The gathering of titanium souls Standing placidly in the sand At the bottom of the ocean To which they ran A safe haven only they could see.
— Ashley Parks, excerpt from In Memory of Those Who Chose the Sea, 2021
From the 16th to the 19th centuries, the transatlantic slave trade was an enforced and horrific voyage for millions of human beings. African peoples were shackled in the lower decks of ships, and transported like cargo by British and European slavers to the Americas and West Indies. The trauma of these events has been passed down through the generations, and has since become rooted in the collective psyche of descendants of the African diaspora.
Quebec-based artist Stanley Wany presents his own coming-to-terms with this legacy. Primarily known as a graphic novelist, for this exhibition he connects the conditions aboard slave-transport ships to current societal stratification among the living relatives of those who were taken.
Wany’s multimedia installation brings together immersive video footage of the unpredictable waves of the Atlantic Ocean, with sculptural approximations of the compartments in which human beings were stored below decks on slaving ships. An accompanying mixed-media work on paper echoes the dislocation brought on by lost identities, histories and ancestors, in a dreamlike wash of black and white tones through which characters emerge and recede.
A disproportionate number of those in African-diasporic communities live in highrise housing projects, stacked in apartments one on top of the other, similar to the lower decks of slaving ships. By showing the correlation between these spatial and hierarchical systems, Wany provokes and supports a diversity of emotional, intellectual and physical reflections about diasporic conditions, and the residual effects of violence and harm.
English Editing: Sheila Singhal
French Translation: Marie-Camille Lalande
Design: Phillip Lizotte
The artist acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.
This exhibition was realized with the support of the City of Ottawa, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts, as well as the RBC Foundation’s support of the OAG’s Connect: Artist Mentorship Program.
Stanley Wany, For those who Chose the Sea (detail), 2021, video installation, wooden sculpture, and mixed-media illustration/painting on Strathmore paper, 100.6 cm x 457.2 cm. Courtesy of the Artist.
Stanley Wany’s interactive structure is built with the exact dimensions of the spatial conditions endured by African peoples aboard the Portuguese slaving ship Veloz. The dimensions are drawn from an eye-witness account recorded in 1829 by Irish abolitionist Reverend Robert Walsh, when he boarded the vessel bound for Brazil: