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Messages from the Atlantic Passage I - V

Sue Williamson
Messages from the Atlantic Passage I - V, 2017
Engraved bottles, fishing nets, chain, steel shackles, water pumps and tanks
Variable Dimensions

Sue Williamson’s 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 installation will be exhibited for the first time at Art Basel Unlimited in June 2017. Five 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 hight of the person. Beneath each net, placed diagonally across the exhibition space, is a tank representing one of the ships that made the passage, with a wooden beam around the outside identifying the ship and the details of its voyage. Chains of linked bottles hang from the nets into the pools, and water slowly drips from the nets into the pools. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, between 1525 and 1866 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the NewWorld. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. This new work is an extension of Sue Williamson’s acclaimed Messages from the Moat (1997), first exhibited on Okwui Enwezor’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.