On May 14th I will be in conversation with Leah Gordon about her exhibition ‘Caste/Cast‘ at the Regency Town House in Brighton which is part of the 2014 Brighton Festival. The conversation will take place at the University of Brighton Gallery at 6.30 pm. Tickets are £4 (£3 concessions) and available here.
In her ‘Caste’ series of photographs Leah represented, in contemporary mode, the practice created by French colonists, living in Saint Domingue during the plantation era, of grading skin colour from black to white in an elaborate, combinatorial and graded schema. Taking the ‘Caste’ portraits as a starting point, Leah’s new project explores junctures between shared Haitian and British histories and cosmologies, with an emphasis on links between the slave trade and the industrial revolution.
The exhibition includes a film of a journey along the Manchester Ship Canal from Manchester (a city built on industrialism), past Ellesmere Port (the town where Leah was born) and onto Liverpool (a city whose wealth was made through the slave trade), pointing to the shared economic and political histories that connect Haiti to Britain, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the industrial revolution.
Two further films are shown in the former library room, one of ruined and overgrown machinery, manufactured in Liverpool in 1818, on a former plantation in Haiti and one of the storage rooms in the National Archives at Kew, where Haiti’s 1804 Declaration of Independence was found by a student, undetected for decades. These films will show Haiti’s history hidden and embedded in Britain’s colonial archives whilst Britain’s industrial past lies rusting and overgrown in Haiti’s tropical landscape.
These historical reflections sit alongside a prophetic photographic reconstruction of William Blake’s illustration of ‘Europe Supported by Africa and the Americas’ (1796).