanding of Bristol's multicultural history: the 'Me, We, Making History' calendars celebrated local black achievers; 'My Legacy Journal' was made available for African-Caribbean people to record their own family identity, history and stories. A Black Bristolians Teaching Pack was produced, alongside a travelling exhibition based on the project's research entitled 'The Black Presence in Bristol - 16th Century to the Present Day'.
Breaking the Chains opened at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum to coincide with the bicentenary, and told the story of the British transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. Developed in partnership with Bristol City Council's Museums, Galleries and Archives' Service, the exhibition used artefacts, film and testimony to challenge perceptions about Britain's involvement in the slave trade and its legacy today. It featured a multimedia gallery of digital memories and feelings on the contemporary legacies of the slave trade; interactive sound stations to see and hear personal testimonies and the power of black music; and the ‘Me deya’ gallery, led by Firstborn Creatives, a collection of work from artists and communities who wished to share their creative pieces about the legacies of the slave trade. Associated events included African music for children, community dance events and public debates.
The Adisa project gave a group of 20 young people of African and African Caribbean heritage the chance to investigate their roots both in Bristol and Africa. The group researched the history and legacies of Bristol's involvement in the trade in enslaved Africans, and its impact on one African country: Ghana. This was a community partnership project in collaboration with the Bread Youth Project, Full Circle Youth and Family and the Mill Youth Centre. The group opened their own exhibition, 'Afrikan Footsteps' at the City Museum and Art Gallery, after a two-week research trip to Ghana to learn about the country's history and culture. The exhibition included short films made by the participants; a Quotes Wall, taken from young people’s interviews with members of their local community; a wall of their personal heroes; a photographic exhibition of their trip; and 'Ma’afa Journey', a film recording their personal reactions to places visited in Ghana.
Bristol was major trading port for the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century. The city of Bristol marked the bicentenary of the Abolition Act with more than 100 events across the city - exhibitions, plays, debates, talks, concerts - under the umbrella organisation Abolition 200. In January 2007, city leaders signed a declaration of regret for the city's role in the trade. Over the weekend of 24-25 March, bells rang out across the city and a Service of Remembrance and Reconciliation was held at Bristol Cathedral, organised by a partnership of the Cathedral and the Council of Black Churches. 2007 was themed as the Year of Black Achievement, aiming to bring better provision of black heritage resources to schools in Bristol, with a particular focus on black attainment. Over 30 creative community projects were funded by Abolition 200 - including art installations, educational projects and community theatre - to reflect the themes of education, commemoration and legacy.
Featured here are some of the events from Abolition 200.