Slavery Memorial - Clave (2013) Alex da Silva

photo Max Dereta
About the artwork

In 2013 it will be exactly 150 years since the Netherlands abolished slavery. On July 1, 1863, the enslaved in the then colonies of Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles were declared free. Today, more than 80.000 descendants of that Dutch Caribbean past live in Rotterdam. Some of them are direct descendants, others are descended from indentured laborers, who had to replace the enslaved after slavery was abolished. In addition, about 23.000 Cape Verde Rotterdammers have their own slavery past with them (the slavery system of the Americas was tested on the Cape Verde islands). This ubiquity of history justifies a Rotterdam Slavery monument, suggested descendants who organized themselves and approached CBK Rotterdam. Artist Alex da Silva designed a monument marking this history in a crucial location, the city harbours. With performances and speeches this became Sslavery monument at the Lloydstraat 300 in Rotterdam on Sunday 16 June 2013 festively unveiled by Ronald Plasterk, Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Professor Dr. A. van Stipriaan Luicius, curator and professor at the Tropenmuseum and Deputy Mayor Hamit Karakus. The choice for the Lloydkwartier is related to the 'triangle trade' of which the slave trade was part. Rotterdam ships departed with merchandise (such as firearms, pottery, spirits) to Africa, where the cargo was exchanged for enslaved people, which were brought to Suriname and sold there. The enslaved therefore did not come to Rotterdam and the trade took place outside the view of the Rotterdammer. Visible in Rotterdam were the merchants, their ships and products in the port, and their exorbitant lifestyle, acquired thanks to the lucrative slave trade. A location for a work of art that wants to reflect on slavery therefore had to have a relationship with the port area. The Lloydkwartier is one of the centrally located city ports that are undergoing a development that philosopher Henk Oosterling characterized as the transition from 'industrial steel' to 'cultural steel': their industrial functions are being replaced by a cultural interpretation of these areas. This is evident in the Lloydkwartier: modern, industrial activity with shipowners and dock workers made way for a post-modern, creative industry with designers and television studios. Due to this cultural upgrading, the Lloydkwartier offers space for other mental-cultural stories. This makes it a suitable location for a contemporary work of art that wants to be inspired by the share of the port of Rotterdam in the international slave trade. Artist Alex da Silva has designed the work of art as a transition from 'industrial steel' to 'cultural steel': built from different types of steel, the sculpture represents a ship in the form of a music clef with dancing figures on it. This hybrid form shows the transition between two eras. His artwork respects the historical importance of the place for Rotterdam and is itself an expression of the new, cultural Rotterdam. The latter was an explicit wish of the initiators: not merely to give a 'history lesson', but to show Rotterdam a shared history and realize that the descendants of slavery are also Rotterdammers. This expansive location with a view of the Maas has plenty of opportunities to travel together to the statue at the annual 'Keti Koti' (the commemoration of the abolition of slavery on 1 July).

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About the artist

Artist Alex da Silva (Luanda, Angola, 1974 – Cape Verde, 2019) grew up on the Cape Verde islands from 1975. He came to the Netherlands in 1992 to study at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. Since then he has worked as a painter and sculptor in Rotterdam and Cape Verde. He has exhibited in galleries and art spaces in Portugal, Curacao, Dubai and Cape Verde. In 2013 he made the Rotterdam Slavery monument. On December 30, 2019, Alex da Silva passed away in Cape Verde at the age of 45.

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