La Porte du Non Retour – Benin


Today is Emancipation day so I thought I’d share this photograph I took in Ouidah, Benin on the West Coast of Africa. It’s the detail from ‘La Porte du Non Retour’ or The Door of No Return. The Republic of Benin, Ouidah and UNESCO built the monument in 1992 as a symbol to commemorate African ancestors lost through the transatlantic slave trade. It’s difficult to find the words to describe the emotions you feel when you visit this place. The air is thick with violence, memories, loss, betrayal, the sadness really is overwhelming. At the same time there is a sense of pride and strength which many, including myself believe is the spirit of those that were forced to leave.

My next stop was Cape Coast Castle, one of about 30 slave castles in Ghana, my brother admirably drove most of the way with malaria which he dealt with by placing a handkerchief on his head to soak up the sweat from the fever. I am pleased to say he no longer gets malaria.

About 1000 male slaves and 500 female slaves occupied Cape Coast Castle at any one time in separate dungeons. Each slave would be locked up for 6 to 12 weeks, waiting to board one of the ships. The design of the dungeons reveals the complete and brutal disregard for human life. There are a couple of windows but they only let in a small amount of light rather than fresh air, the ceilings are so low you have to stoop when you are inside and there is a channel down the middle for human waste. There were only a handful of people on my tour, the horror was visible on all our faces. I couldn’t stand that place, it had an unbearable smell. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when an African American man in the group started crying. He gave release to the emotions I felt too paralysed to surrender. I later discovered that he had traced his ancestry to Ghana and spends half his time there to support the enterprise project he set up with the local community.

There is a memorial plaque in the courtyard at the entrance to the castle. It says – In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We the living vow to uphold this.


Ikebana and Float Boat – Photograph by Lucille

From Chihuly Garden and Glass - Photograph by Lulu J

I’m staying with the theme of sculpture this week moving from bronze to glass. I’ve been a fan of Chihuly’s work ever since I saw his Rotunda chandelier in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I’ve been looking for an excuse to share some of the photographs I took when I visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition in Seattle in 2012. The eight galleries and exhibition halls offer a stunning overview of Chihuly’s work from his early pieces which are small delicate cylinders inspired by American Indian blankets and baskets, right through to Persian ceiling where he experiments with an architectural framework to mount larger pieces to walls. Mille Fiori, Italian for “a thousand flowers,” is breathtaking and one of my favourites Ikebana and Float Boat, is an exquisite evolution from his idea of tossing glass forms into the river to see how the pieces reflected light and water. After losing sight in his left eye and dislocating his shoulder in the 1970s Chihuly, no longer able to hold the glass blowing pipe took on a different role to produce his work. It’s an interesting role, which he describes as more choreographer than dancer, supervisor than participant more director than actor. He began drawing to convey his vision. I took some photographs of his drawings which I will share in a future post. In the meantime have a look at the website for the exhibition. I think you have another 10 years to visit the exhibition 🙂

For those of you in the UK, there’s a free exhibition of Chihuly’s work at the Halcyon Gallery until 21 April 2014

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Pobl Fel Ni / People Like Us – photograph by Lulu J

Pobl Fel Ni / People Like Us

I was moved by this wonderful sculpture by John Cinch of a young couple on the promenade by Cardiff Bay. The couple are typical of the people who lived and worked in this multicultural area known locally as ‘Tiger Bay’ when the area was a thriving commercial port. This area is now known as Mermaid Quay, part of the Cardiff Bay, regeneration. What struck me was the beautiful sculpture of the young black woman and the realisation that I rarely see sculptures like this – ordinary black people doing ordinary things. There’s an interesting article in the Guardian about this featuring the work of artist Tom Price. Tom creates sculptures of everyday black men that are deliberately unheroic. For Price, it’s important to ask questions about why black men are only represented in certain ways within art. “There’s a real lack of first-hand representation or self-representation of a black man in a neutral state if that can exist – something like them not being heroic, not being a type, not being recorded as some sort of ethnicity.”