Large-Scale Installation at the FNB JoburgArtFair 2018: Sue Williamson’s Messages from the Atlantic Passage
Sue Williamson’s Messages from the Atlantic Passage took the 2017 visitors of Art Basel, Switzerland by storm with its powerful narrative of the movements of slaves across the Atlantic ocean. It is critical that this work is also viewed and spoken about on the African continent and it is for this reason that this installation will be presented at this year’s FNB JoburgArtFair.
Detail: Sue Williamson “Messages from the Atlantic Passage”
Messages from the Atlantic Passage is a large-scale installation based on the accumulated records from both sides of the Atlantic of the late history of slavery in the 19th century. This new work is an extension of Sue Williamson’s acclaimed Messages from Moat (1997), first exhibited on Okwui Enwenzer’s 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, which listed the slaves brought to the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company between 1658 and 1762.
Three rope fishing nets suspended from the ceiling are filled with glass bottles containing traces of earth. Each net, and the water filled tank below it, represents one specific voyage from a West African country across the Atlantic. Records exist for more than 36 000 such voyages. Each bottle is hand engraved with information about one of the slaves on that voyage: their African name, the new ‘Christian’ name given by the slaver, the country of origin, and the age, sex and height of the person. Beneath each net is a tank representing the hold of a ship making the voyage, an on a wooden edging surrounding the tank the name of the ship and other details will be painted. Chains of linked bottles hang from the nets into the tanks, and water slowly drips from the nets into the tanks. According to the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade Database, between 1525 and 1866 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the new world. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.