Colonialism, slavery and all its consequences are important themes in the work of visual artist and cultural activist Patricia Kaersenhout. Patricia therefore gladly accepted Cargo’s invitation to make a work about underexposed Dutch slavery. In her research she repeatedly encountered the relationship between Dutch sugar production and the slave trade. It was clear to her that the Low Countries had enriched themselves with a flourishing sugar industry since the sixteenth century at the expense of the lives of countless slaves.
Following the Spanish blockade of the Scheldt in 1585, the emerging sugar trade of Belgium moved up to the north, where Amsterdam merchants enthusiastically invested in this lucrative market. The Dutch would appear to be pioneers in both sugar production and its trade across the Atlantic. The West India Company, which was founded in 1621, captured the richest sugar plantations in Brazil from the Portuguese and for a long time served as a ‘role model’ for other Caribbean plantations. When the Indigenous plantation workers died in large numbers under the influence of deplorable work and living conditions, the colonizers took a different approach. Because of the demand for sugar, people from Africa were put on transported to the other side of the ocean, to work as slaves on the sugar plantations.
The migration of labor and capital across the Atlantic is just as intertwined with the production of sugar as the history of Atlantic trade with slavery. In fact, the sugar industry was one of the cornerstones of the new Atlantic economy.
In Cargo, Kaersenhout brings the slave trade and its ever tangible consequences to the imagination. The series of bloodshot sugar cones in the project space is a metaphor for the suffering that has been done. On the wall we are made aware of the names of the slaves.
At the same time as in Cargo, Kaersenhout participates in the group exhibition Colonial Stories, Power and people at the Holtegaard Museum in Holle (DK). Since there are many historical agreements between the Netherlands and Denmark concerning the slave trade, a webcam connection is made between its installation there and those in Cargo.
(translated and excerpted from Cargo in Context)