Also in this section…?

Their Spirits

31 January to 7 September 2014

canoe containing hundreds of tiny figures, resting on a bed of sugar cane

© Donnette Zacca 

Please note that this exhibition has now closed


This exhibition by the acclaimed Jamaican artist Laura Facey explored not only the indescribable cruelty of slavery but also the transcendent nature of the human spirit, through a number of artworks. 

At the heart of the exhibition was 'Their Spirits Gone Before Them', 2006; a cottonwood canoe, floating on dried sugar cane. Inside the canoe were 1,357 resin miniatures of 'Redemption Song', a monument which stands at the ceremonial entrance to Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica.

This canoe represents two journeys: one was made by the millions of Africans who were enslaved and taken from their homeland during the transatlantic slave trade and the other is Laura Facey’s own personal transformation in creating the piece. Laura's inspiration came when she was asked to create souvenir miniatures of the 'Redemption Song' monument:

"I began to 'see' my miniatures in a canoe and a struggle began inside me: How can I take my healed Redemption Song  figures and place them in a slave ship?"  

Laura went in search of the perfect vessel. In Jamaica, fishermen hollow out canoes from giant cottonwood trees; her miniature figures, each of them representing approximately nine hundred enslaved Africans who were transported to Jamaica, were installed; the canoe was set on a sea of sugar cane and 'Their Spirits Gone Before Them' emerged.

For this journey the iconic slave ship has been transformed and while it acknowledges the grim reality of the enslaved Africans, "It's not about ropes, chains or torture" but rather, it is a "sculpture that communicates transcendence, reverence, strength and unity."

Read a transcript of this video


'Their Spirits Gone Before Them' was awarded the UNESCO Slave Route Project logo in 2013. 

UNESCO Slave Route Project logo