The Gilt of Cain : remembering and forgetting slavery
Yesterday I led a guided walk for a group of students around Spitalfields and the City of London looking both at aspects of the area’s connections with the silk trade and traces of different pasts in the landscape. One stop was the artwork in Fen Court, ‘The Gilt of Cain’ (sic) by Lemn Sissay and Michael Visocchi.
It was the first memorial for the victims of the slave trade erected with the support of the City of London Corporation in 2007 . However, the memorial that juxtaposes the language of city traders with both sugar cane and the platform used at a slave auction – or possibly a pulpit in which abolition was preached – is not in the Guildhall or outside a financial institution. It is erected in the former graveyard of the church now joined to the parish in which John Newton, former slaver and then abolitionist, worked for many years and this specific positioning is drawn out on the accompanying plaque (if one reads). While such a radical work is to be welcomed in the City one notices that the statue of William Beckford, twice Lord Mayor of London, still stands inside the Guildhall without reference to his ownership of slaves on his Jamaican plantations…
For further discussion of anti-slavery memorials see John Siblon’s article in Public History and Heritage Today. People and their Pasts and an extract from Alan Rice’s work in the Public History Reader.