Exhibition examines links to slavery

Publish date: 18 Aug 2022

A thought-provoking, and at times challenging, new exhibition called ‘Trade Roots’ opens next week at Jersey Museum, Art Gallery & Victorian House. The exhibition will expose some uncomfortable new stories from the Island’s past and examine the legacy and impact of transatlantic slavery on Jersey’s community today.

Based in The Victorian House at No. 9 Pier Road, the exhibition includes evidence of the Island’s involvement in transatlantic slavery and will be officially opened by the Bailiff, Sir Tim Le Cocq, on 23 August, which is the UN’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The exhibition will be open daily to the public from Wednesday, 24 August.

Lucy Layton, Jersey Heritage Exhibitions Curator, said: “The ‘Trade Roots’ exhibition is the culmination of two years of historical research and community consultation. Slavery is a difficult and distressing subject, and curating the exhibition required careful consideration. We had a number of questions to answer, including how to tell these stories and what language to use. Huge thanks go to the members of our Jersey Heritage Diversity & Inclusion Group, who gave their time to help us piece together an important part of the Island’s history that up until now has remained largely untold.”

“While Jersey was not a major centre of slave trading, such as Bristol or Liverpool, the Island was part of a global network of trade in slave-produced goods, such as sugar, coffee, cotton, tobacco and, most significantly, mahogany. There are a number of individuals directly involved with the slave trade, most notably Sir George Carteret, and it is these stories and the evidence behind them that form the basis of the ‘Trade Roots’ exhibition.”

Lucy explained that ‘Trade Roots’ is based in The Victorian House, with its impressive mahogany staircase, because new research had shown that the house was built partly on the profits of the transatlantic slave trade. She said: “Our interpretation in The Victorian House had previously focused entirely on the personal stories of those who lived there. ‘Trade Roots’ looks at a different aspect of the house’s past that, while not being so obvious and at times being challenging and uncomfortable, is equally as important to share.”

The exhibition has been co-curated by Jade Ecobichon-Gray, a member of Jersey Heritage’s Diversity & Inclusion Group (JHDIG), which was set up in 2020 after the issue of diversity was brought to the fore by the global protest movement for equality following international outcry at the killing of George Floyd in the United States and, closer to home, the abuse received by Black footballers playing for England.

Like many museums around the world, Jersey Heritage took the opportunity to begin reviewing its interpretation and collections in order to acquire more knowledge and promote an understanding of different communities. The ‘Trade Roots’ exhibition was a key action point from JHDIG’s first report, published last year.

Jade said: “The importance of decolonising history cannot be underestimated. The ‘Trade Roots’ exhibition began with a commitment to broaden the perspectives through which we engage with, and learn from, historical information. To recognise that there is no one singular narrative associated with the events of the past. Challenging long-held dominant viewpoints allows for a broader, more nuanced understanding of the history that continues to shape our societies and communities. Curating the whole-story history of transatlantic slavery is crucial to our ability to learn from the past, so that we may take action in the present.”

Following the opening of ‘Trade Roots’ next week, Jersey Heritage will be running a dedicated schools programme centred on the exhibition, as well as a number of associated events in October to mark Black History Month. These will include a series of talks, including speakers from UCL’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery.

Picture/ interview opportunity: The Bailiff, Sir Tim Le Cocq, will officially open ‘Trade Roots’ at 6pm on Tuesday, 23 August at Jersey Museum, Art Gallery & Victorian House. Also present will be members of the Jersey Heritage Diversity & Inclusion Group and members of the Island’s Black community.

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Kindly supported by The Jersey Community Foundation with funds from the Channel Islands Lottery.