“As much as violence, brutality and dehumanizing conditions were ever-present aboard slave ships, so was resistance to that inhumanity. Kidnapped and enslaved people fought against their capture and enslavement constantly. It is estimated that as many as one in ten or even one in five slaving ships experienced a significant insurrection during the voyage from the coasts of Africa to the Americas. While we know that they occurred we have little documentary evidence of what transpired. Despite unimaginable odds people resisted the conditions of their commodification at every turn. We need poetry and art to give life and meaning to these moments where historical evidence cannot.” – Dr. Alexandre White, Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University Department of Sociology and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
With partners Ink Sweat & Tears Press, Johns Hopkins University and Black Beyond Data, and as part of a research collaboration with Lloyd’s, Spread the Word is launching Uprising & Resistance, a project which looks to use poetry and visual art to respond to archival silences surrounding slavery in Early Modern London.
Running between approximately 1526 and 1867, the transatlantic trade in enslaved people kidnapped, trafficked and subjugated people from across Africa as both property and unfree labour. This trade shaped our City, and many institutions directly and indirectly benefited from the abusive, unpaid labour upon which this so-called trade was based.
Investigating this heritage, Johns Hopkins University and Black Beyond Data are examining the Collection of Lloyd’s insurance market to investigate its direct involvement in slavery and in associated business practices profiting from slavery.
Taking this historical research as a starting point, Uprising & Resistance will commission poets and visual artists to respond to these challenging, traumatic and problematic archives, as well as the surrounding silences that they don’t record.
Leading the project are poets Remi Graves and Keith Jarrett; and artist Jess Nash.
Remi Graves, lead poet, said:
“I’m at once excited and apprehensive about diving into the archive. Whose stories will I come across? Whose silences will reverberate through the research? I look forward to embarking on this work alongside Keith and Jess, and hope we are able to do justice to the presences – and absences – we encounter there”
Keith Jarrett, lead poet, said:
“It feels especially vital now to confront the cruelty and complexity of our history – and, indeed, our present. There’s so much buried in the archive, hidden in plain sight! There’s also so much potential to capture this in poetry, through language. I’m honoured to be a part of this project, responding to this history and its ongoing legacy.”
Jess Nash, lead artist, said:
“I’m always really excited by the idea of re-learning history and finding engaging ways of presenting what I’ve learnt. So I’m very much looking forward to starting this project, working alongside the other creatives and learning some home truths.”
An open call has been announced today inviting London-based poets and visual artists of Black African or African Caribbean heritage aged 18-30 years old to apply to be part of the project. Two writers and one visual artist will be commissioned to work alongside the lead artists and academics.
The creative work produced by the writers, poets and artists will be published in a project anthology edited by Gboyega Odubanjo and published by Ink Sweat & Tears Press in March 2023.
Uprising & Resistance is managed by Spread the Word and the project publisher is Ink Sweat & Tears Press. It is based on their 2021 collaboration Runaways London, working with the University of Glasgow’s Runaway Slaves in Britain project.
Uprising & Resistance is responding to work by Johns Hopkins University and Black Beyond Data who are undertaking a research collaboration with Lloyd’s. It is independent of Lloyd’s and is funded by the Mellon Foundation.
For more information please visit www.spreadtheword.org.uk/uprising-resistance
Published 30 August 2022