Sue Williamson's artwork harks back to old slave trade in Kerala

Sue Williamson's artwork harks  back to old slave trade in Kerala

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale that opened its doors to the public this December lines up an amazing array of art works from thirty one countries. More than ninety works of art awaits the viewers pouring in each day, unveiling the brave new frontiers of artistic expression.

The country’s largest art exposition steals the limelight this year by lining up the highest numbers of women in its short history. The 4th KMB can boast of a whopping sixty percent of women artists. And, not to mention the fact that the curator of this edition is a woman.

Anita Dubey, the first female curator of the KMB was busy with her responsibilities at Pepper House, one of the Biennale venues in Fort Kochi. “This is a dream ! A space where an amazing array of women artists from the Guerilla Girls to the weaver woman from Kerala brush shoulders with each other,’ said Dubey briefly, before plunging into her hectic responsibilities.

In this series, four of the women artists who are present at the 4th KMB each one flaunting their own distinctive ideas and approaches talk about their art and life. Here's Sue Williamson talking about her work:

The five ships of slavery - Sue Williamson

White garments that sway in the breeze, hanging down from the clothesline. One of them carries the inscription: ‘Name: Jacob, Place of Birth: Kochi, Age: 18, Sex: Male, Seller: Jan Kakkaler, Buyer: Pierre Simond, Price: Rds 80, Sold at: Cape Town 8.4.1694’

It’s the details of a slave who was transported to Cape Town from Kochi in the 17th century. At the venue of the KMB, you come face to face with the historical facts that it was not just the spices and coffee, but human beings were also shipped out of Malabar and Travancore. It is part of an installation made by the internationally renowned artist Sue Williamson at the Aspinwall House as part of the KMB.

Williamson who had migrated to Africa from Britain had witnessed the dark ages of apartheid. She was in the forefront of the resistance put up by the African artists against apartheid during the seventies. “The documents about the slaves shipped off from Kerala were obtained from the archived files of Dutch East India Company at the Deeds Office of Cape Town,” Williamson says.

The seventy-seven year old Williamson’s next installation also features the slave trade. “Here are the slaves who were shipped off from Western and Central Africa for the United States of America during the 19th century. They were transported in ships along the Atlantic passage. Five major ships used for the slave trade that contained the most authentic documents have been re-created symbolically for this installation.” Five huge nets are filled with bottles filled with brown-coloured water. The names of the slaves have also been inscribed. These details are from the Archival Shipping Records.

Williamson was talking to us while spending time with her two children and three grand children in Cape Town. “The KMB that presents such a large number of artists is certainly heartening. I’d received the best of professional support here. Kerala knows how to respect an artist in the real sense.”

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