Freedom! sculpture

detail of face of sculpture made from scrap metal with bright electric light bulbs 

Image copyright Christian Aid/Leah Gordon

This original sculpture by a group of Haitian artists represents their continuing struggle for freedom and human rights. The sculpture was commissioned by international development charity Christian Aid and National Museums Liverpool to mark 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007.

The Freedom! sculpture, made out of recycled objects such as metal car parts and raw junk found in the dangerous slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince, was created by young Haitians and sculptors Eugène, Céleur and Guyodo from Atis Rezistans in collaboration with Mario Benjamin, an internationally renowned Haitian artist who has represented his country at Biennials in Venice, São Paulo and Johannesburg.

Freedom and slavery in Haiti

Despite the fact that Parliament abolished the slave trade in the UK 200 years ago, global inequalities still exist today. It is no longer legal for people to be traded as commodities. But millions of people in places like Haiti, are still forced by poverty to work in unhealthy, dangerous – even life-threatening – conditions.

Haiti became the first black republic as a result of the first successful slave revolt. Today, however, because of unfair terms of trade and hefty international debt repayments, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere with 82 per cent of the rural population living below the poverty line according to the UN and 70 per cent of the population is unemployed.

Unfair terms of global trade make it impossible for local farmers to compete with food imports from richer countries. Haiti is a stark example of this kind of economic injustice, which makes many thousands of people flood into the cities to find jobs. But few find work and with no source of income many succumb to the temptation to use guns as a means of survival.

To incorporate a sense of what freedom and slavery means to people in Haiti today, the artists held workshops with young people benefiting from the work of APROSIFA, a Christian Aid-supported organisation in Haiti set up to provide basic education, run health clinics and work towards an end to gang fighting.

Ronald Cadet, one of the young collaborators said:

"People don’t have chains on their arms and legs now, but people still have chains in their minds. When you have problems getting enough food, housing and education, you are not living in a free country."

But, he said, working on this project made him see there was hope and "strength in being united."

Rose Anne Auguste, the founder of APROSIFA, said:

"When you live in shanty towns you can feel like you have no right to culture. It is sad that Mario Benjamin had to teach these kids to visit museums. Their parents are too busy surviving to take them to museums."

Mario Benjamin, in the role of artistic director for the Freedom! sculpture said:

"For me, it was very important to show that slavery has always been part of civilisation. My ambition was that we would create something that is quite universal, that is about suffering, hoping, fighting, what humanity has been about all the time."

UK tour in 2007 to mark the abolition bicentenary

The sculpture was first displayed at the Merseyside Maritime Museum from 26 February to 18 March 2007, before embarking on a UK tour to Stratford Circus Arts Centre in London, The Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol and The Eden Project, Cornwall. It became a permanent exhibit in the International Slavery Museum when the venue opened on 23 August 2007. This is an appropriate date as it is Slavery Remembrance Day, the day which commemorates the anniversary of the uprising of enslaved Africans in Haiti in 1791.