Naval passages inspire as Landfall visits the Museum of London Docklands

By Ed Sexton | 23 February 2009
picture of an embroidery

Man from Photo Booth, embroidery on textile. Beth Secor (2007)

Exhibition: Landfall, Museum of London Docklands, until May 31 2009

Landfall uses the image of the Atlantic Ocean as the transporter of dreams and people as the joint inspiration for the contributing artists. Landfall is defined as "the point of arrival, the first landfall reached after a long journey" and acts as a point of departure for the artists involved.

The exhibition draws heavily on the experiences of those who travelled across the Atlantic as part of the triangle trade of slavery and explores what happened to certain communities following the end of the slave trade.

To create her embroidery pieces, artist Beth Secor used photos of her family and a collection of photos given to her and the pieces reflect an individual and shared history. Up close, you see the rich textures of the fabric, beautiful colours and the detailed work put into each embroidery. As you move away the pictures become clearer - some have a haunting sadness about their features and others have a joy that emerges from the densely detailed pieces.

“In order to reach these shores, both our families crossed the Atlantic Ocean in ships," explains Beth. "Most of my family bought tickets…Ada’s family were kidnapped from their homes…the thread and fabric I used in these pieces were all made of cotton. Cotton was grown on plantations and picked by slaves. Poor blacks still picked cotton in the town where I grew up. The fabric that I stretched the embroidered pieces onto was also made from cotton."

picture of a collage

Southern Vogue, collage on board, 2008 Godfried Donkor

In stepping back from the Secor’s work, you have to navigate around a series of ceramic cast paper boats designed by contributor and exhibition curator Ingrid Pollard. The fragility of these pieces reflects the perilous journey facing those trapped in the transatlantic slave trade where they were powered by trade winds and buffeted by the ocean.

Landfall engages its audience through a variety of mediums including Dreamwinds, a piece from the internationally-renowned composer Dominique Le Gendre. A series of young people are asked questions about their dreams for the future at the beginning of the piece which may not have been a possibility to their ancestors.

The piece of music has a feeling of rise and fall, creating the sensation of riding the waves, and the changes between major and minor give the feeling of differing conditions and emotions.

Ideas of identity and image are further explored by Godfried Donkor, whose Southern Vogue pieces explore the image of beauty in the south.

“I wanted to explore the notion of beauty in the South," says Donkor. "For me the South has always been fascinating…I see that as the most kind of ‘African’ American place in the USA.”

a picture of a man playing a saxophone and another of a road sign

Untitled, Faisal Abdu'Allah

Pieces by Jamal Cyrus and Dorothea Smartt explore ideas of escape and entrapment. Smartt, the first poet in residence at Brixton Market, uses both poetry and video imagery to capture the emotions surrounding the idea of landfall. Her poem is based around Sambos Grave - one of the main slave trading ports, at Sunderland Point in Lancaster - and the character of Bilal, who dies there.

“The poems take him to the Caribbean and through the gulf water and eventually up to the North Atlantic to Sunderland point," she explains. "The images with the poetry video are of Sunderland Point, his last point of arrival, the last place that he touched down from a ship, and metaphorically the place that his spirit departed from.”

Cyrus's pieces have a high impact - particularly a wax on board pieces that reads "get yo ass in this water and swim like me!"

"Through my work I plan escapes and attempt to find my way home, retracing the steps of my progenitors while simultaneously paying homage to the survival cultures they created in opposition and through necessity," he says, discussing the motivation behind his pieces.

Faisal Adu’Allah collected his material during his residency at Project Row Houses project and took images of a structures and events.

“The time there was a jigsaw, a series of disparate moments split through distance," he reflects. "In Louisiana I took images of structures and images of events. The structure is a structure of no hope; the event is an event of hope. In Houston I took images of sites of significance, of historical references to the residents there.”

Although not huge in size, it is worth taking the time to watch the individual installations in Landfall and the variety of work on display certainly adds to the engaging nature of this exhibition.

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