Slavery: “Manifesto”, an artistic and digital project to talk about the legacy of trafficking in Europe

The issue of slavery and transatlantic colonization is treated for the first time from a European and not just a national point of view, with the “Manifesto”. This project has two parts: the creation of a digital resource center and an artistic journey in Hungary, Portugal and Denmark.

While the Netherlands has just issued an official apology for its role in the slave trade, five other countries are preparing to address the issue: Hungary, Belgium, France, Portugal and Denmark.

Here, it is not a question of doing events individually, but of setting up a joint project called “Manifesto – New Artistic Perspectives on Memories of the Transatlantic Slave Trade“.

Co-financed by the European Commission, this creation is supported by organizations and artistic centers in the five countries, including the Nantes association Les Anneaux de la mémoire.

Barbara Chiron, the association’s project coordinator, recalls the origins of the Manifesto going back to the movement Black Lives Matter :”The project was born from the desire to speak from a European perspective. We often talk about the French, English, Dutch point of view… In fact, all of Europe was involved in this story..”

This story is that of “the deportation of African captives“, to “colonization“, to “economic effects of trafficking“which spanned from the 16th to the 19th century, she recalls.”Europe was built on this violent history.”

The Manifesto therefore aims to work on this legacy and is divided into two parts:

  • A digital platform
  • An artistic journey

Launched in early December 2022, digital platform, who manage Rings of Remembrance, should report on this story. “We cannot be exhaustive“, the coordinator immediately warns.

But the aim is to give as much key information as possible, with concrete examples: a portrait of a shipowner, the progress of a trading voyage, the craze for cotton, coffee, cocoa, the construction of the idea of ​​race. .“, it lists. The digital resources will be released gradually and should all be online in May 2024.

At the same time, teams of two to three artists will produce, during artist residencies in 2023 and the first half of 2024, 12 works it is intended to be presented in September 2024 at a major exhibition in Nantes.

These artists are currently being selected. They are 227 in total, from 27 countries and overseas territory, have applied to participate in the “Manifest”. Among the few Caribbeans who have proposed ideas is David Gumbs, a Saint-Martinois who lives in Martinique.

Winner of two national awards this year – the New Worlds Award and the Capture & Diffusion Award – he is more used to collaborating with the English-speaking Caribbean, China and several museums in the United States.

He notes that the fact that this call is European “it gives more breadth and more strength to the project than if it were merely national“.”Maybe it could be the starting point to inspire other countries and open up this topic, which is taboo in France anyway“, he adds.

The West Indian artist recalls that when he lived in Paris, he faced ambiguous situations because he “support[t] Black“:”It was inappropriate to talk at the table about the colonial past or the racism I experienced on the subway, I was told all the time ‘we have to get over it’. However, the facts, the reality were there.

Specializing in interactive videos and immersive installations, David Gumbs is however first attracted by the form of the project – the possibility of realizing virtual reality – more than the content. The history of the slave trade is not really a topic he usually discusses.

I am not politically positioned, I am not one of those who will pretendexplains the artist, who also teaches at the Beaux-Arts in Fort-de-France. I’m more on the side of people making people dream, with visual content.“An aesthetic that can be seen in this video

But the fact of confronting this subject has “put in a situation of reflection“:”It’s a way of getting out of my comfort zone to deal with a subject that affects me directly because I live in the West Indies..”

My project is less about talking about history than about the consequences of the slave trade in our regions or the still very present dominance of former settlers in our territories..”

Without wanting to talk too much about his artistic creation, David Gumbs wishes “create an imagination about the consequences, such as chlordecone contamination“, through an immersive chamber and hybrid creatures.

Participating in Manifesto would also be an opportunity for him to show that the Outer Territories exist artistically: “We have quality creative work.

Will he be one of the featured artists? We should know the answer by the end of the month. The artist residencies will then take place in Budapest (Hungary) in July 2023, in Lisbon (Portugal) in October 2023 and in Copenhagen (Denmark) in late 2023.

If Portugal and Denmark have a direct connection to this history because they participated in the so-called slave trade, this is not the case of Hungary. Why a residence there?

They did not arm the shipsknows Barbara Chiron of Rings of Remembrance. But they benefited from the rebound effects of the slave trade, with the circulation and consumption of products from the colonies“So the goal is”to talk about places we don’t usually talk about“.

But it is also to show that from one society to another, the story will not generate the same reactions. She cites two examples:In Portugal, the enslaved people stayed, mixed together, the history is deeply rooted. Whereas in mainland France, the story is less personalized.” David Gumbs had the sad experience of this.

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