Human Cargo was a partnership project between Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter. The project consisted of two main components. The first was a historical exhibition, which explored the development of the transatlantic slave trade and, in particular, the role of Plymouth as a port, the involvement of the City's dignitaries and the South West's links with the abolition movement. The second part was a contemporary art response to modern forms of slavery and historical legacies, including the flower picking trade, sweatshop labour and the Fair Trade Movement. This work was newly commissioned and included audio visual pieces, installations, hand-printed wallpaper and participatory objects. A variety of events and activities took place alongside the exhibition including education workshops, performances, African music and storytelling activities, and Elizabethan House re-enactment sessions.
'Freedom and Culture' was a year-long nationwide programme to mark the bicentenary, conceived by Baroness Lola Young of Cultural Brokers (London) and Dr Nima Poowaya-Smith of Alchemy (based in Leeds). In partnership with artists, activists and cultural commentators, the programme explored the dimensions of oppression and freedom around the bicentenary, culminating in a weekend 'celebrating creativity and the African Diaspora' at the Southbank Centre in November 2007. One of several exhibitions that took place as part of the initiative was ‘Crossing the Waters’ at Cartwright Hall in Bradford, which took its central metaphor from the transatlantic slave trade. Almost all the works shown – from Sonia Boyce, Yinka Shonibare and others – were drawn from the permanent collections of Bradford Museums, Galleries and Heritage. The exhibition later toured to the City Gallery, Leicester in 2008.
In the north of India, there lies a small city called Siliguri at the foothills of the Himalayas. While this region boasts stunning scenery and a rich mix of cultures, it is also known for something much more sinister: the epicenter of South Asia’s human trafficking crisis. Often lured by false promises of job prospects, thousands of women and girls a year are taken from here or brought from nearby countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar by international criminal organizations, who then force them into prostitution in brothels across the country. Others end up in forced labour as domestic workers, while men and boys are enslaved in agricultural work. To raise awareness for this critical issue, the artist Joel Bergner (Joel Artista) partnered with four local Bengali artists, Anindya, Saptarshi, Santanu and Binod, to create a public mural as part of the International Anti-Human Trafficking Conclave.
The main image in the mural is inspired by a self-portrait photograph by Sangeeta, a young woman from this area who is a survivor of trafficking. In her photograph, she chose to portray herself with a hand grabbing her ankle while she reaches out to another hand for support. The artists then painted her sari filled with depictions of the stories of modern slavery. The mural, painted in a highly visible wall in the entrance to a shopping centre, plays an important role in educating the public about human trafficking. It aims to help residents to recognise it when it happens in their community, know who to inform, be wary of job offers from strangers, and support returning survivors, as they often face intense social stigma. This project was organized through the Indian anti-trafficking NGO Shakti Vahini, the Meridian International Center and the US Consulate in Kolkata. The conclave closed with a dance group of trafficking survivors performing in front of the mural along with other local performers, and speeches by dignitaries.
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.
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 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.
Lancaster was the UK's fourth largest slaving port at the height of the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century. Lancashire Museums worked with a range of partners to raise awareness of this largely hidden history - first from 2002 through STAMP (the Slave Trade Arts Memorial Project), and in 2007 through Abolished? This bicentenary project consisted of exhibitions, creative writing, radio broadcasts, and schools projects, one of which produced a Slavery Town Trail that explored some of the buildings made possible by the wealth the slave trade brought to Lancaster. At the heart of the project were commissioned installations and interventions by artists Lubaina Himid ('Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service' at the Judge's Lodgings) and Sue Flowers ('One Tenth' at Lancaster Maritime Museum). Both were accompanied by outreach programmes and workshops with local schools. A touring exhibition was produced in partnership with Anti-Slavery International and Lancashire County Council Youth and Community, which looked at transatlantic slavery and modern day slavery. The exhibition toured throughout Lancashire.
FWords was a creative response of eight Yorkshire writers and artists to the commemoration of the Abolition Act, in a project led by Peepal Tree Press in Leeds. Focusing on the many variations of the theme of 'Freedom', Fwords was created to raise the profile of Yorkshire's rich heritage of talented artists, descendants of those who migrated, forcefully and otherwise from Africa and beyond. The work of six writers was illustrated with work from two visual artists, and with a foreword from Caryl Phillips. The project was supported by printed materials, broadcasts, digital and dedicated web pages.
Nottingham Castle Museum held two exhibitions in 2007. Inspired by the anti-slavery medallion produced by Josiah Wedgwood in the 1790s, a group of young people from Nottingham’s African Caribbean community worked with artist Katherine Morling to explore issues surrounding slavery and the representation of black people in art. The group worked under the name Sankofa. The ceramic Globe of Freedom was fired at the Wedgwood factory in Staffordshire, and was displayed at Nottingham Castle Museum alongside the Wedgwood medallion. The word ‘FREEDOM’ is impressed on one side and ‘EQUALITY’ impressed on the other. A replica sculpture is still used as part of a handling collection loaned to schools and community groups in the Nottingham region. A second exhibition, in collaboration with the Open University in the East Midlands, looked at the British slave trade using slave narratives, telling the story of three survivors of slavery: Mary Prince, Robert Wedderburn and Quobna Ottobah Cugoano.
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.
As part of the Wilberforce 2007 programme, ArtLink Exchange, a community arts organisation in Hull, worked with local schoolchildren to produce an exhibition of artwork inspired by the bicentenary. This included artwork created by pupils from Sir Henry Cooper School and Endeavour High with artist Isaac Acheampong.
Bluecoat Display Centre is a contemporary craft and design gallery in Liverpool. The 200 Years: Slavery Now exhibition aimed to draw attention to modern slavery, both within the UK and in the wider international context. It brought together ten artists whose work reflected these concerns, and who were committed to highlighting the existence of slavery today through the creation of artefacts and the development of personal narratives. Materials used included ceramics, mixed media installations and textiles. Some of the themes covered included the exploitation of migrant workers, sex trafficking, 'sweat shop' mass production, and commemorating the Middle Passage and the workers of Manchester's cotton mills. The exhibition was curated by Professor Stephen Dixon, with the support of the Craft and Design Research Centre, MIRIAD, at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The Abolition of Slavery Quilt was created to commemorate the bicentenary by the Freedom Quilters of Wisbech, a community group with an interest in patchwork and quilting. The quilt is made of several panels, one of which depicts the Thomas Clarkson memorial in Wisbech town centre; other panels stress the link between Christianity and the abolition of the slave trade. It was displayed at Wisbech Baptist Church at the Annual Rose Fair in July 2007. The Rose Fair Flower Festival raises money for charity, and in 2007 had a theme of 'Heroes of Freedom'. The quilt was also loaned to Peckover House, a National Trust property in Wisbech. It remains on display at Wisbech Baptist Church.
The Quaker Quilters of Norwich Quaker Meeting held the Slave Quilts Exhibition at the Friends Meeting House in Norwich in May 2007. By the 1860s in the United States there were organised flights to freedom for enslaved people from the southern plantations via the Underground Railroad – a network of paths leading to the North and Canada. The ‘safe houses’ where assistance was offered on the way were often the homes of Quakers. This exhibition looked to reproduce some of the secret codes said to be hidden within the symbols and patterns featured in quilts made by slaves, to pass on directions to those looking to escape.
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.
This exhibition explored the links between industry in the West Midlands and the commercial gains of slavery. Wolverhampton's role as a manufacturer of iron was crucial to the economy of slavery, as implements of restraint and punishment were needed to repress those who fought their enslavement. The exhibition emerged from a collaboration between photographer Vanley Burke and blacksmith Lofty Wright. They re-created 40 cast iron instruments used in the slave trade: forked wooden yokes that controlled captives; irons, muzzles and braces that were used to constrain and as punishment. Each of the metal items was symbolically coated in sugar.
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.
Commissioned by The New Art Gallery Walsall, Unquenchable Spirit was an installation piece, informed by community engagement activities with local people, which included a month long artist residency by the artist Pauline Bailey. The community collaboration project included the local support group ACSERG (African Caribbean Social and Economic Regeneration Group). The piece consists of a circle of whipping posts with neck chains and the names of African tribes on piles of cotton sacks in the centre.
The Parallel Views exhibition and its associated community engagement programme explored the relevance of the bicentenary for communities in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, uncovering local associations with slavery and its abolition. It also told the parallel story of twin town Richmond, Virginia, USA, to broaden understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and the impact of its demise. The exhibition examined evidence of individuals of African origin who had come to Richmond, and residents with financial links to slavery and the slave trade, and to abolitionism. A film piece by choreographer and dance historian Dr Rodreguez King-Dorset explored the use of dance within the free Black community in London during the era of abolition. A display of contemporary artwork responded to the ideas of the exhibition. A sculpture by carnival artist Carl Gabriel linked consumers in Richmond and the conditions of production of slave-grown crops. The design was inspired by a series of workshops with local families. Artist-led workshops for children and young people led to the creation of a carnival costume piece which was included in the exhibition.
Dark Heritage from Bee Arts Community Interest Company comprised The DARK, a sonic art installation, and accompanying participatory educational activities. The DARK touring installation is a pitch black space designed to bring home the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century. The three dimensional soundscape uses ghosts as metaphors for the hidden aspects of the past, based on the Liverpudlian slave-ship worker Edward Rushton, slave ship Captain John Newton, and Kunie, an African man who met Rushton aboard an American ship. A programme of public sessions and creative educational workshops aimed at schools, colleges, youth and community groups were produced in collaboration with Kingswood Primary School in Lambeth. Dark Heritage travelled to six locations in the UK in 2007-08 starting in Greenwich, travelling to Ipswich, Gloucester, University of Hertfordshire, Norwich and finishing in Manchester.