Art Exhibition: “The Sea is History”


The Sea is History” is a collective exhibition at the Kulturhistorisk Museum at the University of Oslo [Universitetet i Oslo or UiO], Norway, which opens on March 7 and will remain on view through August 18, 2019. Participating artists (in alphabetical order) are John Akomfrah, Andrea Chung, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Christopher Cozier, Manthia Diawara, Isaac Julien, Naiza Khan, Hew Locke, Nyugen E. Smith, and Cosmo Whyte. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue to be published by SKIRA, with essays by Manthia Diawara, Annie Paul, and Selene Wendt, as well as an essay and a selection of poems by Ishion Hutchinson. Poems by Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kei Miller, Christian Campbell, and Nyugen E. Smith will also be featured.

Description: The exhibition title is inspired by the seminal poem by the St. Lucian Nobel-laureate poet Derek Walcott. The reference serves to emphasise the poetic undercurrent of the exhibition, while also highlighting the relevance of great Caribbean thinkers such as Derek Walcott, Stuart Hall, and Édouard Glissant within a wider geographical and theoretical context.

The exhibition features work by contemporary artists who address issues of migration and displacement from both a historical and contemporary perspective. The exhibition explores topics related to postcolonial discourse that are not limited to a single geographic region, one type of visual art practice, or one specific theoretical approach. As such, the exhibition brings the individual perspectives and narratives of each participating artist to the fore, while also questioning how these various histories are interconnected and entangled. Within this context, migration and displacement are recurring themes that relate to a timeframe that begins with the Atlantic slave trade and continues until today.

If the exhibition were visualized on a map, the works could be understood in relation to an expansive sea, the ebb and flow of which is never-ending, and cyclical, where the currents move back and forth between countries and continents, through time and history. The routes on the map would extend from West Africa to the Caribbean, from the Caribbean to the UK and the United States, and also between Asia and the Caribbean. The intertwined and overlapping histories and stories are connected to an ongoing discourse that is fluid, open-ended, and unresolved.


At a time when migration presents an ever-increasing social and economic challenge worldwide, the question is how contemporary artists can effectively and sensitively address issues of migration through their work. The artists featured in The Sea is History stand out in their ability to convey a complex and nuanced picture of migration from both a historical and contemporary perspective. Derek Walcott’s poems, and Stuart Hall’s and Édouard Glissant’s contribution to cultural theory all provide valuable insight into the works featured in the exhibition and the topics addressed by the participating artists.

[Images: Top, Maria Magdalena Campos Pons Untitled number 1, 2012-2017; bottom, detail of “Acheron” by Hew Locke, 2015, 358 x 640cm. Plastic beads, cord, glue.]

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