In 2007 Liverpool's annual Writing on the Wall arts festival explored the legacy of slavery through words, music, lyrics, song, dance and discussion. Authors, campaigners and social commentators explored the themes of the bicentenary and Liverpool's 800th birthday. The festival aimed to celebrate diversity and promote inter-cultural tolerance. Speakers included one of the nine Britons detained in Guantanamo, Cuba. Among the performers was dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah joined by Jean 'Binta' Breeze and Levi Tafari, and featuring the MDI African Dancers for an 'extravaganza of rhythm and rhyme' at the Royal Philharmonic Hall. Liverpool Young Writers was launched by Writing on the Wall in 2007. Members have recently performed at Slavery Remembrance Day and the International Slavery Museum.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been plagued by conflicts over control, extraction and distribution of natural resources such as coltan, diamonds and oil. In this exhibition, photographers Isabel Muñoz, National Photography Award 2016, and Concha Casajús present the struggle of Congolese women in the face of the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The show is a series of portraits and testimonies of women from Bukavu, in the province of South Kivu, in the east of the country. The exhibition aims to make the situation of these women visible, as well as the violence they suffer. But at the same time, it invites us to reflect on the way in which these women face such suffering, rejecting in many cases the status of victims and trying to survive with dignity. Many have managed to get rid of this stigma and have struggled collectively to become activists and successful women. All a song to those women who have broken the silence and, from mutual support and sorority, have become true heroines of this twenty-first century.
Hull Museums had a programme of special exhibitions at the Ferens Art Gallery commemorating Wilberforce 2007. The Abolitionist's Parlour was a new work commissioned by the Gallery. The video installation by artist Keith Piper explored the role of William Wilberforce through the writings of a fictional black woman and ex-slave. Uncomfortable Truths: The Shadow of Slave Trading on Contemporary Art, in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum, explored the uncomfortable relationship between art, design and slavery through the work of eleven international artists. The international audio-visual exhibition Anne Frank + You explored the thoughts and themes from Anne Frank's diary which included conflict, racism, democracy and freedom. Mind Forg'd Manacles: William Blake and Slavery was an exhibition of rare watercolours and prints by William Blake, on loan from the British Museum. Ferens Art Gallery also hosted La Bouche du Roi by Romuald Hazoume, a multi-media exhibition based around the Brookes slave ship.
Well Dressing is an ancient custom unique to Derbyshire. Each year, between May and September, hundreds of well dressings are created by volunteers in Derbyshire villages. According to many sources, it developed from a pagan tradition of making sacrifice to the Gods of wells and springs to ensure a continued supply of fresh water. In the Derbyshire tradition, pictures are made for the most part of individual flower petals pressed onto clay covered boards. In 2007, many wells were dressed to mark the bicentenary. Pictured are wells in Ashford-in-the-Water, Belper, Tissington and Wirksworth, photographed by Glyn Williams.
To commemorate the bicentenary, St Mungo Museum of Religious Art and Life (with support from the Scottish Museum Council) explored the social and economic legacies of slavery, including racism and cultural stereotyping. The museum worked with members of Glasgow's African and African Caribbean communities on reinterpreting objects from across Glasgow Museums. As part of the project, artist Beth Forde was commissioned to create an artwork to explore some of the issues raised, titled 'The shadow of the object fell upon the ego'. Voices from Africa was part of a year-long programme of lectures, schools events and exhibitions highlighting the life of African communities in Glasgow. This included a photographic project with photographer Roddy Mackay to represent African heritage in Scotland, and a series of free workshops exploring aspects of faith and belief.
This exhibition by photographer Sammy Baloji and anthropologist Filip De Boeck offers an exploration of different urban sites in Congo, through the media of photography and video. Focusing upon the “urban now”, a moment suspended between the broken dreams of a colonial past and the promises of neoliberal futures, the exhibition offers an artistic and ethnographic investigation of what living – and living together – might mean in Congo’s urban worlds.
As elsewhere on the African continent, Congo’s cities increasingly imagine new futures for themselves. Today, these new urban dreams often only manifest themselves in the form of billboards and advertisements for the city to come, inspired by Dubai and other recent hot spots from the Global South. Ironically, the city model they propose invariably gives rise to new geographies of exclusion that often take the form of gated communities and luxury satellite towns designed for a still somewhat hypothetical local upper middle class.
In sharp contrast with these neoliberal imaginings, the current infrastructure of Congo’s cities is of a rather different kind. The built colonial legacy has largely fallen into disrepair. Its functioning is punctuated by constant breakdown, and the city is replete with disconnected fragments, reminders and echoes of a former modernity that continues to exist in a shattered form. These failing material infrastructures greatly impact upon the quality of the city’s social life, and push it to the limit of what is livable. Yet Congo’s urban residents constantly engage in inventing new social spaces to bypass or overcome breakdown, exclusion, poverty and violence. Exploring these spaces, the exhibition captures a more inhabitable and inclusive urban world, where the possibilities of collective action and dreams of a shared future continue to be explored.
Curator: Devrim Bayar
The exhibition is organized in collaboration with and will travel to Galerias Municipais/EGEAC, Lisbon, and The Power Plant, Toronto.
With the support of the Research Fund of KU Leuven and Imane Farès Gallery, Paris.
In collaboration with Kunstenfestivaldesarts & Summer of Photography 2016.
Uncomfortable Truths at the Victoria and Albert Museum sought to expose how embedded the transatlantic slave trade was within British culture during the 18th and 19th centuries through art and design. A series of five trails - 'Traces of the Trade' - explored the permanent collections on display through the following themes: Consuming the Black Atlantic, Black Servants in British Homes, Britain and the West Indies, Representing Slavery and Abolitionism, Gold and Slaves Transnational Trade Links. An exhibition of contemporary art examined the impact of the legacies of slavery on modern art and design. The Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned new works by Yinka Shonibare, Romauld Hazoume, Julien Sinzogan and Keith Piper. These and other contemporary interventions by a total of 11 artists were displayed throughout the museum. This exhibition later toured to Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.
The 'Truth and Rights' season of events highlighted often untold stories of Black British heroes, including focus on the actor Ira Aldridge. Visitors were also offered discussions, debates, displays and an eight week free art course. A two-day conference, 'From Cane Field to Tea Cup: The Impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on Art and Design' focused on V&A collections took place in February 2007.
An exhibition at Walsall Museum looked at Walsall's links with the slave trade, the background to the Abolition Act of 1807, and the legacies of slavery. Walsall's metal industry included chain making by local women of Cradley Heath, and the manufacture of guns used to trade for captive Africans. The exhibition was accompanied by a programme of presentations, lectures and workshops, including art sessions with local residents and the artist Pauline Bailey. Part of the wider project featured an online resource 'Abolition WYA' by Walsall Youth Arts, which encouraged young people to explore the topic of slavery and contribute poems, visual arts and music to express their views. Some of the images featured on the site are pictured here.
The Whitworth Art Gallery was one of eight heritage bodies in the ‘Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery’ partnership in Greater Manchester. The project set out to explore the history, impact and legacy of slavery on Britain through collections and community links in the North West.
'Trade and Empire: Remembering Slavery' explored the themes of trade and empire, commerce and collecting, and the impact of the experience of slavery and its legacy. Four invited artists and academics (SuAndi, Kevin Dalton-Johnson, Dr Emma Poulter and Dr Alan Rice) worked with Whitworth curators and learning staff to create the exhibition. It comprised of selections from the Whitworth's collections, contemporary works by Black artists, and objects on loan from Manchester Museum, John Rylands University Library Manchester, Bolton Museums and Archives Service and private collections. Areas of focus included a history of the Benin Bronzes, representations of Black people in British art, photographs of West Africa belonging to Tom Singleton Gardner, and printed textiles designed by Althea McNish. The exhibition was accompanied by a series of community engagement events.
Threads of Strength and Fortitude was an exhibition of a series of textiles by artist Penny Sisto, created as a personal response to the bicentenary. The quilts were shipped over from New Albany, Indiana, and exhibited at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Eight quilts explored the theme of slavery through depictions of servitude, emancipation and the flight to freedom. Pieces on show include 'Slave Ship 1,' which depicts eight enslaved Africans chained by their necks on a slave ship. Another quilt, 'Ran Away', showed a farmer leading Underground Railroad travellers by lantern light. The exhibition was accompanied by an interactive DVD, 'Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: Men and Women of the Underground Railroad in the Indiana and Kentucky Borderland'. There was also a series of events, including guest lectures and workshops on the subject of the abolition of slavery aimed at school and community groups. Art-based workshops explored the themes of peaceful resistance.
A bronze statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was 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 Two Coins is a visual sculpture and moving image installation created by artist Graeme Mortimer Evelyn to revolve around such monuments. The installation aimed to present an unprejudiced historical legacy while highlighting collective responsibility to prevent forms of 21st century slavery.
The Sounds of Slavery was a project by the performance and visual arts group River Niger Arts to research, record and develop a performance-related programme around the musical heritage and legacy of slavery. The project took particular interest in these themes in relation to the City of Liverpool, but also addressed them in global terms. The project created a database of songs and narratives from the period of slavery. Members of the River Niger Orchestra also performed at a Sounds of Slavery performance at Liverpool Hope University. Some of the songs performed included 'The Chase', 'No More Auction Block' and the African American spiritual 'The Jubilee Song'. The project was accompanied by a series of performance and visual arts education workshops with schools.
The Print that Turned the World? was an exhibition at the London Print Studio, which examined the role played by printmaking in changing public attitudes towards the slave trade and influencing the abolition campaign. The exhibition looked in particular at the influence of the widely publicised print of the slave ship 'Brookes', first published in 1788; the crowded and inhumane conditions depicted had a significant impact on public opinion. The exhibition also examined the role of William Wilberforce in the abolitionist campaign, and the continuation of anti-slavery efforts in modern times. London Print Studio worked with local schoolchildren in creating the exhibition and associated artworks.
The Freedom! sculpture was created by a group of Haitian artists to represent Haiti's struggle for freedom and human rights. It was commissioned in 2007 by a collaboration of the international development charity Christian Aid and National Museums Liverpool to mark the bicentenary. The Freedom! sculpture is made from recycled objects such as metal car parts and junk found in the slums of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. It was created by sculptors Eugène, Céleur and Guyodo from Atis Rezistans in collaboration with the Haitian artist Mario Benjamin. The sculpture was first displayed at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in 2007 before touring to Stratford Circus Arts Centre in London, the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol and the Eden Project in Cornwall. It became a permanent exhibit in the International Slavery Museum when the venue opened on 23 August 2007 (Slavery Remembrance Day).
The Freedom Sculpture was conceived by Mary Thompson, a teacher at Dog Kennel Hill Primary School in East Dulwich, as a way for the school to mark the bicentenary. Year 6 pupils worked with Kevin Boys, a blacksmith from Surrey Docks City Farm, to translate their ideas of freedom into a visual image. A butterfly was chosen to represent the concept of freedom. Kevin Boys made the butterfly's wings on a mobile forge in the school playground, and Year 5 children designed patterns to place inside. The Freedom Sculpture was opened in the school grounds in November 2008 by Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, the civil liberties advocacy group.
Part of the Equiano Project led by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Culture Clubs were a series of outreach projects enabling contributions by local schools and community groups to the way Equiano’s story is told and the issues surrounding how his experience is represented. The four groups - Techno Elders, Hockley Youth Project, Deansfield Secondary School and King George V Primary School - worked closely with the project teams and professional artists to produce work based upon Equiano’s life story. Their work featured within the Gas Hall and Soho House exhibitions.
The Hockley Youth Project’s work was displayed in the ‘Unshackled’ exhibition at Soho House in Birmingham, once home of the industrialist Matthew Boulton. Working with visual artist Nicola Richardson, the group produced a series of suits and artworks which explore themes around Equiano’s life, particularly his success as a businessman and entrepreneur.
The Sweet History? project saw the Bristol Architecture Centre work with young people from the Knowle West Media Centre to explore the social and economic impacts of the sugar and slave trades on the built environment heritage of Bristol. Working with local artists and historians, the young people put together the Sweet History? Trail, containing photographs and information about 23 sites in and around Bristol that have links to the sugar and slave trades. The project had a particular focus on using digital technology to develop an interactive website (which included an audio podcast of the trail) to engage youth audiences with the study of heritage buildings.
Penrhyn Castle on the outskirts of Bangor in Wales is owned by the National Trust. In 2007, the bicentenary was marked with a special exhibition and accompanying events exploring the connections between the Castle and the fortune of its former owners, the Pennant family, built on Jamaican sugar from one of the largest estates on the island. The exhibition featured the story of Richard Pennant, 1st Lord Penrhyn, a wealthy merchant and MP for Liverpool who fought against abolition in Parliament. Some of the research was carried out by members of the local community, who were trained in archival research by exploring the Penrhyn Jamaica papers held at Bangor University, which included Richard Pennant's letters as absentee landowner.
The project created links between a local school near the Castle, Banks Road school in Liverpool and Mavisville school in Kingston, Jamaica. All three schools provided art, prose and poetry to the exhibition. Workshops were held for all visiting schools. Accompanying events included art days where a local artist worked with visitors to explore the meaning of landscape painting in the context of slavery; a Caribbean weekend; and a day of activities and workshops with a multi-faith groups of teenagers from Liverpool. A DVD of all the information gathered was given free to schools and libraries.
Story Interrupted was an exhibition of jewellery and ceramics by visual orator Akosua Bambara at Bruce Castle Museum. Each piece was created in memory of African people who suffered and died in enslavement.
In 2007 the artist Faisal Abdu'Allah was commissioned by Tate Britain to work collaboratively with a group of young people from Park High School in Harrow and St George's Roman Catholic School in Westminster to explore ideas related to the commemoration of the 1807 Abolition Act. The group engaged with creative research and artistic processes to produce narratives capturing their personal viewpoints on the themes of freedom of expression, liberty, revolution and slavery. The project Stolen Sanity resulted in a series of large scale photographic portraits that were displayed in the main galleries of Tate Britain. The project integrated the factual historic time line of Tate Britain's display, 1807: Blake, Slavery and the Radical Mind, with fictional personal reflections through audio and visual art.