Graham Fagen: The Slave’s Lament
23 May to 8 September 2019
Growing up in Scotland, Graham Fagen was taught that Robert Burns was a champion of political, social and personal freedoms, a voice for the marginalised and the oppressed. This position was challenged, however, upon learning that in the late eighteenth century Burns had booked passage to Jamaica where he had arranged to work as a bookkeeper on a sugar plantation. How could Burns, a voice of liberty and equality, have come so close to an active and direct involvement in the exploitation, trade and enslavement of his fellow man? Burns never made it to the Caribbean and The Slave’s Lament, written in 1792, was his only work to communicate the appalling realities of the transatlantic slave trade.
Fagen found far more in common with the sentiment and politics of Caribbean heritage and culture made accessible to him through music, notably dub and reggae. In this work Fagen has collaborated with reggae singer Ghetto Priest, composer Sally Beamish, the Scottish Ensemble, and legendary dub producer Adrian Sherwood to create a haunting and melancholy interpretation that transports Burns’ words into the contemporary, while joining the seemingly disparate cultural heritages of the Caribbean and the United Kingdom.
Installed in the Picture Gallery, Fagen’s work brings to the fore the complex and often compromised histories of many of the sitters, artists and subjects that make up the Holburne’s collection. Henrietta Pultney, Robert Craggs-Nugent, and George Byam owned slaves, plantations or made significant profit from the enforced labour of black Africans. Drawing this further, Fagen’s work asks us to reconsider the vast wealth that was needed to finance the development of Bath as a popular destination in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Commissioned by Hospitalfield House, Arbroath and exhibited at Scotland+Venice 2015, when Graham Fagen represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale.
Graham Fagen (b.1966)
The Slave’s Lament, 2015
5 channel audio visual installation
Loop duration 14mins 33secs
Courtesy the artist and Matt’s Gallery, London