Fred Wilson, Regina Atra, 2006, © Fred Wilson, Courtesy Pace Wildenstein, New York.Wilson is renowned for his subversive reconfigurations of museum collections. His featured work Regina Atra raises issues of imperialism and race, and is displayed in the Norfolk House Music Room.

The Shadow of Slave Trading on Contemporary Art and Design

Tapfuma Gutsa, Tribute to Sango, 2002, © Tapfuma Gutsa, Courtesy October Gallery, London. Gutsa is one of the most prominent sculptors working in his native Zimbabwe. He has broken free of traditions by using a combination of materials such as stone, metal, wood, wire, paper and string. His work Ancient Voyages, depicting a musical instrument, will be displayed next to a bust of Handel. Tribute to Sango, a granite sculpture, will be presented in a gallery adjacent to the British Sculpture Gallery.

Yinka Shonibare, MBE Sir Foster Cunliffe, Playing, 2006 ,©Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and James Cohan Gallery, New York.Best known for his Diary of a Victorian Dandy, Yinka Shonibare’s commission will be Sir Foster Cunliffe Playing, a headless archer dressed in period costume made of African textiles — a comment on the leisure classes who benefited most from the slave trade. The work will be shown in the opulent Norfolk House Music Room.


Victoria & Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
+ 44 (0)20 7942 2000
Architecture Exhibition Gallery
Uncomfortable Truths,
the Shadow of Slave Trading
on Art & Design

February 20-June 17, 2007

Two hundred years after the bill outlawing the British slave trade was passed by Parliament, the V&A marks the event with an exhibition of work by 11 contemporary artists from Europe, Africa and America. Their work draws directly on the legacies of imperialism and slave trading, prompting the viewer to consider the impact of slavery historically and in today’s world.

The V&A commissioned new works by four leading international artists. Former Turner Prize nominee Yinka Shonibare MBE displays Sir Foster Cunliffe Playing, a headless archer dressed in period clothes made of African textiles. Beninese artist Romuald Hazoumé creates a sculpture of a huge serpent for the John Madejski Garden. Fellow Beninese artist Julien Sinzogan’s mural of a slave ship below deck is in the Grand Entrance. British artist Keith Piper creates pieces in response to the V&A’s own collections in a series of interventions entitled Lost Vitrines.

American artists include Fred Wilson who represented America in the 2003 Venice Biennale. Wilson’s Regina Atra, a sumptuous copy of the British Royal crown encrusted with black diamonds, is on display. Video artist Michael Paul Britto’s irreverent, thought-provoking film of black slaves dancing to the Britney Spears hit I’m a Slave 4 U is on view for the first time in the UK.

Other African artists are Ghanaian El Anatsui, one of Africa’s foremost contemporary artists, and Tapfuma Gutsa, one of the most exciting sculptors working in Zimbabwe.

European artists include Lubaina Himid displaying over a dozen of her life-size, painted figures of black slaves from the series, Naming the Money. Emerging British artist Anissa-Jane shows recent works incorporating materials of the slave trade such as coffee beans and cocoa butter; and German artist Christine Meisner shows her film documenting the life of a Brazilian slave.

The works are displayed throughout the Museum, drawing attention to the hidden, overlooked and even contentious histories that link some of the historic objects on permanent display to the slave trade of past centuries. A series of trails will lead visitors to objects in the collections that underline this theme.

Curator Zoe Whitley said: “We hope these contemporary interventions will encourage people to think about slavery in today’s world as well as its historic connections to British culture. This exhibition shows up some uncomfortable truths, such as how the lifestyle of the privileged classes was dependent on the suffering of slaves.”

Uncomfortable Truths is part of a nationwide initiative to commemorate the abolition of slavery, Remembering Slavery.

Anissa-Jane, Lucy from the larger work The Spirit of Lucy Negro, 2004. © Anissa-Jane.Anissa-Jane explores the qualities of brown paper as a metaphor for skin; paper is treated with materials such as cocoa butter, grease, and human hair. Lucy is a photographic image printed on brown paper of a shackled ankle which will be shown among the costume displays at the V&A. The Henrietta Street parlour in the British Galleries will provide a temporary home for four formal dining chairs, stuffed with coffee beans and reupholstered with treated brown paper.

El Anatsui, Akua's Surviving Children, 1996, Denmark.