Remember Slavery – GTiCP conference

View Statement PDF

Remember Slavery is an artistic interpretation and portrayal of the so-called ‘Transatlantic Slave Trade’, originally commissioned by Liverpool’s International Slavery Museum in 2017, and performed and adapted for presentation for a range of audiences and venues over the last two years. The short 12 minute performance, inspired by the story of Capoeira, uses live music & song, Capoeira, dramatic performance and Afro-Brazilian Dance.

Our performance was written as an emotive, powerful and impactful piece so as to capture the personal gravitas and dehumanising experience of the tragedy. We aimed to draw audiences into this experience through a range of dramatic technique, as we feel (personally and artistically) this is how the tragedy of colonial slavery needs to be presented, as it is all too often reduced to an easy-to-stomach story or list of events and scenarios, or to an economic event (for example, the ‘Triangular Trade’?!). It is our opinion and experience that the soft historical presentation of colonial slavery (as opposed to our engaging emotional presentation) can limit discussion about the very present relationship (personally, socially, economically and politically) that we all have with this tragic period of global history.

Regarding the intensity of the piece, it’s important for us to communicate that we, the writers and performers, are people of African descent. We felt this is part of our personal story and the historical trauma still experienced by us has to be part of the re-telling. Again, this is in response and contrast to our feelings that the tragic story of colonial chattel slavery was a widely unacknowledged one or is all too often retold in an easy to hear account of events or happenings. For example, our personal experience of the ISM in Liverpool, is a very difficult experience, detailing the personal anguish and dehumanising of innocent people including the selling of, torture and murder. Our aim was to echo this uncompromising portrayal, which we felt was more true to our own feelings of this trauma and a more meaningful, impactful and useful way to communicate it through performance, as, we felt, this part of history is related to and shared by all in our society and needs to be discussed further.

Further, our art-form, Capoeira, which is the inspiration for our creativity, is also part of the personal experience of how we related to, understand and deal with this traumatic and tragic part of history. Capoeira is a beautiful art-form mixed with intense violence: it is both a dance and a fight. It was born from the brutality of treatment of innocent people, but also expresses the beauty, hope and humanity of freedom. It is our aim with this piece of performance art to portray both these elements through the expression of our own emotions and experiences related to this event and in turn to create a shared experience of our story, with its emotional pain and violence, but also its strength, hope and humanity.

As we would like to create as much clarity as possible, we’d like to make a specific note on the so-called ‘Auction scene’ which we’re aware has been much discussed and a focus of criticism. This scene is not a “re-enactment of a slave auction”, but our artistic interpretation and presentation of the process of dehumanising a person through reducing them to an object, a key element of chattel slavery. This scene is particularly powerful and emotive for a number of reasons. Firstly, during the scene we deliberately break the “fourth wall” and at this point engage the audience in the narrative of the performance through addressing them directly. This, as a deliberate artistic decision, is done to connect the performance, performers and audience to the truth that we are all still intimately connected (in different but related ways) to the reality and legacy of colonial slavery and its attitudes and prejudices, both personally and systemically. Secondly, the process of reducing a person to an object of sale is the rawest form of dehumanization and violence and is also iconic of colonial chattel slavery’s motivation of economic and political gain over the life, dignity and humanity of people. As artists telling this story, we believe that we should not shy away from bringing to the present this element of the tragedy because it is so dehumanising and extremely difficult to confront. Our ancestors, our family, were sold for profit and political power. This shameful truth is the reality of our past that we should not censor and in fact, we believe, should confront head on. Our performance does this and asks the audience to face their relationship with the truth of this event. If theatre and art censored itself to not portray painful and shameful elements of our history, it would not be the powerful medium it is.

From audiences feedback on past performances, this scene is often the point that people feel most connected, and most emotionally effected by, the performance and themes. Due to the latest response to our performance and this scene, and valued feedback from audience members, we will in the future work more closely with performance commissioners and organisers to ensure audiences are prepared for the powerful content and portrayal of these events.

As was emphasized to attendees, we welcome feedback on our performance, whether related to our artistic methods, the story itself, or to communicate how the piece impacted on you.

It was not the intention of the piece to cause any members of the audience extreme distress or trauma, and we apologise unconditionally to those who felt this from our piece. We have presented this piece to a range of diverse audiences, and the gravitas and intensity of the piece has always been acknowledged, but not to such a extreme extent. In previous performances, discussions following the piece have always inspired new insights and new understanding across audiences. Although we aim to connect the audience emotionally to the events of the story, through for example, breaking the fourth wall and through a powerful soundtrack and acting, we do not do this to affect in an extreme traumatic way, and again, we unconditionally apologise and we welcome feedback and suggestions if this was your experience (and thank attendees who gave these on the night).

Through the performance, we aim to encourage difficult questions, discussions and conversations on the challenging themes of inequality, violence, trauma and humanity. We feel that the questions, opinions and contribution now being given by individuals, groups and across institutions are questions that are relevant to the themes of the conference and (hopefully) to the world of applied and clinical psychology. Our goal as artists, would be that these themes are highlighted, discussed and presented further, in light of each of our experiences and reactions to the content of the performance and conference. We hope conversations and discussions continue so as to provide further opportunity to learn of each other’s histories, challenges and aspirations and so that further understanding and common ground can be found.

We wish to express our total support for the organisers of the GTiCP conference and the BPS for their aspiration and courage in presenting such challenging and difficult topics and events.

Finally, much of the criticism, primarily through social media, has taken elements of our performance out of context, been factually wrong and misrepresented what we aimed to achieve. We will be holding a repeat performance for people to make up their own mind on the performance. Importantly, we believe that the discussions being had need to continue, we will be holding a post-show discussion to further explore the themes of the piece and to discuss further the reaction to our performance over the last two weeks:

What: Remember Slavery and post-performance discussion
Where: Katumba Culture Hub, #1 John Archer Hall, 68 Upper Hill street, L8 1YR.
When: 3pm – 5pm, Sunday 24th November
Who: All welcome (free)

Akil Morgan, Managing Director, Capoeira for All

View Statement PDF