December 8, 2007 - New Art Exchange - Once upon a time in the West there was Lace
December 8, 2007

Once upon a time in the West there was Lace

Once upon a time in the West there was Lace
An exhibition by Godfried Donkor at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham
11 January – 8 February 2008

Together with a cross-disciplinary public program and publication examining the histories of, and culture after, slavery.

During the Industrial Revolution Nottingham was known the world over for the manufacture of lace. British-Ghanaian artist Godfried Donkor spent the summer of 2007 – the bicentenary of the abolition of the UK Slave Trade Act – investigating the ties between this genteel, luxurious commodity and the horrors of the cotton slave plantations in the Caribbean and the American South. The research culminates in Donkor’s solo exhibition at the Yard Gallery at Wollaton Hall in early 2008. The Elizabethan manor is also home to the Industrial Museum that holds a number of examples of lace machinery that may have woven cotton that once passed through the hands of slaves the other side of the Atlantic.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is six outfits – worn by models at the opening — made from black, blue and orange lace, evoking the brilliantly colored Swiss and Belgian-manufactured lace garments prized by West African communities today. The collection consists of two ‘hoodies’, a pair of corsets and mini-skirts, a jean-style jacket and trousers, and a customized version of the black lace dress worn by Goya’s celebrated ‘Duchess of Alba’ (1797). These, and a number of new paintings executed on pages from the Financial Times, are embroidered with a collision of African, British Imperial, Nottingham-related and Dance Hall motifs that together evoke the triangular, traumatic journeys of peoples, cultures and commodities across the Atlantic past and present. Half the exhibition will be an installation Donkor will produce with Theatre Design students from Nottingham Trent University.

The exhibition is contextualized by a public program, which will then be documented by a reader illustrated by Donkor’s installation (and interpreted by an essay by Courtney J Martin). The exhibition opens on the 11 January with an afternoon symposium at Broadway Cinema that aims to interweave various historiographies of slavery: art, literature, local, British and “from below” (slave rebellions, women and slavery). Speakers include Prof Dick Geary, Dr. Sheryllynne Haggerty, Jane-Marie Collins and Dr Celeste-Marie Bernier from the University of Nottingham’s cross-departmental Institute for the Study of Slavery. They are joined by Godfried Donkor, in conversation with Frank Abbott, School of Art and Design, NTU, and Dr Alan Rice, author of Radical Narratives of the British Atlantic (2001), whose lecture evolves out of Trade and Empire: Remembering Slavery which he co-curated at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester in 2007.

The time-frame shifts with a series of Friday morning lectures at Broadway, considering resonances of slavery in contemporary art and visual culture, beginning with Kobena Mercer on 11 January (author of Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies, 1994), who will be asking What is Afro-Gothic? in relation to slavery’s after-images in British and American art. On 18 January artist Hew Locke will present his critical, Carnivalesque interpretations of the co-mingling of Imperial, African and indigenous influences in British Guayana today. The series closes on 8 February with Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun (author of More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, 1998), of the Otolith Group, who will present research towards Otolith III. Their next film-essay centers on the Detroit electro group, Drexciya, named after a utopian colony in the Atlantic Ocean populated by heroic aquatically-evolved descendents of the unborn children of African women drowned during the Middle Passage.

The residency and exhibition are curated by Michael Forbes (NAE), and the public program and publication are formulated by Alex Farquharson (CCAN). NAE and CCAN thank its partners on this project: Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham University, Broadway Media Centre, Nottingham City Council, Arts Council England and Wollaton Hall. When open in 2008 and 2009, New Art Exchange and CCAN will change the face of the visual arts in the City.

The Symposium and Lectures are free, but it is necessary to book a place as they are limited. Contact janet@ccan.org.uk

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