We Suffer to Remain is a fascinating and intriguing exhibition that brings together the work of three artists of Bahamian or Bahamian/Jamaican descent – John Beadle, Sonia Farmer and Anina Major – and places that work in dialogue with a celebrated video installation The Slave’s Lament by Scottish artist, Graham Fagen. It’s not difficult to comprehend commonalities, overlaps, cross-referencing and even friction in the ways in which the work of these four artists dialogue.
In the first instance, we can perceive an engagement with histories of enslavement as an interest all four artists share. Equally as fascinatingly, the bringing together of these artists makes us aware of entwined histories and legacies of colonialism, decolonisation and post-colonialism, in which artistic practices emerge from a space (The Bahamas) which was formerly colonised – independent in 1973 – and a space (Scotland) that was very much part of the European and British colonising endeavour. But rather
than perpetuating an apparent binary, “We Suffer to Remain” is a curatorial grouping that obliges us to consider other ever-important dimensions such as class and gender, as manifest in the various nuances of the curated works.
Slavery and the slave trade were capitalist enterprises that relied to a great extent on pathologies of racial supremacy. What tends to be frequently overlooked are the ways in which capitalists of the British Empire had little respect or regard for the humanity of the poorer classes within Britain. In comprehending The Slave’s Lament, we have an unmistakable sense that the performance/installation enacts a distinct empathy or solidarity with what Fanon, with devastating articulation, described as the wretched of the earth. Within the piece, at every turn, the class dimensions so routinely set aside in recollections of Britain and Scotland’s involvement in enslavement, are given telling acknowledgement. There is no end of nuance in all of the work brought together for this exhibition, and, in this regard, Beadle’s investigations of gender, touched on later in this text, are particularly noteworthy.
The Slave’s Lament was first exhibited as the Scotland + Venice contribution to the 2015 Venice Biennale. It was, in every respect, a bold and provocative venture, which saw Robert Burns’ poem “The Slave’s Lament” presented utilising the vocals of British reggae singer Ghetto Priest, the accompaniment of a classical score written by Sally Beamish and performed by the Scottish Ensemble, and the innovative production skills of record producer Adrian Sherwood. Whilst its original setting of the Palazzo Fontana Rezzonico (a palace located on the Grand Canal of Venice) lent the multi-screen and sculptural installation many additional readings such as trade resulting from, or enacted by the enslavement of African peoples, or the historical social, political and economic primacy of Venice’s merchants; it is certainly the case that each of the subsequent locations in which Fagen’s Slave’s Lament has been placed has afforded the work’s audiences no end of poignant considerations, relevant to the contexts in which the work is shown. And now that the work is being shown at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, we can appreciate that this Caribbean location is perhaps the most poignant of all possible contexts, even more so when we consider the work by John Beadle, Sonia Farmer and Anina Major with which The Slave’s Lament dialogues and engages.
With the Caribbean having been one of the epicentres of the transatlantic slave trade, bringing The Slave’s Lament to the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas is a remarkable undertaking, which, within the context of “We Suffer to Remain” signals the importance of 21st century artists continuing to engage with the transatlantic slave trade’s histories of displacement, trafficking and enslavement. Whilst Beadle, Farmer and Major have been invited to create work in response to The Slave’s Lament, it is vital that we regard and engage with their respective contributions to the exhibition as each being every bit as singular and important as Fagen’s piece. Beadle’s work, Cuffed: held in check – sees him continuing his extraordinarily engaging investigations into the interplay of sports with legacies of enslavement, but extending his considerations to utilise a range of silhouetted figures, some of which are evocative of officers of The Royal Bahamas Police Force. Artists of the African Diaspora as varied as Hank Willis Thomas, Keith Piper, Godfried Donkor and David Hammons have all made work that seeks to open up or comment on the vexatious link between sports and legacies of enslavement and it is perhaps within such contexts that we can most appreciate Beadle’s remarkably provocative work.
The above extracts are from a catalogue text, “We Suffer to Remain: Some Considerations” included in the catalogue for We Suffer to Remain: John Beadle, Graham Fagen, Sonia Farmer, Anina Major, National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, Nassau, Bahamas, March 22 – July 29 2018: 20 – 24.