Event Date and time: Friday 30th June – Saturday 12th August – 2017
Venue details: 16 Little Portland Street | London W1W 8BP
Event website: Theo Eshetu: The Slave Ship
Event cost: Free
With The Slave Ship, Theo Eshetu continues his exploration of the fundamental components of video – time, movement and light – and creates a pensive oceanic epic evoking the history of slavery. The title of the installation references one of J.M.W Turner’s most celebrated works, the 1840 painting Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On (also known as The Slave Ship). The painting depicts the slave ship Zong, pummelled by violent waves, as its captain throws enslaved men and women overboard in order to claim insurance.
The viewer is invited to look into a window that gives onto a pitch-black space. There, a perfect, lucent orb shimmers with moving images of abyssal waters and enigmatic landscapes. The result of a play with perception and mirrors, the view from the window evokes telescopic visions, the specular reflections of still waters and the roundness of the earth. As the viewer is immersed in blurred marine currents and embarks on a voyage into the depths of oceanic memories, reality and fiction converge while myths past and present emerge.
Eshetu borrows from the legends of the Flying Dutchman (a phantom vessel condemned to sail the oceans for eternity, with a ghostly crew of dead men) and Drexciya (the underwater city founded by African slaves who were drowned during the Middle Passage) to suggest that the ghosts of deceased enslaved men and women still haunt the waters of European ports. The footage for the video was shot in Hamburg, Germany, where the Swedish Africa Company traded in slaves, gold, ivory and sugar from São Tomé from 1649. Eshetu uses the metaphor of the oceans to examine the legacy of historic trade from South to North, and its current currency in the present trade of goods and migration at sea.
About Theo Eshetu
Theo Eshetu (b. 1958, London), grew up in Addis Ababa, Dakar and London before establishing himself in Rome. He currently lives and works in Berlin. Recent solo shows include: American Academy in Rome (2015); DAADGalerie, Berlin (2014); Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (2010); Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (2010); Unesco Headquarters, Paris (2009); and Baltimore Museum of Art (2006); Recent group exhibitions include: The Studio Museum in Harlem (2016); Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2016); Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, Berlin (2015); Goteborg Biennial (2015); Kochi Biennale (2014); 54th Venice Biennale (2011); Sharjah Biennial (2011); and ICP, New York (2006); Eshetu is currently exhibiting new work in Kassel and Athens as part of Documenta 14.