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You are in: Devon > Abolition > Human Cargo

African musican Seckou Keita

African musican Seckou Keita

Human Cargo

Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade with a major exhibition, Human Cargo.

The horrors of the transatlantic slave trade - and in particular Devon's links with the trade and its abolition in 1807 - are remembered in a major exhibition at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.

Human Cargo from 22 September to 24 November also reflects on the legacies of slavery which remain with us today, with a contemporary look at the use - and misuse - of migrant workers in the UK.

More than 24 million Africans were taken from their homes to work in the Americas between the 1450s and 1880s.

Half of them - around 12 million people - died before reaching the plantations because of the appalling conditions surrounding their capture and transportation.

The exhibition features historic displays examining Devon's role in the trade. Plymouth trader Sir John Hawkins organised the first voyages to the Americas, carrying slaves captured from West Africa.

Slaves in the hold of Brookes slaveship

Slaves on board Brookes (Bristol Record Office)

Devon also played a role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

Quakers and Methodists from Exeter and Plymouth were instrumental in highlighting the horrors of the trade, with the publication of the shocking image of African captives packed into the hold of the slave ship, Brookes.

Collections of artefacts also feature in the exhibition, and there is a display of portraits of key figures from the abolition movement which are on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Contemporary slavery is another theme of Human Cargo. New works by five international artists have been commissioned and these look at global conditions of trade and migration.

Lent Lily wallpaper

Lent Lily wallpaper being printed

Artist Jyll Bradley has created a screen print wallpaper, entitled Lent Lily, which lines the walls of the watercolour gallery.

The hand-crafted piece highlights how contemporary slavery is increasingly the wallpaper to our lives.

It reveals the history of slavery and brings things close to home and up-to-date by reflecting on the use of Eastern European migrant workers.

Continuing the modern-day theme, Lisa Cheung has produced a large flag installation which addresses the issue of consumerism and cheap labour.

The recent grounding of the cargo ship MSC Napoli off the East Devon coast features in an exhibition in the Maritime Gallery. The work by Melanie Jackson is called The Undesirables.

Free or Fair by Fiona Kam Meadley is a map and competition, which explores the links between today's fair trade campaigners and the abolitionists of 200 years ago.

Visitors can get involved in storytelling sessions and music workshops - West African musician Seckou Keita is at the museum on 23 October.

Co-curator, Len Pole, said: "As far as the transatlantic slave trade and abolition are concerned, Plymouth and Devon definitely have a story to tell.

"We hope the exhibition will do this justice."

* BBC Radio Devon's Jo Loosemore speaks to Jyll Bradley and co-curator Zoe Shearman - listen to the interview by clicking onto the audio link.

Human Cargo
Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
22 September - 24 November 2007
Admission: Free
10am-5.30pm Tues-Fri; 10am-5pm Sat

last updated: 27/09/07

You are in: Devon > Abolition > Human Cargo


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