M. NourbeSe Philip
11 gobond panels
16.8 × 1.58 m
Courtesy the artist
The artwork is composed of excerpts from the poem Zong! originally published as a book. The poem revisits the historical trauma of a massacre at sea, telling a story that cannot be told yet must be told.
In November 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong ordered that some 150 enslaved Africans be murdered by drowning so that the ship’s owners could collect insurance money. The insurance claim was documented in a legal decision — the only existent public record of the massacre. The poem relies entirely on the words of the legal document, excavated and transformed by M. NourbeSe Philip into a chant where the many other voices and perspectives on board the ship emerge.
Excerpts from the original poem have been selected by the author for presentation as a public artwork. Its placement at Franska tomten in Gothenburg commemorates the victims of Sweden’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and of the colonial rule of the Caribbean island Saint Barthélemy (1784–1878).
The project is a collaboration between Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art and Trafikverket.
M. NourbeSe Philip (b. 1947 in Tobago) is an unembedded poet, essayist, novelist, playwright, and independent scholar who lives in the space-time of the City of Toronto, where she practiced law for seven years before becoming a poet and writer. Her published works include She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, Looking for Livingston: An Odyssey of Silence, Harriet’s Daughter, Coups and Calypsos, and BlanK. Her book-length poem Zong! is a genre-breaking epic that explodes the legal archive as it relates to slavery. Among her awards are numerous Canada Council and Ontario Arts Council grants, including the prestigious Chalmers Award (Ontario Arts Council), the Canada Council’s Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award (Outstanding mid-career artist), as well as the Pushcart Prize (USA), the Casa de las Americas Prize (Cuba), the Lawrence Foundation Prize (USA), the Arts Foundation of Toronto Writing and Publishing Award (Toronto), and Dora Award finalist (drama). M. NourbeSe Philip is the 2020 recipient of PEN/ Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.
Franska Tomten (Packhusplatsen)