Cugoano250: Visualising Britain’s Black Past

Saturday 7th October

7 October play and film - 1

Incidents in the Life of an Anglican Slave, a short play written and performed by Desirée Baptiste, is inspired by a 1723 letter from an anonymous enslaved Virginian to the “Lord arch Bishop of London” (the document is housed at Lambeth Palace Library).

 

Both fictional slave narrative and ghost story, ‘Incidents’ brings into the light, the life of an enslaved ‘mulatto’ whose journey (in the play) spans key imperial sites: Virginia, Barbados and London. It offers a window, via story, into the history of both enslavement and resistance across the British Transatlantic Slave Empire in the long eighteenth century.

Drawing on archival research and historical imagination, the play explores, among other themes: slave literacy, resistance and rebellion and, of course, religion. It is also a tribute, by way of its attempt to restore personhood to, not only the anonymous author of one of the earliest known pleas for freedom in the British Empire, but the enslaved mulatto’s African mother, who stands in for a collective: the silent millions whose humanity was confiscated during the transatlantic slavery era and who left few individual traces in the archives. August marks the 300th year of the original letter.

Palimpsest: Tales Spun From Sea And Memories by Billy Gerard Frank narrates overlaying tales; fragments of a life and man: Quobna Ottobah Cugoano through film installations paintings and assemblages, photographs, and film stills.

Frank’s research-based works interrogates autobiographical memory, issues of migration, race, exile, and global politics relating to gender, minority status, and post-colonial subjects, challenging normative discourses around them.

New York based Multi-disciplinary artist Billy Gerard Frank, was born in Grenada West Indies. Palimpsest was exhibited in La Biennale di Venezi 2019 and in 2022 in the Grenada National Pavilion.

Panel discussion: Visualising Britain’s Black Past
The panel, convened by curator Ekow Eshun and including Desirée Baptiste and Billy Gerard Frank, will address the life, legacy and contemporary resonance of Cugoano and other prominent Black figures in Georgian London, such as Oluadah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho in their discussion.

The panellists with explore the context in which these abolitionists lived – a time of slavery and empire – and reflect on the constraints and the possibilities of Black life in 18th century Britain. They will consider the ways that artists and writers today are revisiting the past in order to situate Black people at the centre, rather than the periphery, of historical narrative.

  • 5.30pm Incidents in the Life of an Anglican Slave, a short play written and performed by Desirée Baptiste
  • 6.30pm Palimpsest: Tales Spun From Sea And Memories film by Billy Gerard Frank
  • 7.15pm Panel discussion led by curator Ekow Eshun exploring the life, legacy and contemporary resonance of Ottobah Cugoano with playwright Desirée Baptiste, film maker Billy Gerard Frank and Paterson Joseph actor and author of The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho (2022) .

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