The National Maritime Museum marked the bicentenary with a range of initiatives and events including a new exhibition, a film season, poetry, music, debates, and new publications. A new permanent gallery opened at the museum in winter 2007 exploring Britain's Atlantic empire. A catalogue of slavery-related images, artefacts and documents from the collections of the museum, 'Representing Slavery', was published. The museum also devised a transatlantic slavery trail around Greenwich.
The National Maritime Museum hosted a number of events throughout 2007. The theme of the weekend 23-25 March was 'And still I rise', marked with a series of activities, performances and discussion. On August 23, International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, the ‘Freedom Festival: Contemporary Commemoration’ event saw a programme of creative events and performances exploring themes around the heritage of enslavement. The museum also offered a range of learning experiences based on its collections. For example, in November, a study session, 'Roots of Resistance: Abolition 1807' examined the roots of resistance and the abolition movement through talks by curators and contemporary artists. Activities for families were based on themes of freedom and carnival. 'The Big Conversation 2007' was a programme of debate and showcasing of diverse projects undertaken by students around the country, organised by the Understanding Slavery Initiative and the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
A guide to bicentenary activities and events in museums, archives and other venues across the East Midlands - Leicestershire and Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire - was produced by Museums, Libraries and Archives East Midlands and Renaissance East Midlands. These events commemorated local connections to the abolitionist movement and to slavery. For example, Manor House Museum in Kettering produced a loans box containing material on William Knibb, a local abolitionist. Rothwell Arts and Heritage Centre produced an exhibition on the life of Rothwell-born missionary John Smith. Derby City Museums and Gallery worked with an artist and young people to explore Derby's industrial heritage and its links to the slave trade using The Silk Mill, Derby's Museum of Industry and History, as inspiration. Chesterfield Local Studies put together a touring exhibition to explore Derbyshire connections to the slave trade. A community commemorative event organised by Lincolnshire County Council and Lincolnshire African and Caribbean Support Group included a service of remembrance and the release of 200 'Freedom' balloons from Lincoln City Square on 24 March 2007.
A Shared History, A Shared Future was a series of projects led by Birmingham Libraries to engage with different communities within Birmingham. The project as a whole identified archival materials, local historical documents and music with an emphasis on the diverse multicultural nature of historical and modern indentured slavery, and how it relates to everyday lives in Birmingham. Over 1000 participants from schools and community groups took part in over 150 workshops to create stories, artwork, banners, protests, games, films, dances, drama and performances. A resource pack, the liberty box, was produced to encourage community groups, youth groups and others to explore the issues of slavery. In August 2007, the project organised the March for Justice in Birmingham city centre, a recreation of the Quaker and philanthropist Joseph Sturge's march against slavery in August 1838. The day included an anti-slavery fashion show, a limbo performance, storytelling, African drumming, and a Slavery Question Time Special hosted by an actor representing Olaudah Equiano.
Hackney Museum's Abolition 07 exhibition told the story of British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, the resistance to it, and its abolition, and in particular emphasised the involvement of Hackney's residents in the abolition movement. The display included new artwork by Godfried Donkor in collaboration with young Hackney artists. A film of interviews with Hackney residents, Hear My Voice, was produced. Over 1200 children from Hackney Primary Schools took part in poetry workshops at the museum with poets Adisa and Baden Prince. Their poems and responses were published in the booklet 'And Still I Rise'.
The research into Hackney's connections to the transatlantic slave trade continued in 2013-2015 with 'Local Roots / Global Routes', a collaborative project between Hackney Museum and Archives and the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.
A programme of events from Wolverhampton City Council to mark the bicentenary, which included a public debate about whether the British government should apologise for the slave trade, services of remembrance and film screenings. Other highlights included stories from Wolverhampton City Archives about the city's role in sustaining the slave trade, and abolishing it, and a discussion and writing workshop with the black writer Fred D'Aguiar and members of Wolverhampton's Black Readers and Writers group. 'Our Ancestors, Our Heritage, Our Stories' was a showcase event highlighting the work of the African Caribbean Community Panel.
Squaring the Triangle was the theme of African History Month 2007 in Suffolk. The programme was co-ordinated by the Nia Project (a cultural, arts and heritage project) and explored the history and legacy of slavery through film, literature, exhibition, music and debate. The theme of Squaring the Triangle was underpinned by the African proverb, ‘Until the Lion tells his tale the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter’. Highlights included the Nia Memorial Lecture, given by the producer-director Pam Solomon-Fraser. Nubian Films short season looked at the current legacy of slavery and the Diaspora of African peoples. Talks, workshops and debates covered issues such as reparations, retribution, resistance, and educational guidelines for parents on how to discuss the African slave trade with children. Special recognition was given in the programme to Ghana’s 50th anniversary as an independent state. There were heritage walks around Ipswich to uncover some of the cultural connections with Africa, the Caribbean and Suffolk. A Youth Day Conference hosted by the Zimbabwe Youth brought together young people from the community to use music and poetry to explore their ideas on the legacy of the slave trade. Historian Maureen James and representatives from Suffolk County Council led pupils from local schools in researching the anti-slavery movements, with particular reference to the Clarkson family.
The world's oldest human rights organisation, Anti-Slavery International, led several initiatives in response to the bicentenary. The Fight for Freedom 1807-2007 Campaign, launched in 2005, called for measures to address the continuing legacies of the slave trade. The publication '1807-2007: Over 200 years of campaigning against slavery' looked back at the work of Anti-Slavery International and its predecessor organisations. The Spotlight on Slavery series of exhibitions and events included debates, lectures, film screenings and photography exhibitions. Anti-Slavery International also collaborated with a number of other organisations and projects in 2007, including Rendezvous of Victory and Set All Free, and contributed exhibition material to various exhibitions around the UK, including the Remembering Slavery exhibition at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.
Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance (GARA) organised a programme of events for Black History Month in October 2007 with a particular focus on the bicentenary and engaging people in the importance of Black history. GARA were supported by Glasgow City Council Education Services and Culture and Sport Glasgow. Events included talks at the Hunterian Museum, interactive exhibits at the Glasgow Science Centre and film showings, capoeira and African drumming workshops at the Glasgow Film Theatre. Sugar & Spice Sunday on 14 October marked the bicentenary with a festival of commemoration and celebration through films and events. GARA also hosted Black History Tours around Glasgow to explore the city's hidden slavery history.
A programme of events and activities for Black History Month 2007 from Yaa Asantewaa Arts and Community Centre had a particular focus on the bicentenary. The programme included theatre, youth projects and family days. Calypso Fuh So performed special Calypsos to mark the bicentenary, and YAA/Carnival Village organised a commemorative walk to remember ancestors who died in slavery, and the Black presence in Britain. Ritual Theatre Arts created a film celebrating thirty years of African dance in Britain and International Word Power featured performances of poetry, storytelling and song.
Leicester's Black History Season in October-November 2007 marked the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Its aim was to redress the balance from a 'Eurocentric point of view' of abolition, and focus on the Afrikan perspective with the theme of 'Souls of Black Folk'. Musical performances included gospel, Motown, reggae and jazz. Other events in venues across Leicester and Loughborough included traditional South African dance, contemporary dance, performance poetry, comedy, multimedia performances, storytelling, theatre and an exhibition, 'Africa's Gift', focusing on the economic and cultural contributions of the slaves and their descendants.
Curated by Predrag Pajdic, BOUND was an exhibition of works by international contemporary artists representing personal perspectives on the physical and psychological impact of slavery on humanity, in historical and modern contexts. BOUND incorporated archival material, conceptual work, photography, video, live art performance, interventions and installations. It was a partnership project between the Open Eye Gallery, FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) and Tate Liverpool. The exhibition opened at Open Eye Gallery and then ran at various venues across Liverpool. Associated events included open table discussions, talks and film screenings.
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 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'.
Changing Perspectives was a community-based initiative based around the experiences of twenty-five African and Caribbean families from the North-East, to explore how their life in the UK contrasts with the lives of their ancestors. The project created a multimedia archive of cultural responses to celebrate the heritage of these families. This included oral testimonies, creative writing, photography, digital storytelling and art, emerging from a variety of community-led workshops. A series of workshops were held at Durham University Library, Archives and Special Collections (pictured), including a session aimed at children and young people, which focused on the experiences of children in the slave trade via extracts from the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano. Project outputs included a book, an interactive website, an exhibition of words and pictures of the community, an oral testimony collection, and series of documentary films. A key aim of the project was to promote community cohesion and develop cross cultural awareness and understanding.
An exhibition at the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard explored the role of the Royal Navy squadron established after 1807 to patrol the West African coast and suppress the transatlantic slave trade. Using illustrations, contemporary accounts and original diaries of Royal Navy personnel, the exhibition examined key aspects of the campaign against Atlantic slave traders. It also looked at the Royal Navy's efforts against human trafficking and in the pursuance of humanitarian rights today. There was an accompanying programme of schools workshops and community events. Two specially produced films discussed the legacy of the squadron's work and recreated the abolition debates of the time.
A group of Bristol Film and Video Society members wrote Clarkson, a 40 minute drama based on the life of the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. The character study is set in Bristol in 1787, around the time that Clarkson was visiting English ports gathering evidence about the brutalities of the slave trade.
2007 saw a number of different projects taking place at Harewood House in West Yorkshire, home of the Lascelles family. The bicentenary was used as an opportunity to explore the family connections with the transatlantic slave trade and the sugar plantations of the West Indies.
The art installation Crop Over by British Afro-Caribbean artist Sonia Boyce was shown in the public galleries at Harewood House throughout 2007. Crop Over is a Barbadian festival which has evolved from a celebration by plantation slaves of the end of the sugar crop. Sonia Boyce's two-screen film visually depicts the traditions, histories and cultural practices of this festival, which culminates with a carnivalesque parade known as Kadooment. It also responds to the history of Harewood House. The Lascelles family association with Barbados began in the 17th century when Edward Lascelles and his son Daniel were based in Bridgetown, Barbados.
About the Collection
This collection documents the work of a community-based partnership between the Antislavery Usable Past project and Yole!Africa in Goma and Lubumbashi. The project is based on an archive of photography produced by the British missionary Alice Seeley Harris during her time in the Congo Free State in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The project has used the visual archive as a basis for working with young people to explore the history and legacies of colonialism during the time at which the Congo Free State was under the personal ownership of King Leopold II of Belgium.
Defining what the ‘antislavery usable past’ of these images is raises questions of power and representation. Who gets to decide? The writing of history is a powerful tool – who is included and excluded from the story, indeed, who gets to write it in the first place, is a reflection of the inequalities of the society within which that history is produced. Working with a colonial archive in Britain - a former centre of empire - raises issues about who gets to access history. For formerly colonised people their histories, or at least the portion of their histories relating to the colonial experience, are often found in the archives, museums, and art galleries of the former colonising power. Alice’s photographs, for example, eventually became part of the archive of the British and Foreign Antislavery Society, which subsequently became the present-day NGO Antislavery International. The archive is held at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. For people resident within the former spaces of empire, the physical impracticality of visiting the collection means a separation from the objects, documents, and images which represent their past.
This project offers a new way of working with colonial archives and in particular with the living communities whose past is present within these images of imperial exploitation. Working with these images within the communities that they represent is an important part of ceding control of the past. The aim is to make history useful and usable by telling the stories that matter to them. Returning photographs from Alice’s archive to the country in which it was produced allows Congolese people to decide for themselves what the usable past of the images might be. Developments in digitisation mean that an archive can be liberated from its physical location. With generous permission from Antislavery International, the Bodleian Library digitised the entire surviving collection of 509 photographs. Transformed from a rather unwieldy set of boxes into a hard drive, the collection gained the mobility necessary to work with partners in the Congo.
Through the critical and creative programme of education developed by Yole!Africa, Alice’s images have circulated among young people in Goma and Lubumbashi, who actively engage them when discussing their ideas about history, identity, and memory. Their powerful and insightful analysis of the images has given the photographs new meanings, which make them relevant for the present—not only in Congo, but also in former colonizing nations. Moreover, their artistic responses to the past demand that we reflect on the priorities motivating young people in formerly colonized countries and their critiques of contemporary society. Self-representation is central to the idea of freedom. Yole!Africa’s Executive Director Chérie Rivers Ndaliko has written about the power of self-representation stating that ‘When one’s story is one’s only possession of value, telling it becomes a matter of life and death… storytelling, more than taking arms, restores agency to those who have historically been the subject, indeed the collateral damage in this battle.’ With this in mind, we have actively sought the stories and opinions of those historically subjected to colonial domination, inviting them to amend historical records with their responses to colonial representations.
This collection contains a series of photographs which have been produced by young people in Goma and Lubumbashi in response to the original archive of Alice Seeley Harris images. They have been invited to recreate, contradict and recompose the images in relation to their own priorities. They explore themes of class, gender, race, sexuality, memory, labour, culture and history. These images formed part of an exhibition which took place at the Congo International Film Festival which was held at Yole!Africa in Goma in July 2018.
You can also view a film which has been created by Petna Katondolo Ndaliko which reflects on the relationship between history, memory and identity in relation to some of the issues raised by the Alice Seeley Harris archive and the histories it represents.
To access the original collection of photographs that this project engaged with you can search via the ‘Alternative Tag’ or you can click through the to ‘Alice Seeley Harris Archive’ and the ‘Congo Atrocity Lantern Lecture’.
A partner project was commissioned which explores similar issues in relation to the Congolese diaspora in London. You can access this material by clicking through to the collection ‘You Should Know Me: Photography and the Congolese Diaspora’.
The project has also collaborated closely with the Antislavery Knowledge Network, which is based at the University of Liverpool, and seeks community-led strategies for creative and heritage-based interventions in sub-Saharan Africa.
Copyright and takedown policy
Copyrights to all resources are retained by the Antislavery Usable Past project and Yole!Africa. The images and resources are available for educational and non-commercial use only. All efforts have been made to obtain copyright permission for materials featured on this site. If you are aware of instances where the rights holder(s) has not been given an appropriate credit, please let us know. If you hold the rights to any item(s) included in this resource and oppose to its use, please contact us to request its removal from the website.
This project would not have been possible without the tireless work, energy, and commitment (both financial and intellectual) of Yole!Africa and its Artistic Director Petna Katondolo Ndaliko and Executive Director Dr. Chérie Rivers Ndaliko. Their support and enthusiasm has seen this project through its various phases and better partners could not have been asked for. Student ambassador Bernadette Vivuya has helped as both a participant and an organiser and has been a vital part of the project. We would like to thank Carlee Forbes (University of North Carolina) for her expertise on Congolese pre-colonial art and her help with the workshop in Goma. Our thanks also to Sammy Baloji and the team at PICHA! Gallery in Lubumbashi. Thanks to Dr Robert Burroughs (Leeds Beckett University) for offering important perspectives on Congolese resistance. Further thanks go to the Antislavery Knowledge Network, based at the University of Liverpool.
Robert Burroughs, African testimony in the movement for Congo reform: The burden of proof (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018)
Marie Godin and Giorgia Doná, ‘“Refugee voices,” new social media and politics of representation: Young Congolese in the diaspora and beyond, Refuge, 32:1 (2016), pp. 60-71
Aubrey Graham, ‘One hundred years of suffering? “Humanitarian crisis photography” and self-representation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’, Social Dynamics, 40:1 (2014), pp. 140-63
Osumaka Likaka, Naming colonialism: History and collective memory in the Congo, 1870-1960 (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009)
Jane Lydon, ‘“Behold the tears”: Photography as colonial witness’, History of Photography, 34:3 (2010), pp. 234-50
Patrick Mudekereza and Allen F. Roberts, ‘Picha: The second Biennale of photography and video art Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo October 2010’, African Arts, 44:3 (2011), pp. 68-75
Chérie Rivers Ndaliko, Necessary noise: Music, film, and charitable imperialism in the East of Congo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)
Mark Sealy, ‘Decolonising the camera: Photography in racial time’ (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Durham, 2016)
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.
Drivers for Change was a project led by LifeLine Network, a network of partnerships between community organisations and NGOs with a common aim to fight poverty. In Summer 2007, a team of young people visited Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Dominica to explore the ways in which people were combating modern slavery. The trip was inspired by two significant points in history: the 1807 Abolition Act, and the half way point of the Millennium Development Goals, for which 189 nations signed up to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty. While in Africa, the group looked at how global partnerships between individuals bring communities together, and assist in countering the impact of poverty and HIV/AIDS. A film was produced documenting the trip, launched at an event was held at the Palace of Westminster.