In the attic space of Readytex Art Gallery, Kurt Nahar presents The Zong, an installation in which he critically reflects on the effects – then and now – of the inhumane slave trade from Africa to the colonies in the Caribbean and America. It is a subject that the artist has been doing research on for some time now, and just like in his previous installation The Nene Rituals, he once again brings together elements that are recognizable and to some extent also unifying to all descendants.
The title of the installation refers to the British slave ship the Zong, which left from Accra to Jamaica in 1781, heavily overloaded with 442 enslaved Africans. Near the end of the journey, more than 130 of the Africans were killed in cold blood by throwing them overboard under the guise of a shortage in the drinking water supply. The ultimate goal of this gruesome deed however, was to submit an insurance claim for the deceased Africans – who were insured as cargo – and to thus salvage some of the dwindling profits from a voyage that was plagued by gross mismanagement.
Over the entire length of the long and narrow attic space of Readytex Art Gallery, which could easily mimic the idea of a ship’s hold because of its shape, the artist symbolically recreates the history, the course, and the consequences of the slave trade. He starts with a set of wooden doors, The Doors of No Return, typical for the trading places in the harbor of Ghana, and ends the installation with a painting that includes a Sankofa bird. The Akan peoples of Ghana for example, consider this bird a symbol for the wisdom of looking back at your history in order to take from it that which you need to build a better future. In between those metaphors for the past and the future, the artist places multiple elements that characterize the colonial history and the long struggle for equality and justice of the victims of slavery. Symbols for the prosperity of the Dutch and the English colonial rulers such as bricks, wine glasses and a porcelain teacup, are in sharp contrast against symbols such as crosses and nooses, which so effectively depict the great injustice and suffering endured by the enslaved and their descendants.
Particularly noticeable in the installation is the recurring image of the cow horn, which, as a valuable instrument for warning and communication, has played an important role in the cultural legacies of all the Caribbean islands and in Suriname. The theme of identity and the role of skin color and discrimination therein, which is another inheritance from the colonial past that is part of Kurt Nahar’s research, is also woven into the installation.