This summer 103 remarkable and beautiful fibreglass globes have appeared in many sites across Britain. They can be found in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool and Swansea as well as in 7 London boroughs and the City of London as well. The project is supported by a range of sponsors and local authorities under the guidance of the Heritage Fund and the Arts Council of Great Britain. There are many cultural events and walks and talks throughout October in all the participating cities. Do take a look at these magnificent artefacts which will only remain in place until the end of October 2022. You can find out about these from the excellent and highly navigable website here. The project also supports a programme of educational events and resources for schools and colleges as well as community events across Britain.
Perhaps the most moving aspect of the project is that each of the artworks is dedicated in honour to an enslaved person whose existence is only known to History through their name appearing on a slave register. We know nothing about the details of their life. All we know is that they lived.
Each globe deals with a different theme in the long and complex story of enslavement and makes a powerful statement about the need for all of us to re-evaluate our interpretation of History.
This week I have been exploring the trail in Camden and Westminster. There are eleven magnificent and moving globes that have been installed there through the month of October. You can find an interactive map of the trail here. Each of the globes raises a different aspect of the long and tragic story of enslavement and its impact on the peoples of Africa and the developing Western capitalist economies of the West. The website also has links which tell us about the artists and the thinking behind their work.
The trail is on the long side. I would suggest doing it in two stages though a determined walker might well complete the trail in an afternoon. It starts at Mornington Crescent and ends in a large shopping centre opposite Westminster Cathedral.
This magnificent installation by Kialy Tihngang at the start of our trail deals with the theme of “Mother Africa”. It uses patterns of traditional weaving and beadwork to present an image of the richness of African culture before the impact of the Europeans. You can find out more about the artist here.
There’s not far to go down to Goldington Crescent to find the next of these wonderful spheres. This is a powerful evocation of the reality of enslavement by Sohaila Baruch called A Sphere of Restraint. The world seems to be lashed down by the same ropes which might have been used to tie down human cargo.
To get to the third globe on our trail we have to enter the busy halls of St Pancras. Right by the passenger exit from the Eurostar terminal (the UK Border in the middle of London) the first thing that travelers arriving in Britain will see is the extraordinary Beneath the Surface by the POor (Power Out of Restriction) Collective. It celebrates the lives of key black figures in Camden like Beryl Gilroy, Camden’s first Black headteacher and Oscar-winning actor Daniel Kaluuya and others who have contributed to the community.
Continuing south into Bloomsbury the trail takes us next to Brunswick Square. Here we find The Church & Slavery: Within Its Orbit by Gregory Daines. This brings to life how Britain was transformed and enriched as a result of the Transatlantic Trade in enslaved Africans and the free labour of the enslaved. It aims to show how key institutions in society like the church profited from slavery.
Not far off at the north-east corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields is our next artwork. This is the harrowing image named Black Globe by Phoebe Boswell. Her design responds to the theme of “Abolition and Emancipation” but questions the motivation behind this. The onlooker wonders whether these figures are singing or screaming in the darkness.
Our last stop in Camden is the wonderful Uncertain Voyage by Nadia Akingbule. This responds to the theme ‘A Complex Triangle’, which explores the complexity of Britain’s relationship with Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean across generations. We have a striking image of a ship arriving alluding to the Caribbean migrants who came to Britain to help rebuild the country after the Second World War. Perhaps we share the trepidation this couple felt on their arrival in a strange and often hostile land.
This might be a good time to stop to relax in one of Covent Garden’s many cafes. However the intrepid may soldier on valiantly deeper towards the great piazza where they will be greeted by a wonderful and colourful work Celebrating Toussaint by Deanna Tyson. Toussaint Louverture fought to end slavery in Hispaniola. He led the first successful uprising of Black enslaved people and created the independent state of Haiti.
Just a few yards away in the churchyard of St Paul’s Covent Garden we come to our next globe. It is the ethereal and affecting silvery image of the Black Prince Naimbana by Foday Dumbuya. It is on the theme of Still we Rise and celebrates the defiance of those who resisted enslavement and fought to preserve their culture and way of life. This tells the story of a Temne prince from what is now Sierra Leone who came to England in 1791 and was present at the House of Commons during a debate on the trade in enslaved Africans.
For the next great globe you need to cross the Strand and make your way down to the Victoria Embankment Gardens where just behind the beautiful York House Watergate you will see Shine Bright by Geoffrey Chambers. You will see a globe upended providing a dislocated world view with the glowing continents set in dark oceans. The them is the Expanding Soul which celebrates the spirit and genius of the African diaspora which has had such a powerful impact on the music and art and culture of the modern world.
Now there is a longish walk along the Embankment and round Parliament Square to the lawns outside Westminster Abbey where you will find the next artwork just by St Margaret’s church. Here we are asked to reimagine the future by this piece by Nicola Green called The World in a Waterlily, Amazonica. The Dean of Westminster Abbey says that her work is a plea for us to understand the interconnectedness of all species and ecosystems on the planet. The artist argues that racial justice cannot be separated from climate justice.
Finally we reach the end of the trail in Cardinal Place a large modern shopping centre across Victoria Street from Westminster Cathedral on the site of the old Watney’s Stag Brewery. Here is a moving tribute to the Women of Westminster by Shannon Bono. The work includes images of women who have lived and worked in Westminster Mary Seacole and Amy Ashwood Garvey, the Pan-Africanist.
Congratulate yourself on completing the trail. Reward yourself with a coffee and then contemplate setting off for further explorations of these extraordinary and haunting works in other parts of London including Lambeth and Southwark and Hackney and Newham.