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The Stunning Art Fair Installation on Slavery at Somerset House

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We’re just back from Frieze Week in London, and we’re sharing some of the highlights of Frieze London 2022, Frieze Masters, Frieze Sculpture and more. One of the most stunning and emotional works of art we saw, though, was not part of Frieze at all. It was the Somerset House main courtyard art installation on slavery that was part of the tenth edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, and we’re sharing photos in case you missed it. Entitled “O Barco/The Boat (2021) and created by Portuguese artist Grada Kilomba, the installation is meant to represent the hold of a historical European or American slave ship.

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2022 in London

The rapidly growing interest in African art has made the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair a must-see event at the big global art gatherings. The 2022 edition was held in mid-October in conjunction with Frieze Week in London at Somerset House. Reports are that 14 galleries were first-time participants this year.

Somerset House London entrance. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
Somerset House London entrance. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
1-54 African Art Fair entrance, Somerset House, London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

O Barco/The Boat (2021)

One hundred and forty charred wooden blocks are configured to represent the ship’s hold. Some are inscribed with poems translated into several African languages, including Yoruba, Kimbundu and Creole, as well as English, Portuguese and Arabic. The somber array is in itself a poignant and moving visual representation of the agony of The Middle Passage. Making this art installation even more poignant? Somerset House is the former hone of the British Navy Board.

Art installation about slavery in Somerset House courtyard, London, October 2022
Art installation about slavery in Somerset House courtyard, London, October 2022. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

live performances at Somerset House featuring art installation about slavery

We were lucky enough to arrive at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair just as one of the two hour-long performances designed by the artist. Using song, dance and poetry, a group of collaborators of African descent illuminate the history of this terrible atrocity. Their tender and passionate movements make human the acts that treated African people in the most inhuman way possible.

Art installation in Somerset House courtyard. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

As an African-American woman, I was moved to tears watching the performance and mulling over the significance of this particular art installation in this particular location. Here are some of our photos – we hope they will give you a sense of the powerful and transformative impact this work had on many people who were fortunate enough to see it for themselves.

Photos from the Somerset House courtyard slavery installation, The Boat, part of the tenth edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair.
Photos from the Somerset House courtyard slavery installation, The Boat, part of the tenth edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
Art installation in Somerset House courtyard. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
Art installation in Somerset House courtyard. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
Art installation in Somerset House courtyard. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
Art installation in Somerset House courtyard. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
Photos from the Somerset House courtyard slavery installation, The Boat, part of the tenth edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair.
Photos from the Somerset House courtyard slavery installation, The Boat, part of the tenth edition of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

 

powerful art about slavery at Somerset House London

One of the reasons we travel is to be shocked into new ways of thinking because we’re seeing things we’ve never seen before. And one of the reasons art is so powerful is because it can provoke, educate and inspire. Combine the two and you have some incredible. In a week of marvelous art and immersive experiences, this one is the work that has stayed most prominent in our thinking and our memories. What more can one ask from contemporary art than that?

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