These Globe Sculpture Trails Tell Powerful Stories About The Slave Trade

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These Globe Sculpture Trails Tell Powerful Stories About The Slave Trade
These Globe Sculpture Trails Tell Powerful Stories About The Slave Trade

A globe showing slave trade routes in front of St Pauls cathedral

Yinka Shonibare’s globe in front of St Paul’s

Dozens of globes across four trails are opening eyes to the Transatlantic slave trade.

If you’ve walked (or queued) for any distance in central London lately then you’re likely to have come across these painted globes.

Each one is designed by a different artist, and tells a story from “the history, legacy and future of the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans”.

A blue globe with an 18th century black man looking to the right, in Covent Garden piazza

Deanna Tyson’s globe in Covent Garden. It explores how the slave trade “has present day negative consequences: systemic inequalities and injustice; entrenched racism and prejudices; and the generational echoes which have traumatic physical, behavioural, psychological and material impact.”

The globes are part of a project called The World Reimagined, which wants us all to think more deeply about this appalling chapter in our shared history. The Transatlantic slave trade was abolished long ago, but its effects ripple down to our own time. Racial injustice and inequality have not gone away.

A black and white globe in a churchyard

Foday Dumbuya’s globe in St Paul’s Covent Garden “honours the enslaved and their descendants who resisted and broke new ground.”

The four trails can be found in Southwark/Lambeth, the City, Hackney/Newham and Westminster/Camden. The carefully thought-out routes not only include a dozen or so globes, but also guide you to buildings and features with connections to the Transatlantic slave trade.

We learn from the statue of Queen Anne at St Paul’s, for example, that the monarch held 22.5% of the stock in the South Sea Company, which trafficked some 34,000 slaves to the Americas.

A globe showing a black man smiling in front of Fenchurch Street station

Sarah Owusu’s globe outside Fenchurch Street station. It “celebrates the spirit and culture of the African diaspora”.

As well as shining a light on the horrors of the past and challenges of the present, the project also strikes an optimistic note, celebrating “a modern, united Africa, that is reclaiming its strong and stable roots and gains influence and power in a globalised world”. A case in point is Yinka Shonibare’s globe, shown at the top of the page, which shows Transatlantic slave trading routes, but with the names of celebrated African cultural figures as labels.

A globe of a man dressed in fancy red clothes stands in front of St Paul's

Àsìkò Okelarin’s globe “shares the story of the campaign for abolition, its key events, heroes and allies”.

The globe trails will be particularly rewarding for families. Older children (and adults) will learn plenty, while younger kids will engage with the bright colours and bold images (the globes we’ve seen reflect pride, triumph over adversity and even celebration). QR codes on each globe lead to further information, and a tracking form where you can tick off each globe.

Close up of a globe showing a money bag and gold bars, representing compensation paid to slave owners

Kione Grandison’s globe looks at the financial side of the Transatlantic slave trade. The equivalent of £17 billion was paid in compensation by the British government… not to former slaves but to the slave owners who lost their “property”.

The base of each globe also features a short “I was here” section, acknowledging a person whose name and age are known, but whose story is lost to history.  

Sculpture trails are now an ever-present part of London’s street scene, but this one stands head and shoulders above the others for both its big messages and impressive designs. As the globes repeat: “This is not ‘Black History‘, this is all of our history.”

The World Reimagined runs in London and other cities until 31 October 2022. The project also includes numerous events and tours.

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