In 1807 the slave trade was outlawed within the British Empire, however enslaved workers did not become finally free until 1838. After the abolition, sugar plantation owners quickly turned their sights to an alternative supply of workers. Indian workers were recruited to Trinidad, to work on the plantations in harsh conditions. The exhibition features remarkable images of the Indian community in Trinidad, many wearing beautiful traditional dress.

Bitter Sweet: Legacies of Sugar and Slavery in the Caribbean

By Laura Briggs (August 21, 2007)

Hundreds of photographs will unravel the stories behind a Victorian family trip to eleven Caribbean Islands in Bitter Sweet: Legacies of Sugar and Slavery (from September 29 2007 until March 29 2008) at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.

The photographs of the Miller and Quilter families will be showcased for the first time in this unique exhibition, which illustrates their travels by steam yacht to the West Indies. The photographs demonstrate the many contrasting lifestyles of the Caribbean islands in 1899; a Victorian family holiday, an English lady’s amateur photography, conditions and working life within the sugar industry and candid snapshots of Island life.

Research into the photographs revealed that the trip to the Caribbean was more than just a family holiday. Sir Cuthbert Quilter had been asked by the British Colonial Secretary to report on the condition of the sugar industry on the islands. Through new images taken in 2007 by artist and photographer Ken Blackburn, visitors will see a ‘now and then’ contrast with the original Victorian photographs of the industry, its locations and communities.

A personal story will also be revealed within the exhibition through the photographs of hobbyist Norah Blanche Miller. Using an early Kodak camera, her images capture street scenes and give glimpses into life on the islands. Exhibition Curator Laura Briggs said ‘These remarkable images show people in fantastic detail and will help to reveal the far-reaching legacy of sugar. It will be a great opportunity to see these photographs on display for the first time.’

Bitter Sweet: Legacies of Sugar and Slavery is part of the Harris Museum & Art Gallery’s programme of events and workshops to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery. Programmed events include curatorial talks, an academic panel discussion on transatlantic enslavement, and creative workshops for all ages.

In 1807 the slave trade was outlawed within the British Empire, however enslaved workers did not become finally free until 1838. After the abolition, sugar plantation owners quickly turned their sights to an alternative supply of workers. Indian workers were recruited to Trinidad, to work on the plantations in harsh conditions. The exhibition features remarkable images of the Indian community in Trinidad, many wearing beautiful traditional dress.

Before 1650, sugar was unavailable to most people, enjoyed only by nobility and the wealthy. But as the exhibition demonstrates, behind the continuing appetite for sugar lies the complex legacy of chattel enslavement. Europeans began to develop their sugar trade from the 15th century and its production quickly became intertwined with the slave trade.

Admission to the Harris Museum & Art Gallery is free. We are located in the heart of Preston city centre. Opening hours are Mon – Sat 10am to 5pm, except Tues, 11am to 5pm. Closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. More information about the exhibition and events can be found on www.harrismuseum.org.uk

Originally appeared in Black Britain. 


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