This portrait of Olaudah Equiano, the enslaved African who became a free man, wrote a book about his experience and a became a leading abolitionist, by Christy Symington, is currently on show at the Royal Society of Sculptors Summer Exhibition.
Sculpture of Olaudah Equiano, by Christy Symington
Photo credit: Sylvain Deleu
The sculpture provokes inquiry into the subject and his life. His high social standing, reflected through his clothing and hairstyle, was unusual for a black man in that period. The shape of Africa forms the back of his shoulders and broken shackles and chains are sculpted on the stem of the sculpture, relating to the abolition of slavery. An imprint of the Brookes slave ship diagram is on the back of the stem of the sculpture; an imprint enlarged from the diagram on the side of stem is of an enslaved female to remind us of the women and children taken as slaves as well as men.
Olaudah Equiano [1745-1797] was instrumental in ending the slave trade in Britain and its colonies, by bringing about the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. He was a free slave who stood with parliamentarians like William Wilberforce, as an outspoken opponent of the slave trade and is under represented in Western historical accounts. First he wrote many letters to newspapers and later wrote his ‘best-seller’ book of the time, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by Himself. Enslaved at the age of 11, Equiano eventually bought his freedom 20 years later for £40 in 1776. He published his book in 1789 by enlisting subscribers, – an early crowdfunder. It brought to light the horrendous conditions on slave ships and appalling injustices of the slave trade.
Nine editions were published in his lifetime and it has been translated into many languages. He travelled extensively throughout England, Scotland and Ireland promoting the book. Said to be the best-known written account of an enslaved experience, it is a significant legacy of literary and historical importance.
The imprints of the Brooke’s slave ship diagram and the enlarged detail of a single enslaved female figure from the diagram we placed on the stem of the sculpture using an new technique combining a printmaking process at the wax stage of the bronze casting process.
The Royal Society of Sculptors Summer Exhibition runs until 16th September.