Rebel Queen returns to Copenhagen after 131 years.

Rebel Queen returns to Copenhagen  after 131 years.

By Martha Elias. Copenhagen, 7 April 2018, 23:31 p.m.

On 31 March 2018, the first giant sculpture of an African woman was unveiled on Danish soil. It is the first of its kind, on a public space in Copenhagen, and also in the country’s common consciousness. I AM QUEEN MARY is the name of the art piece, that embodies  a titanic monument representing the Antigua-born rebel queen, Mary Leticia Thomas, who was primus motor of the Fireburn rebellion on the island of St. Croix in October 1878. With their work, the artists underline a historical momentum on the subject of Denmark’s colonial past, which opens up for a much needed soul-searching dialogue about a hidden side of Denmark’s history, while at the same time rescues the memory of the rebel, Mary Thomas, from oblivion.

A historic day in Copenhagen, when the Danish capital embraced  a 7 meters high sculpture, which epically depicts a crucial and hidden lug of the Danish colonisation power, as well as its impotence. Moreover,  the piece has been delivered in a huge format too. By the waterfront of the former West Indies Warehouse, unto which ships with sugar and rum from the colonies berthed, right there the monument stands in all its lucid splendour. This site embodies the history of The Danish West India Company, which on behalf of the monarch colonised the islands of St. Thomas in 1671, St. John in 1718 and St. Croix in 1733, after acquiring it from France. Since 1755, the Danish Crown itself took control over the islands, which remained part of the Danish national territory until the controversial sale of the islands to the United States in 1917. On 31 March, every year,  transfer day is signalised. This is the day when the islands, and its people, where passed on from one colonial power to another. This year, as the centennial year of the transfer concludes, and exactly 101 years on, reminisces the date, where the islands were sold to the United States, and from then on changed name to Virgin Islands. A day of mixed feelings  for many inhabitants of the islands, says the interdisciplinary artist, La Vaughn Belle, born in St. Croix, who along with Danish-Trinidadian artist Jeannette Ehlers, is behind the art project I AM QUEEN MARY, of which they tell it was incepted as an art project in 2014, the artists’ work was delivered on this very date, to the city of Copenhagen – and the world – and not as a commission, but as a common effort, as they had to raise the funds themselves.

This year, as the centennial year of the transfer concludes, and exactly 101 years on, reminisces the date, where the islands were sold to the United States, and from then on changed name to Virgin Islands. A day of mixed feelings for many inhabitants of the islands, says the interdisciplinary artist, La Vaughn Belle.

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The impact when standing in front of I AM QUEEN MARY is best described with one word: breathlessness. Thereafter it is the aesthetic value of the art piece that captures the eye, its authority upon the public common space is impressive, while the actual Danish socio-political context she enters unto invites upon a time journey alongside the majestic, inscrutable piece. The sculpture’s structure is made in polystyrene, and is composed by several parts, after assembled , it has been covered with luminescent black spray painting that could easily match Rimfaxe, Odin’s mythological night-black horse. A headdress crowns her head, and her body is clothed by robes that refer to colonial times. The barefoot statue sits collected and looks unshakable – holding a historical symbol on each of her hands, i.e. a cane bill and a torch. From her seating position on the regal wicker chair placed on a massive plinth made of cement and coral stones, which date back to St. Croix’s colonial era, Queen Mary opens up for the long-awaited recognition of the significance of the Fireburn upheaval and its historical trace, which remains unmentioned in Danish history books. She looks straight ahead, just as collected, as pondering, and may seem as if she once again calls for action. There is a clear reference to Huey Newton’s iconic image, seated on a wicker chair. Newton was the founder of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. At the same time there is a reference to visual artist and performer Ehlers’ theatre piece Into the Dark, performed in Copenhagen in 2017.

Huey P. Newton
Source: http://www.usblackart.com/posters/Huey_P_Newton_4796.asp

From her seating position on the regal wicker chair placed on a massive plinth made of cement and coral stones which date back to St. Croix’s colonial era, Queen Mary opens up for the long-awaited recognition of the significance of the Fireburn upheaval, and its historical trace, which remains unmentioned in Danish history books.

I AM QUEEN MARY, is a inter-weaved depiction of Mary Thomas, who arrived in St. Croix in 1860 to work as manual labour on one of the island’s plantations. In addition to Queen Mary – queen was a term used for influential, headstrong and socially engaged women labour workers on the plantations – there were three other queens, who lead the rebellion: Susanne Abrahamson, Agnes Elizabeth Salomon and Mathilde McBean. Together they organised the insurrection against inhumane working conditions, which even 30 years after slavery had been abolished officially, were still being enforced on the islands where everyday life was characterised by oppression and enslavement. Queen Mary was the main leader of the rebellion, raising against the colonial power to improve working conditions for her people, as she also set an agenda of fierce resistance against the Danish rulers, which in October 1878 ended up with the death of three Europeans and at least 100 plantation workers, while most of the island’s plantations burned to the ground. Queen Mary was first sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Thus, in 1882 she and her fellow rebel sisters were shipped to Copenhagen to serve their jail sentence in a local women’s prison at Christianhavn, which nowadays houses a bakery. In 1887, five years after their arrival, all four women were sent back to St. Croix. It is now 131 years since Queen Mary and the three other queens were sent back to the islands from Copenhagen, and as her statue is inaugurated, it is also 101 years since the islands’ were transferred from Denmark to the U.S.

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The sculpture is located at the former West India Warehouse, which nowadays houses the Royal Casting Collection with over 2,500 plaster castings of primarily European classical works. Just to the left in front of the building’s main entrance stands Michelangelo’s upright, Eurocentric verdigris David Statue, who has now got his counterpart with I AM QUEEN MARY on the right handside of the building’s front. This is a monument whose panorama view looks as straight ahead as ethereal upon the horizon, from there  she empowers and represents in a dichotomous way the actual rebellion, as well as the rebels’ entry into history via resurfacing from a hidden past through common memory. Since there were no pictures of Mary Thomas – but also because the concept was about reconciling narratives, nations and bodies from Denmark and the Virgin Islands – the two artists set themselves to merge their bodies using 3D technology, which resulted in the hybrid figure the sculpture embodies. The creative fusion also had the artistic function – as well as the intention – of creating human bridges across continents, history and time. Thus seeking reconciliation through a distinction between guilt and responsibility, crime and forgiveness, oblivion and soul-searching.

I AM QUEEN MARY is a monument whose panorama view looks as straight ahead, as ethereal upon the horizon. From there  she empowers and represents in a dichotomous way the actual rebellion, as well as the rebels’ entry into history via resurfacing from a hidden past through common memory.

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The piece of art fills in a wide gap in a Copenhagen, where several buildings around the sculpture’s current location in Toldbodgade – but also elsewhere in the metropolitan area and around the country – were built with revenues from slavery at first, and later by enslaved manual workers from the islands, whose descendants still fight for self-determination, recognition from an ignominious time, as well as against the deep traces of the failed power structures that colonialism’s blood-stained legacy seems to have left behind. The sculpture has a rotating axis that covers the creative, interdisciplinary and socio-political fields concurrently. Regarding the political emphasis, Ehlers says calmly, though certain: “Not all art is political. However, good art is always political” – with partial reference to both Toni Morrison and Harald Giersing.

I AM QUEEN MARY is a sculpture who seeks a permanent place casted in bronze in front of the West India Warehouse, right across the Danish Opera House and with her back turned away from Amalienborg, The Danish Royal Palace. The artists continue their firm intention to raise the necessary funds to accomplish this endeavour. On the other hand, the artist duo expresses an intention to embark on a twin piece to be placed on St. Croix which conceptually matches the work in Copenhagen, but that surely will be adapted to the natural and public spaces of St. Croix. Most important for the artists, however, is the need for an honest, profound and open-minded dialogue both in Denmark and on the Virgin Islands, for which this sculpture will hopefully pave the way.

Harsh, suggestive and sensual art, all in one single piece, which also raises awareness, unites paths and frames both history and narratives.

PHILIP SAMPSON: Fireburn-dronningerne – Danmarks glemte heltinder

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: I AM QUEEN MARY

STATENS MUSEUM FOR KUNST – event

Huey Newton on wicker chair

BBC RADIO COVERAGE

NEW YORK TIMES feature

New York Times feature

INFORMATION: article I AM QM

POLITIKEN: I AM QM

DR 1 TV: I AM QUEEN MARY

VIDEO// I AM QM: behind the scene

 

Reklamer
Afro-karibisk oprørsdronning                  vender tilbage til København efter 131 år.

Afro-karibisk oprørsdronning vender tilbage til København efter 131 år.

Af Martha Elias. København, 7. april 2018 kl. 7:07

31. marts 2018 blev datoen for indvielsen af den første kæmpeskulptur af en afro-karibisk kvinde på dansk jord. Det er den første af slagsen i det offentlige rum og i den fælles danske bevidsthed. I AM QUEEN MARY er et titanisk monument, der repræsenterer Antigua-fødte Mary Leticia Thomas, oprørsleder for Den Store Ildebrand – eller Fireburn – på øen Skt. Croix i oktober 1878. Med værket vil kunstnerne markere et historisk opgør med emnet om Danmark som kolonimagt, åbne op for en selvransagende dialog om en skjult side af danmarkshistorien, og redde mindet om oprøreren, Mary Thomas, fra glemsel.

En historisk dag i København, da Danmark fik en 7 meter høj skulptur, der på episk vis, skildrer en afgørende og hengemt flig af den danske koloniseringsmagt og afmagt – og det i kæmpe format. Lige foran Vestindisk Pakhus, hvortil skibe med sukker og rom fra kolonierne lagde til kaj, står værket i sin pragt. Stedet gemmer fortællingen om Vestindisk Kompagni, der på vegne af kongemagten koloniserede øerne Skt. Thomas i 1671, Skt. Jan i 1718 og Skt. Croix i 1733, der blev erhvervet fra Frankrig. Siden 1755 overtog kongemagten selv kontrollen over øerne, som forblev en del af dansk territorie indtil salget af øerne til USA i 1917.  På dagen 31. marts markeres hvert år dagen for overgangen fra den ene kolonimagt til den anden. I år er det præcist 101 år siden øerne blev solgt til USA, og kom herefter til at hedde Jomfruøerne. En dag, der rummer blandede følelser for mange af øernes beboere, fortæller den tværfaglige kunstner La Vaughn Belle, født på Skt. Croix, der sammen med dansk-karibiske kunstner, Jeannette Ehlers, står bag værket, der har været undervejs siden 2014.

I år er det 101 år siden øerne blev solgt til USA, og kom herefter til at hedde Jomfruøerne. En dag, der rummer blandede følelser for mange af øernes beboere, fortæller den tværfaglige kunstner La Vaughn Belle.

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Det første indtryk, når man står foran I AM QUEEN MARY kan bedst beskrives med et ord: lammelse. Herefter er det kunstens æstetiske værdi, der henriver, autoriteten i bybilledet, der imponerer, og den nutidige socialpolitiske kontekst hun træder ind i, der byder på en tidsrejse sammen med den majestætiske, uudgrundelige figur. Strukturen er lavet i polystyren og er blevet samlet af flere dele, derefter er den dækket med glitrende kulsort spraymaling, der kunne matche Rimfaxes manke. Hovedbeklædningen kroner hendes hoved, og kroppen er iklædt gevandter, der refererer til kolonitid.  Barfodet sidder hun og skuer urokkelig – idet hun på hænderne holder to historiske symboler: sukkerrørmachete og fakkel.  Fra sin siddende stilling på påfuglestolen på en massiv sokkel lavet af cement og koralsten, der daterer tilbage til Skt. Croix’ kolonitid, åbner Queen Mary op for den længe ventede og manglende anerkendelse af oprørets betydning og historiske levn, der ikke præger danske historiebøger den dag i dag. Hun ser fattet, men undrende ud, og kalder igen til handling. Her ses en klar reference til Huey Newton’s ikoniske billede siddende på et påfugle billede. Han var stifter af de Sorte Pantere i 1960-ernes USA,  desuden er der også et link til visuel kunstner og performer Ehlers’ scenedramatiske stykke Into the Dark  fra 2017.

Huey P. Newton
Kilde: http://www.usblackart.com/posters/Huey_P_Newton_4796.asp

Fra sin stilling på påfuglestolen på en massiv sokkel lavet af cement og koralsten, der daterer tilbage til Skt. Croix’ kolonitid, åbner Queen Mary op for den længe ventede og manglende anerkendelse af oprørets betydning og historiske levn, der ikke præger danske historiebøger den dag i dag.

I AM QUEEN MARY, er en sammenvævet skildring om Mary Thomas, der var ankommet til Skt. Croix i 1860 for at arbejde på en af øens plantager. Foruden Queen Mary – queen var en betegnelse brugt om indflydelsesrige, ledende og socialt engagerede arbejderkvinder på plantagerne – var der tre andre queens, der stod forrest i oprøret:  Susanne Abrahamson, Agnes Elizabeth Salomon og Mathilde McBean. Sammen organiserede de den opstand imod forhold, der selv 30 år efter slaveriet officielt var afskaffet, stadig herskede på øerne, hvor hverdagen var præget af undertrykkelse og slavegjorte tilstande. Queen Mary var den vigtigste anfører til oprøret for bedre arbejdsvilkår, og hun satte en agenda om indædt modstand mod den danske kolonimagt, der i oktober 1878 endte med at koste tre europæere og mindst 100 plantagearbejdere livet, samtidigt med at de fleste af øens plantager nedbrændte. Selve Queen Mary blev først dømt til døden, men fik dommen omstødt til livstid,. I 1882 ankom hun med sine medsøstre til København for at afsone sin dom på kvindefængslet på Christianhavns Torv, der nu huser et bageri. Fem år efter, i 1887, blev alle fire kvinder sendt tilbage til øerne. I år er det 131 år siden, Queen Mary rejste tilbage til øerne fra København.

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Værket er placeret ved Vestindisk Pakhus, der huser Den Kongelige Afstøbningssamling med over 2.500 gipsafstøbninger af primært europæiske klassiske værker. Lige til venstre foran indgangen til udstillingen står Michelangelos opretstående, eurocentristiske irgrønne Davidstatue, som nu har fået sin konfronterende mage med  I AM QUEEN MARY på højre side af bygningen, et monument, hvis panoramablik skuer direkte, selvbevidst og æterisk ud i horisonten, hvorfra hun levendegør, bemyndiger og repræsenterer på dikotomisk vis selve oprøret og oprørerens indrejse i historien og oprejsning gennem den fælles hukommelse. Da man ikke kunne finde nogle billeder af Mary Thomas – men også fordi konceptet  gik ud på at forene fortællinger, lande og menneskekroppe fra Danmark og Jomfruøerne – satte kunstnerne sig for at fusionere deres kroppe ved hjælp af 3D-teknologi, hvoraf der kom den hybride afbildning, som skulpturen viser. Fusionen har også den kunstneriske funktion – samt intention – om at skabe menneskelige broer tværs over verdensdele, historien og tiden, for dermed at søge forsoning gennem en sondring mellem skyld og ansvar, forbrydelse og tilgivelse, glemsel og selvransagelse.

I AM QUEEN MARY er et monument, hvis panoramablik skuer direkte, selvbevidst og æterisk ud i horisonten, hvorfra hun levendegør, bemyndiger og repræsenterer på dikotomisk vis selve oprøret og oprørerens indrejse i historien og oprejsning gennem den fælles hukommelse.

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Værket fylder et gabende tomrum i et København, hvor flere bygninger omkring skulpturens nuværende placering i Toldbodgade – men også flere andre steder i hovedstadsområdet og rundt om i landet – er bygget med indtægter fra slaveriet allerførst, og sidenhen fra slavegjorte individers arbejde, hvis efterkommere stadig den dag i dag kæmper for medbestemmelse samt et opgør med de dybe spor efter de forfejlede magtstrukturer, som kolonialismens plettede arvegods synes at have efterladt. Skulpturen har en roterende akse, der dækker det kreative, tværfaglige og socialpolitiske felt på en gang. Omkring den stærkt politiske linje, siger Ehlers med rolig, dog bestemt, mine: “ikke al kunst er politisk, men god kunst er altid politisk”- med delvis reference til både Toni Morrison og Harald Giersing.

I AM QUEEN MARY er en skulptur, som søger en permanent placering støbt i bronze foran Vestindisk Pakhus, hertil søger kunstnerne fortsat at rejse de nødvendige midler. På den anden side taler kunstnerne om behovet for at begå et tvillingværk på Skt. Croix, der konceptmæssigt matcher værket i København, men der vil, i så fald, blive tilpasset den sælsomme natur og det offentlige rum på øen. Vigtigst for kunstnerne er behovet for en ærlig, dybtgående og åbensindet debat både herhjemme i Danmark, og på Jomfruøerne, som kunstværket kan være med til at igangsætte.

Barsk, vedkommende og sanselig kunst, på en og samme tid, der opløfter, forener og indrammer 

PHILIP SAMPSON: Fireburn-dronningerne – Danmarks glemte heltinder

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: I AM QUEEN MARY

STATENS MUSEUM FOR KUNST – event

Huey Newton on wicker chair

BBC RADIO COVERAGE

NEW YORK TIMES feature

New York Times feature

INFORMATION: article I AM QM

POLITIKEN: I AM QM

DR 1 TV: I AM QUEEN MARY

VIDEO// I AM QM: behind the scene