During my three city invitational exhibition tour in France this past Spring, I visited the Memorial to the Abolitionment of Slavery in Nantes. Nantes was one of my exhibiting cities and France's largest slave port. Along the riverside lies this memorial museum. Unique in France, the memorial pays homage to all those who have fought and are still fighting against slavery in all its forms throughout the world. I walked along the riverside where 2,000 plaques commemorate the voyages of slave ships from Nantes as well as the major trading posts in Africa and America and followed the commemorative trail lined with quotations in all 47 languages of those countries associated with the slave trade. The trail continues underground into an area designed to mimic the holds of the ships. It is a moving and worthwhile experience.
Slave ships were given Christian names for a safe journey, while transporting enslaved Africans in horrendous conditions below. One of the ship's names caught my attention, Three Mary's. I was immediately inspired to paint these three women; each of them will give birth to many African subcultures. Written on each painting in French are the three cash crops they were sold into slavery for in America; rice, cotton and indigo. On the top left corner of each painting is what they were purchased with; a mere copper bangle. Written on the pieces is the name of the slave port city, Nantes, where nearly 500,000 Africans came through.
The summer of last year I was asked to paint a piece for the South Carolina Aquarium's R.I.C.E. Initiative, I entitled it American Gullah. It would become the signature piece and inspiration of the American Gullah Collection. The Aquarium is located in Gadsden Wharf in Charleston, SC; where over 100,000 Africans came through. It is also located near the site where the new International African American Museum will be built. I realize why painting the 'American Gullah Collection' was so important. You see, I was inspired to create and exhibit the American Gullah Collection from Charleston,SC (largest slave port city in America) to Nantes, France (Largest Slave port city in France). In historical African American grave sites, you will often see items relating to the sea; such as sea shells and more, on the graves of the enslaved Africans. They believed the sea is what brought them to this world (America) in this life and the sea is what will take them back home in the afterlife and there they will finally be free. Divine inspiration. I am going from one Slave port city to the next picking up precious cargo; the hopes, dreams and stories of my ancestors. I am taking their spirits back home to freedom through my art, while discovering how I, we became 'American Gullah'.
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Artist Sonja Griffin Evans
"Art Speaks." Travel Blog