Remembering Slavery 2007 was a regional initiative involving museums, galleries and other cultural organisations across the North East of England in a programme of exhibitions, events, performances, lectures and activities to explore the themes of slavery and abolition, in both historical and modern contexts. The project sought to connect the North East with the slave trade, the plantation economies of the Americas, and the social and political movements for abolition.
Featured here are the 'What's On' guides detailing various initiatives across the region in 2007, plus a selection of postcards from the project.
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.
The Gas Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was host to a biographical exhibition of the life and adventures of Olaudah Equiano, a leading African figure in the British abolition movement in the 18th century. The project was led by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Equiano Society. The national exhibition was inspired by Equiano's autobiography 'The Interesting Narrative' (1789), by international and national artworks, and objects from Birmingham museums’ collections. It provided a narrative of Equiano’s life, and also explored wider local links between the West Midlands and the transatlantic slave trade. The Equiano Project also created a website, educational packages (available to buy via the project website), and a series of events and outreach activities. The exhibition publication 'Equiano - Enslavement, Resistance and Abolition' was edited by Arthur Torrington, Rita McLean, Victoria Osborne and Ian Grosvenor, and provided new insights into enslavement, resistance, abolition, and the African presence in Britain in the 18th century. Two touring exhibitions were loaned to community centres, libraries and other venues, including Walsall Museum, Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association and the Hudawi Cultural Centre in Huddersfield.
'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.
Remembering Slavery 2007 involved museums, galleries and other cultural organisations across the North East of England in a programme of exhibitions, events, performances, lectures and activities to explore the themes of slavery and abolition, and identify connections with the region.
The Remembering Slavery exhibition focused on objects, paintings, documents and other historical material relating to the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy. The exhibition and associated programme of activities opened at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle and then toured to South Shields Museum and Art Gallery; Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens; and the Laing Art Gallery. Whilst at the Discovery Museum, the historical exhibition was accompanied by a photographic exhibition, ‘Human Traffic’, produced by Anti-Slavery International, documenting the trafficking of children in Benin and Gabon in West Africa. Whilst at the Laing Art Gallery, the exhibition was shown alongside ‘La Bouche du Roi’ by Romauld Hazoumé, a contemporary installation based on the ‘Brookes’ slave ship.
A collaborative project between Barnsley Archives and Local Studies, the Cooper Gallery and Cannon Hall exploring local connections to the slave trade. Cannon Hall is the ancestral home of the Spencer Family, who made their fortune in the local iron industry. In the mid-18th century, Benjamin Spencer became involved in the slave trade, and owned a slave ship called ‘Cannon Hall’; in contrast, Walter Spencer-Stanhope, who inherited the hall in 1775, supported the abolitionist movement. Pupils from local primary schools explored the hall’s connections to the slave trade and abolitionism, and produced artwork in response to the hidden histories, some of which were exhibited in the Cooper Gallery’s exhibition, ‘Witness’.
The ‘Hidden Stories’ project also explored the Crossley Family archive held by Barnsley Archives and Local Studies (Benjamin Crossley owned a sugar plantation in Jamaica). Barnsley Archives worked with the Barnsley Black and Ethnic Minority Initiative on a project to encourage black and minority ethnic groups in the Barnsley area to discover more about their roots. Other partners included Barnsley Out of School Study Support Network, Foulstone City Learning Centre and Just Addictive Music.
The Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery project sought to uncover the North West's involvement in the slave trade (and the consequent social and economic effects of this involvement) and the region's contribution to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and colonial slavery. Eight museums and galleries across Greater Manchester collaborated to commemorate the lasting legacies of the transatlantic slave trade. The participating venues were: Bolton Museum and Archive Service; Gallery Oldham; Manchester Art Gallery; The Manchester Museum; Museum of Science and Industry; People's History Museum; Touchstones Rochdale; and Whitworth Art Gallery. A collaborative website and a programme of exhibitions, trails, performances, films and events took a new look at the collections of these museums and galleries and the buildings in which they are housed, revealing hidden histories of the region's involvement in the slave trade. The project also examined slavery's contemporary legacy and relevance.
The Gloucestershire Set All Free initiative was organised by Churches Together in Gloucester and other organisations to mark the bicentenary. An Events Guide set out some of the events, lectures, film screenings, music festivals and exhibitions taking place in Gloucestershire to remember the horrors of transatlantic slavery, while also making clear the imperative to take action to end modern forms of slavery. There were bicentenary related activities at Gloucester City Museum and Art Gallery and Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. There were also a number of events at Gloucester Cathedral and local churches, including St Mary's in Wotton-under-Edge. Two exhibitions focused on contemporary slavery were organised by the Anti-Slavery International League. The Guide also includes details of various festivals with a focus on the bicentenary, including the 1 World Festival Freedom 07, the Gloucester International Rhythm and Blues Festival and Cheltenham Music and Literature Festivals.
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 Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery project, Manchester Art Gallery highlighted items in its collection of fine art and decorative objects which revealed the wealth generated by the region's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and the public's consumption of sugar, tea, coffee and tobacco. Additional special events included Tina Tamsho-Thomas performing poetry commissioned in response to the objects connected to sugar. In the exhibition 'Manchester Attitude', local community groups created a new display to express their thoughts about the legacy of Manchester's involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. Examples of these community-led artworks include 'Injustice' (with artists Colette Gilmartin and Tony Curry) and 'Simply Read' (with artist Nathan Carter), available to view on Manchester Art Gallery's website.
Liverpool hosted a city-wide programme of activities and projects to commemorate the bicentenary, as part of events to mark the city's 800th birthday. The events aimed to celebrate the African Diaspora and support works by artists of African descent. They included: LEAP, an annual contemporary dance festival featuring African dance companies; a performance of Mighty Diamonds - Reggae Legends at the Philharmonic Hall; the Roscoe Lectures; the Brouhaha International Carnival, celebrating resistance, rebellion and abolition; the Africa Oyé Music Festival at Sefton Park; the Bound exhibition at Open Eye Gallery, showing works representing personal perspectives on the physical and psychological impact of slavery on humanity; and many other lectures and debates. There was also a slavery trail around the city.
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.
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 Bitter Aftertaste project included a range of schools’ workshops, an inter-generational outreach project, and a web-resource exploring the material culture and legacies of the transatlantic slave trade in art and society today. There were also two related exhibitions. For 'From Courage to Freedom', the gallery commissioned three leading visual artists from West Africa - El Anatsui, Romuald Hazoumè and Owusu-Ankomah - to create works to mark the bicentenary. 'Voyages' saw works by four artists - Julien Sinzogan, Tapfuma Gutsa, Pierrot Barra and Gérard Quenum - reflecting on the notion of voyages, in particular the movement of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Middle Passage.
In 2007 Westminster City Council supported a programme of events in the libraries, galleries and archives of the area, including films, walks and exhibitions, designed to provide opportunities to learn about the culture of Westminster's communities. Highlights included guided heritage walks with historian S. I. Martin, exhibitions of images from the Royal Geographical Society in Paddington Library, Maida Vale Library and Westminster Reference Library, and film screenings (in partnership with 100 Black Men of London). A partnership between the City of Westminster Archives Centre, Tate Britain, Parliamentary Archives, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery produced a heritage trail 'On the Road to Abolition: Ending the British Slave Trade', which takes in key sites, events and individuals in Westminster relating to the slave trade, between Trafalgar Square and Pimlico. In celebration of Black History Month, Westminster City Council produced a booklet, 'Black History in Westminster', detailing some of the borough's influential Black residents.
Scratch the Surface at the National Gallery brought together two portraits, Johann Zoffany's 'Mrs Oswald' (1763-4) and Sir Joshua Reynolds's 'Colonel Tarleton' (1782), to explore the complex relationship between these sitters and slavery. Colonel Tarleton, as MP for Liverpool in the 1790s, argued in Parliament against the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Mrs Oswald, along with her husband Richard Oswald, owed part of their wealth to a number of plantations in the Americas. The artist Yinka Shonibare was invited to create a new installation in response to these two portraits, which was also on display. A varied programme of events and activities accompanied the exhibition, including tours, talks, workshops and films.
The National Portrait Gallery created a new gallery trail to mark the bicentenary, written by Dr Caroline Bressey. The trail highlighted portraits of key individuals, ranging from Elizabeth I to William Wilberforce, linked to the slave trade and its abolition. Portraits included those who invested in the trade, or who owned slaves and supported slavery, as well as images of enslaved people themselves and of people who were prominent in the movement to abolish the trade. The trail ended with a series of contemporary portraits of individuals involved in preventing slavery today. A week of talks, music, film and family activities included a discussion of the painting 'The Anti-Slavery Convention, 1840' by Benjamin Robert Haydon.
A special display at Tate Britain to mark the bicentenary focused on William Blake and the circle of radical writers and artists associated with the publisher Joseph Johnson in the 1790s and 1800s. Blake's poetry and art protested against mental, physical and economic enslavement and inspired generations of artists, writers and political dissenters. The display was accompanied by a variety of events, including talks, performances and music for adults, families and young people and schools.
The industrialist Sir Henry Tate was the early benefactor of the Tate Collection, rooted in the art of the 18th and 19th centuries. Tate's fortune - much of which was spent on philanthropic initiatives in Britain - was founded on the importation and refining of sugar, a commodity inextricably linked to slave labour in the Caribbean. There were a number of initiatives across the Tate galleries to explore these connections. 'Tracks of Slavery' at Tate Britain displayed a selection of images from the Tate's collections which provided a commentary on the relationship of British society with slavery. Displays at Tate Modern included a selection of new acquisitions linked by their treatment of issues arising from slavery and oppression. Tate Liverpool exhibited paintings by Ellen Gallagher. Special events included Freedom Songs at Tate Britain (workshops to create poetry and music by exploring themes of slavery and freedom) and a discussion at Tate St Ives looking at the links between Cornish maritime traditions, the slave trade and the Caribbean.
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.