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We Have Met Before: unlocking the shared history of the Caribbean and the UK

We Have Met Before

The Caribbean and the United Kingdom share a deep and complex history. Now, that shared past is being explored in We Have Met Before: a group exhibition organised by the British Council and the National Gallery of Jamaica.

The exhibition brings together two British and two Caribbean artists - Graham Fagen, Joscelyn Gardner, Ingrid Pollard and Leasho Johnson - and explores the subject of transatlantic slavery. Fagen’s video and sound installation, The Slave’s Lament, which was commissioned by Scotland + Venice for the Venice Art Biennale in 2015, forms part of the exhibition. We spoke to Jordan Ogg at the British Council to find out more about this exhibition, which is at the National Gallery of Jamaica until 4 November 2017.

What is the exhibition about?

We Have Met Before revisits the subject of transatlantic slavery and its legacy by bringing together works by two British and two Caribbean artists: Graham Fagen, Joscelyn Gardner, Ingrid Pollard and Leasho Johnson. Each artist has employed a distinctive approach and perspective with works created in different locales, different media, and at different points in time. A related publication We Have Met Before contains supporting essays from academic and curatorial experts in the field, including Tiffany Boyle of Mother Tongue and Dr Shani Roper.

Through open engagement with the legacy of transatlantic slavery We Have Met Before brings a focus to what is still a relatively little known aspect of Scotland’s place in this history- Jordan Ogg, British Council

How were the four featured artists selected?

The artists were chosen by curators at the National Gallery of Jamaica working in partnership with British Council’s Arts Manager in the Caribbean and British Council Scotland’s Visual Arts Adviser. Together they identified artists who had previously engaged with the transatlantic theme, and whose work would provoke interest and discussion when brought together in a group show.

How does this exhibition contribute to the transatlantic conversations about the Caribbean and the UK’s history?

The history between the Caribbean and the United Kingdom is deep and difficult. Through open engagement with the legacy of transatlantic slavery We Have Met Before brings a focus to what is still a relatively little known aspect of Scotland’s place in this history. In bringing an arts-based focus to the subject, we hope to encourage new conversations, and while we do not expect these to be easy, it is important that they are enabled to take place.

What is the connection with Burns and the Biennale?

When Graham Fagen represented Scotland at the 2015 Venice Biennale his exhibition included The Slave’s Lament, a video and sound installation. The work is based on a 1792 song written by Burns, in which an enslaved man in Virginia expresses his longing for his distant homeland of Senegal. In Fagen’s interpretation, the song is performed by the reggae singer and Rastafarian Ghetto Priest. In doing so, Fagen’s work acknowledges Scottish involvement in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade which whilst well-known in the Caribbean is less so in Scotland.

What are you hoping visitors will take away from the exhibition?

We hope to encourage greater understanding between people from the UK and the Caribbean, and to open up new spaces for engaging with Scotland’s story in the transatlantic history of both regions. It can be argued that contemporary Scottish and UK audiences tend to hold rather stereotypical views of the Caribbean, with notions of paradise on the one hand, and drug and knife crime on the other. By opening up spaces for new dialogue, we might move towards a more mature and nuanced understanding of each other’s culture.

We Have Met Before is at the National Gallery of Jamaica until 4 November 2017.

This article was published on 05 Oct 2017