Artists and memory of slavery: Resistance, creative freedom and legacies


Prensa Latina reports that great figures of African and Caribbean contemporary art exhibit some of their works in Paris, France, to stand up against manifestations of slavery, still evident today in the world. The news outlet is referring to a series of events from September 4 to 11, including a seminar, a performance, and an art exhibition titled “Temps Modernes” [Modern Times], which is still on view at the Vallois Gallery, organized by the UNESCO Slave Route Project with the cultural association “Fait à Cuba.” These activities offer a reflection on the relation that contemporary artists hold to the history and memory of slavery. The 15 Caribbean and African artists participating in the exhibition are Edwige Aplogan, Miguelina Rivera Grullón, Afanou Richard Korblah (Korblah ou RAK), Alejandro Reyes (Chichí), Alexis Leiva Machado (KCHO), Benjamin Déguénon, Dominique Zinkpè, Euloge Sénoumatin, Ahanhanzo (Glèlè), Gérard Quenum, Iko Dallongeville (Niko), Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy (Diago), Marius Dansou, Rémy Sossuvi (Rémi Samuz), Romualdo Mevo Guezo, and Serge Mikpon (ASTON).

The UNESCO site explains: Generations of artists have, ever since the abolitions of slavery, seized, revisited, rehabilitated, and transmitted, when their turn came, these esthetic legacies in diverse areas of creation. They have also taken over the historical, political, social, and identity questions inherited from colonial history as to draw new horizons to individual and intercultural relations.

Some questions posed by the exhibition and related events are:

– How does this tragic history, still ill-known on the scientific field of research and marginalized by the media, feed artistic creation in its most contemporary forms?
– Does artistic creation enable to voice and crystallize new viewpoints on this complex phenomenon as well as to generate unprecedented overcomings?
– How do artists draw inspiration from, refer to, and carry this painful memory but also transcend it so as to achieve universality?

Commenting on the exhibition, Prensa Latina writes: Sensitive to this problem because of the imprint left by the slave trade in their respective countries, artists from Benin, Dominican Republic and Cuba introduce us deeply into the issue of contemporary expressions of slavery, organizers of the exhibition declared.

They also remembered that the trafficking and exploitation of human beings continue to be taking place throughout the world. They explained that despite the diversity of their approaches, a startling stylistic coherence results from this proposition. Either Caribbean or African these 15 artists nourish their works with everyday materials: plastics, iron and wood transformed into powerful symbols of domination and exploitation of man by man.

Cuba is represented with works by Roberto Diago and Alexis Leyva (Kcho). Diago told Prensa Latina that with his pieces he deals with the subject of slavery, that are wounds still opened for that reason, such as the current misfortunes of human trafficking in the 21st century. Therefore, he seeks to make people aware. Art provides the ability to transform political discourse into an aesthetic one, in a more subtle way, he said.

The exhibition consists of works of small and large format, it is displayed at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Vallois Gallery.

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