Slavery monument - Clave (2013) Alex da Silva
It is exactly in 2013 150 years ago that the Netherlands abolished slavery. On 1 July 1863, the slaves 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 of slaves, others descend from contract workers, who had to replace the slaves after slavery was abolished. In addition, such 23.000 Cape Verdean Rotterdammers carry their own slave past (the slavery system of the Americas was first tested on the Cape Verde islands).
This omnipresence of history justifies a Rotterdam Slavery monument, claimed descendants who organized themselves and approached the CBK Rotterdam. The artist Alex da Silva designed a monument that marks this history in a crucial location, the city ports. With performances and speeches, this became Sslavery monument on 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 Luïcius, curator and professor at Tropenmuseum and deputy mayor Hamit Karakus. The choice for the Lloyd Quarter is related to the 'triangular trade' of which the slave trade was part. Rotterdam ships left with merchandise (firearms, pottery, spirits) to Africa, where the cargo was exchanged for slaves, who were brought to Suriname and sold there. The slaves did not come to Rotterdam and the trade took place outside the Rotterdammer's field of vision. Visible in Rotterdam were the traders, 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 must therefore have a relationship with the port area. The Lloyd Quarter 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 Lloyd Quarter: modern, industrial activity with shipowners and dock workers made way for a post-modern, creative industry with designers and television studios. Through this cultural upgrade, the Lloyd Quarter offers room for other mental-cultural stories. This makes it a suitable location for a contemporary work of art that wants to be inspired by the port of Rotterdam in the international slave trade. The artist Alex da Silva has designed the artwork as a transition from 'industrial steel' to 'cultural steel': constructed from different types of steel, the sculpture represents a ship that has the shape of a music key, with dancing figures on it. This hybrid form shows the transition between two eras. His artwork respects the historic importance of the place for Rotterdam and is itself the expression of the new, cultural Rotterdam. The latter was an explicit wish of the initiators: not merely giving a 'history lesson', but showing a shared history to Rotterdam and the realization that the descendants of slavery are also Rotterdammers. This grand location with a view of the Maas has enough possibilities to travel together to the image at the annual 'Keti Koti' (the commemoration abolition of slavery on 1 July).
The artist Alex da Silva (Luanda, Angola, 1974 - Cape Verde, 2019) grew up on the Cape Verde islands from 1975 onwards. He came to the Netherlands in 1992 to study at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. He has since worked as a painter and sculptor in Rotterdam and Cape Verde. He exhibited in galleries and art spaces in Portugal, Curaçao, Dubai and Cape Verde. In 2013 he made the Rotterdam slavery monument. On December 30, 2019, Alex da Silva died in Cape Verde at the age of 45.