I’ve been researching two stories for the course that will hopefully make it into prints for the degree show in September.
The first is about a male slave, Oronoce, who was arrested in Perthshire in 1750 for the heinous crime of wearing tartan, or tartan Livery to be precise. He was reported to belong to Mr Stewart of Appin and in all likelihood was wearing a servants uniform in Stewart tartan. His ‘owner’ was Dougal Stewart, Clan Chief of Appin. He disappears from view at the point of his arrest although one mention of him claims he was jailed. I intend to do more work on Oronoce as I’d like to know what happened to him and where he ended his days. The punishment for wearing tartan was 6 months jail for the first offence and transportation to the colonies for 7 years for the second.
The second is about another branch of the Stewart’s, this time from Garth, Perthshire. John Stewart was a plantation owner and had land and slaves in Trinidad. He died in 1830, however, on his last visit to Scotland he brought with him a daughter from a relationship with a ‘free’ Black woman, Charlotte Tobin. This child, Anne, was christened Anne Stewart. John left her with his Sister’s family when he returned to Trinidad where she stayed until her death. She is buried in Moulin Kirkyard, Pitlochry with her aunt and her cousins. Her father died in Trinidad where the Garth name still exists..
It’s always been my intention to let the project take its own direction. Obviously historical slavery & its connections to Scotland is the starting point, however, I had an idea that it could develop into a look at modern slavery, however, after considering the topic of the last post I’ve decided that if it is to grow it will move toward the link between historical Scottish slavery and modern day racism is Scotland. Even though a huge number of the people commenting on the articles highlighted in the previous post deny that the historical slavery in Scotland has any relevance today.
A cautionary note. As is usual in places like Facebook and the BBC site, and in particular The Scotsman site, the trolls tend to move the comments in a downward spiral. They quickly make everything about their hatred of the SNP or the UK, depending on their brand of their stupidity. The story above is no different, again ‘it wisnae us’ seems to break through from both sides.
The video below is from the FB page of BBC Scotland News. The subject matter, Glasgow & its connections to the slave trade, has also been the subject of an article in the Scotsman. I’m seriously disappointed with a lot of the comments on both articles. It would appear that, even with obvious trolls ignored, a large percentage of those commenting just don’t seem to get what this is all about.
Many of them claim that there’s no point to bringing all this up as it’s all in the past. Yes, it is in the past however, racism today directly relate to that. The racism of today is a continuation of the racism of yesterday. We are not born racists, we learn it. We can also unlearn it, or at least learn not to be racist and then teach future generations to be the same.
Many of the posters claim that Glasgow’s connections to the slave trade are the fault of only a few rich elite plantation owners, or the merchants who were importing/exporting commodities like tobacco & sugar were solely to blame and that it was nothing to do with ordinary people. However, while the owners and merchants were undoubtedly the main winners, the ordinary working class also benefited from the slave trade by working in it. Consider who was building & crewing ships or building the factories and houses of the merchants etc. It wasn’t the plantation owners or the merchants, they paid other people, ordinary people, to do that for them. Clearly the whole of the Scottish economy at the time prospered due to the slave trade, some would even argue that the money brought into the UK kick-started the industrial revolution. People need to also remember that this isn’t a class issue nor is it a Scottish independence issue, it’s a race issue.
I see no problem having a museum dedicated to Scottish Black history in Glasgow, or anywhere else in the country for that matter. I think understanding the Black history of Scotland is crucial if we are to move beyond the effects of those sections of our past we’d rather forget.
I have plans to use these articles and comments as the starting point for an art installation, have a look at my previous post, I belong to Glasgow, it’s related to this one
Glasgow has some strong links to the slave trade, with streets named after plantation/slave owners along with places where slaves were taken from or the locations of plantations. The area known as Merchant City is where the major tobacco, tea & sugar plantation owners had their businesses and/or mansions. Even what is now the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art was the home of the slave owning tobacco merchant, William Cunninghame.
I’ll be exploring these connections in more detail over the coming weeks, however, in preparation for some printmaking experiments I’ve begun by developing a digital collage, pictured below. It’s worth mentioning at this point that I’m hoping to use a blend of traditional craft techniques & digital techniques in my work. For instance printmaking from 3D printed block and perhaps casting in bronze from 3D prints.
I’m looking forward to trying new things on the MFA, particularly print making. I did a small amount of that when I was at FE college, which I enjoyed, but never did any more after leaving for DJCAD. I’m also thinking about sculpture, again I did some at FE College but then jewellery design took over.
I haven’t made a firm plan where I’m going with research etc, however, my starting point is the subject of slavery in Scotland. Last year I was commissioned to make a prop for a short film about two runaway slaves. The film was set in Scotland in the year 1745. Scottish history is a subject I like, I’ve done a fair bit of reading on the subject over the years and while I was aware that Scotland has a dark past connected to the slave trade I can’t remember reading much about it at all.
The contact with the film makers and creating the prop had ignited an interest in this part of our past and so, as I said, it’s my MFA starting point. I’m not sure where it will lead or what kind of output it’ll create, I’ll just let it develop over time. Clearly though, while the past has generated the interest, slavery still exists today albeit the terminology is different, with it now called ‘people’ or ‘human’ trafficking. This also leads on to issues of fair trade, the ethical production of goods, sweatshops, and closer to home (as a jeweller) the ethical production and supply of metals and gems so there’s scope to expand, or not, we’ll see as things develop.
I’m not going to go into any great detail about the film, I’ll let the following trail speak for it instead.
From the film Vimeo page
Director: Gordon Napier
“When two young black slaves escape into the wilds of 18th century Scotland, they must use all of their courage and strength to survive, unite, and stay free. On their journey they rediscover their spiritual and cultural connection to one another in pursuit of freedom through a foreign land set against an epic and elemental backdrop at a turbulent time in Scotland’s history.”
Starring: Clive Russell and Moyo and Morayo Akandé Producer: John Mckay | Writer: Morayo Akandé | DoP: Julian Schwanitz | Editor Florian Nonnenmacher
You can read & see more about the project on the film website or Facebook page
I was commissioned to make the collar worn by Moyo in the film. It was based on two historical examples, one from Wales and one from Glasgow. My collar is shown below, worn by Moyo at a test fitting. David Andrews is the name of the character played by Clive Russell. Seeing the collar on Moyo was very strange.
While I was really happy with the quality of the work, it’s meaning overshadowed that. The Glasgow collar I linked to above is made from silver and it’s sole purpose is to show the wealth of the owner, one of the main reasons for the wearing of jewellery, however, in the case of a slave collar the wearer is also a possession to be shown off as a status symbol.
It’s with that in mind, as I begin the MFA, I hope to be able to raise awareness about Scotland’s past connections to the slave trade and possibly develop that into connections with modern slavery etc. that I mentioned above.
I’ve resurrected the digitalMaker site to help keep track of my progress on the MFA Art & Humanities course at DJCAD. This blog will be the front page of the site with other pages added as and when required. I haven’t used this site since 2013 and most of the content had been removed with the exception of some Arduino related blog posts, however, I’ve removed them as well because they were a bit dated. I might use micro controllers during the MFA though so more related posts might appear.