A new and emotive exhibition has opened in Lancaster to highlight the hidden history of black Lancastrians.
The collection “Facing the past” was commissioned from Lela Harris, who uses a range of media to create portraits of enslaved Africans who existed in the 1700s. In total, there are six portraits which depict the identities of Frances Elizabeth Johnson, Thomas Anson, John Chance, Isaac Rawlinson, ‘Ebo Boy’, and Molly.
Harris said: “The exhibition has been fascinating on lots of different fronts. I’ve got to learn a lot about Lancaster and the role that black people played here in the 18th Century.”
The true appearances of these individuals are unknown, and the portraits were created using documents such as burial and baptism records. With no pictorial evidence of these individuals, Harris was responsible for creating an emotional picture of the enslaved Africans and then matching this to an appearance.
One portrait, Ebo Boy portrays the life of a young boy who escaped slavery from Heysham, Lancashire in 1765. His real name is unknown.
Harris said: “We don’t actually know where he ended up, but we hope he remained free. This portrait is a collage incorporating lots of different mediums … to kind of highlight his rich life.”
Children from local primary schools have been visiting the exhibition to learn more about the lives of enslaved Africans in Lancashire and creating their own portraits of what they believe these individuals looked like. They have also given ‘Ebo boy’ the new name, Afamefuna, which means ‘my name will not be lost’ in the Igbo language.
Ties to slavery
This exhibition was developed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 in order to recognise the involvement of black people in Lancashire’s history.
“We are very proud to present this fantastic exhibition which shines a light on an important period of our history.” – Lynda Jackson (Museum manager of Judges’ Lodgings)
Lancashire was once the fourth largest slave trading port in the country where Lancaster merchants invested in selling an estimated 30,000 enslaved people.
“Facing the Past is a culturally significant project that will reflect on the role Lancaster played in the transatlantic slave trade and of the enslaved people who came to the city.” – Peter Buckley (Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for community and cultural services)
Facing the Past is a city-wide programme of creative activity throughout 2023 and a permanent digital map resource. The aim of this programme is to help educate and raise awareness about the slave trade in Lancaster.
The young people’s exhibition is available to see alongside the six portraits, which contains a collection of artworks created by children in Lancashire to highlight what they have been learning about this period of history.
This exhibition is on show at The Judges Lodgings, Lancaster. Click here for more information.
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