Godfried Donkor's Lace And Slavery At The Yard Gallery Nottingham

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 08 January 2008
a montaged picture with a central figure in a celestial sky surrounded by angels

© Godfried Donkor

Exhibition Preview: Lace & Slavery at the Yard Gallery, Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, January 11 – February 10 2008

The history of lace, adding its luxurious touch to garments for centuries, is tied to something that is far from its refined, light and pretty nature. A new exhibition and series of events presented by Nottingham’s New Art Exchange and the Centre for Contemporary Art looks at the links between the city’s past lace-making industry and its raw material producing partner across the Atlantic, slavery.

The exhibition element, Once Upon a Time in the West There Was Lace, has been created by British-Ghanaian artist Godfried Donkor, following a period of research in 2007 – the bicentenary year of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.

The siting of his artwork highlighting the contrast between genteel lace and the horrors of slavery at Nottingham’s Wollaton Hall is quite apt. The Elizabethan manor is also home to the Industrial Museum, which holds lace-making machinery that could well have been working cotton picked by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean or American South.

a photomontage featuring a woman in a bikini a print of amn old sailing ship and inventory print outs

© Godfried Donkor

The key part of the display are outfits created from brightly coloured lace, which in a turning of the tables is now a prized material in West Africa and is produced in Europe. Including hoodies, corsets and a customised version of the dress work by Goya’s celebrated Duchess of Alba (1797), the works collide African, Imperial, Nottingham, and Dance Hall cultural motifs. The effect is to evoke the way in which the traumatic journey across the Atlantic has also been part of the journey into the present, and links modern behaviour to the past.

Donkor has also create paintings on pages of the Financial Times, reflecting similar themes. Incorporated into the paintings are symbols of Freemasonry, inspired by Wollaton’s past connections to the secretive society.

Alongside the exhibition runs a programme of public events including a free symposium, ‘Histories of Slavery’ (January 11), and lectures (January 11 and 18 and February 8), at Broadway Media Centre on January 11 (free, email jennie@ccan.org.uk to book). See www.laceslavery.org.uk for full details.

The New Arts Exchange and the Centre for Contemporary Art Nottingham are two major new visual art centres currently under construction. The New Art Exchange is due to open in 2008, providing a cultural hub for African, African Caribbean and South Asian Artists from the UK. The £14m Centre for Contemporary Art will be one of the UK’s largest spaces for contemporary art.

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