Bristol Visual Arts Explore Slavery Past And Present

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 10 August 2007
film still of a group of men in head scarfs riding on a truck in the desert

Ursula Biemann, Sahara Chronicle (2007), part of the Arnolfini's Port City. Courtesy Bristol Visual Arts

Bristol’s leading visual arts institutions have come together to produce a range of projects as part of commemorations to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the international slave trade on British ships.

A wide variety of events, exhibitions and workshops are planned to start in September 2007, exploring the contentious role that Bristol played in the slave trade and also looking at contemporary issues of human trafficking and exploitation.

Bristol, along with other major ports like Liverpool and Hull, played a key role in the transatlantic slave trade that helped fuel the expansion of the British Empire for some 250 years.

Arnolfini is running Port City, an international touring project, which addresses issues of global migration, trade and contemporary slavery.

It includes Seeds of Change, a project by Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves who has successfully germinated seeds, some of which have lain dormant for hundreds of years, which were previously contained within soil ballast used on slave ships.

film still of of young man on a sea shore waving a large flag with three horizontal bands - blue at the top, white in the middle and red at the bottom

Grzegorz Klaman, Flag for Democracy (2005). Courtesy Bristol Visual Arts

Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery is showing the multi-media installation Le Bouche du Roi by Benin-based artist Romuald Hazoumé, named after the port in Benin from which many slaves were transported. Haunting sounds and evocative smells emanate from the piece which consists of 304 ‘masks’ made of black plastic petrol cans to represent enslaved Africans.

Through the Lens Darkly: Black Cinema and Slavery is running at the Watershed, focusing on how black filmmakers have reclaimed slavery as a topic for exploration while The Architecture Centre will work with young people to look at the impact of Bristol’s slavery-fuelled sugar trade on the city’s built environment.

Picture This is using re-enactment to respond to Bristol’s slave trade legacy and Spike Island will be working with young people to address issues of over-representation of black and minority ethnic young people in the criminal justice system.

The events and exhibitions have been produced to complement Bristol’s official Abolition 200 commemorations.

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