The World Reimagined builds a bridge to complex stories
What do you know about the transatlantic slave trade? It’s a huge piece of British history that a lot of people don’t seem to really understand, and that needs to change.
A new project, The World Reimagined, aims to set the record straight on “the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans and its impact on us all”. Founded by Dennis Marcus and actor-singer Michelle Gayle, the initiative uses art to communicate its message: it installs more than 100 globes across the country, each bearing commentary from artists and creatives on both the slave trade, as well as their past. , present and future relations with Great Britain.
The aim is to create a knowledge base on the transatlantic slave trade in the UK. Although this historic event intersects with the family histories of many black Britons and forms part of the national school curriculum, there are no specific guidelines on what is taught, meaning it can vary widely from school to school. ‘other. The result is that there is no national consensus on what happened, and no unified understanding of Britain’s role.
Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye, Artistic Director of The World Reimagined and Global Head of Research at Adjaye Associates
“We asked ourselves what we could do to make this more public and more talked about,” says Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye, art director of The World Reimagined and global head of research at Adjaye Associates. “Dennis and Michelle felt it would allow for a more open understanding and hopefully move us towards racial justice, in a way that was really concrete and really communicated what it means to be British from many angles.”
Encompassing art, education, community action and awareness, The World Reimagined brings facts, stories, ideas and feelings around slavery and human trafficking from Africa to the Caribbean through British slave traders. Ambassadors from all walks of life talk about the transatlantic slave trade, the diaspora it created, and the direction we are headed now. Among them are social entrepreneur Lee Lawrence, TV presenter and producer Floella Benjamin, news anchor Gillian Joseph and actor Joseph Marcell.
Inspired by nine themes – including ‘Mother Africa’, ‘The Reality of Being Enslaved’, ‘Stolen Legacy: Rebirth of a Nation’, ‘Still We Rise’, and ‘Reimagine the Future’ – the public art component is expected to be one of its most captivating aspects. Installed in the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London and Swansea, over 100 globes by different artists are installed in a national sculpture trail linked to stories and facts about the slave trade and its impact.
The World Reimagined founding artist, Yinka Shonibare, who conceptualized the idea of a reimagined world visualized as a globe
Yinka Shonibare conceptualized the idea of a reimagined world visualized as a globe. He believes that art is the perfect medium to communicate about this complex and emotional subject. “With art you can explore a multiplicity of dimensions – it takes into account culture, history, debate,” says Shonibare. “And I think it’s a great platform to engage the audience as well, because people tend to pay more attention than they would if you had just said something. So, it seems to me that it is the perfect vehicle to express an important question like this.
More than 100 creatives were selected through a call for applications opened in December 2021. Five Caribbean artists were also selected by curatorial agency Sour Grass. Taking as a basis the globe motif created by Shonibare, each artist designed his globe in accordance with his practice. After the three-month display, the globes will be auctioned off at Bonhams later this year, with all proceeds going to The World Reimagined and paying the artists who brought the journey to life.
“Some people took it at face value, like Yinka, who really took it as a globe and painted the map and worked within it,” says Shaw Scott Adjaye. “Others, who have a more abstract practice, simply took it as a canvas. It’s been really exciting; we tried to bring as much diversity as possible, so we have graphic designers, painters, sculptors, theater designers, illustrators and collagists.
Visitors to the trails can scan a QR code to expand on the themes covered in the featured art, while those unable to attend in person can participate remotely. Facts, photos and stories relating to the history of black communities in these cities will be available online, providing support for artwork and access to accurate stories for anyone curious to learn more.
“The journey of discovery runs through the whole program, the whole organization. If you go on a hike and look at a globe, you can take your smartphone, scan a code, and see a video of the artist explaining what they do, or texts from the artist. Then you can also learn more about the Middle Passage Triangle between Europe, Africa and the Americas, and its relationship to the Windrush Generation,” says Shaw Scott Adjaye.
Shonibare created a road map of people and ideas. “Obviously there are many perspectives in the world, and the globe has always historically been a political tool from the British Empire to various colonies,” he explains. “I think it’s the perfect vehicle to take the trade routes and turn them into cultural and intellectual ideas coming from Africa, African musicians, scientists, philosophers, and actually celebrating African knowledge that is being shared with the rest of the world. world with audacity”. . We celebrate the African diaspora, so it’s not always historical events that come out of Africa and tell a more equitable story of knowledge.
Globe by London poet and artist Julianknxx
Bahamian artist Tamika Galanis used her archival practice to create her globe, examining the slave registry that was compiled when slaveholders were about to seek reparations in the event of emancipation. It combines register photographs taken from the National Archives with images of golden rice in the shape of a transport ship.
“I was sitting in the archives crying because I was unprepared for how this idea, which has been so abstract to so many people, was going to be tangible,” Galanis reveals. “We talk about the transatlantic slave trade, and for most of the public and people who don’t work with these materials, it’s very abstract. But in these documents, you see their names, their ages, their origins. [They range from] from people aged 60 to 70, to six-day-old infants.
Artist and poet Julianknxx created After the ocean, in which he removes the water that separates us as a way to explore ideas of nationality and connectedness. “If we see the ocean as both a starting point and a meeting point, what does it mean if we carry the ocean with us? he asks. “If all members of the Black Diaspora are both singular and connected to a multiplicity of lands, identities and cultures, can a new freedom be found in seeing themselves as part of a global community of experience and black expression? »
Globe by fashion designer Foday Dumbuya
Fashion designer Foday Dumbuya tells untold stories through his collections and has followed this practice when making his globe. “When I do a show or a collection, it’s about elevating black excellence, it’s about bringing other stories that you don’t find on any program, or in a book,” he says. . “When I find a story that’s new to me, and then I talk to my peers and they seem not to have heard the story, that can be an incentive for me to spread it and create not just a collection, but also a film or video.’
The lack of education around the transatlantic slave trade affected not only the black diaspora in Britain, but all Britons; it’s a British problem. By addressing the lack of education and the lack of accurate stories, The World Reimagined begins to tell this story through art, history and technology, in a way that sets a new precedent for future generations.
“By dealing with this issue and supporting people of African descent, I hope a lot of other things will come out of the various opportunities people will have through this,” says Shonibare. “This is everyone’s problem and everyone should pay attention to it. I hope it will create awareness around the issues of discrimination, educational opportunities, business opportunities, commercial – you name it! – in the many areas where people have actually been excluded. I hope this will help change people’s views and perceptions. §