Alberta Whittle: New Exhibition at The Holburne examines Bath’s uneasy past

Bath’s history as a city that flourished in the age of slavery is put under the spotlight and explored in Alberta Whittle’s first Exhibition in a public museum- Dipping Below a Waxing Moon, The Dance Claims Us For Release.

Fresh from representing Scotland at the Venice Biennale, Alberta Whittle (b.1980) will present a suite of newly commissioned sculptures across the Holburne Museum’s site and grounds, as well as a series of new text-based works across Bath.

The exhibition, examines 18th-century histories; especially those shared by the Ball’s Plantation in her native Barbados which was owned by Guy Ball.

On permanent show at the Holburne Museum is a 1722 ledger from a 400-acre sugar plantation in Barbados owned by Guy Ball, the great-grandfather of the Holburne Museum’s founder, Thomas William Holburne. Disconcertingly, at some point 150 pages have been removed, leaving only one legible section, leaving us to wonder was somebody trying to hide something?

Alberta Whittle’s new works for this exhibition confront and examine the uncomfortable elements of the Holburnes’ past. Whittle was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, and is very familiar with the area where the Ball’s Plantation had been located. In 2019 she even wrote an epitaph for those who had died while working there.

The nucleus of this exhibition was the plantation ledger which the Holburne has in their collection. I was really curious about the relationships between plantations, the built environment and the story of Bath, but also the story of colonialism in the Caribbean. I’m from Barbados, and the plantation from which this ledger would have come is not far from me – it’s in the same parish.It’s no longer a working sugar plantation, but it’s somewhere I’m quite familiar with

Alberta Whittle

The Limbo is one of the subjects explored in the exhibition. The limbo is one of the most well known, yet widely misunderstood, symbols of Caribbean culture. The famous dance, where a participant contorts their body to pass under a horizontal bar which is progressively lowered towards the ground, is often seen as a symbol of Caribbean culture Its roots, however, derive from the forced activities of enslaved Africans during their passage from Africa to the Americas where time above deck was given in exchange for entertainment.

One of the works ‘Matrix Moves’, is a group of sculpted figures in various stages of the limbo dance, capturing the physical contortions that enslaved Africans had to perform for their owners. The bending bodies stand alongside limbo poles that are impossibly low—a metaphor for the continued manoeuvring that people of colour must endure.

Dipping Below a Waxing Moon, The Dance Claims Us For Release provides glimpses of redemption, empathy and compassion, despite addressing unpalatable truths about Britain, Bath, and the Holburne Museum.

The Holburne offers free entry to all Exhibitions to University of Bath Students & Staff

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