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The ties that bind Manchester and West Africa
This year’s Olympics not only brings a sport-fueled summer but also a nationwide cultural extravaganza AKA London 2012 festival!
Towns and cities across the land are embracing the international spirit of the Olympics with an array of cultural events. So imagine our excitement when we heard about the ‘We Face Forward’ exhibition, in Manchester, showcasing the very best in dynamic West African art and culture until September.
With art and live music across the city’s parks, galleries and music venues, the exhibition is an exciting look into the world’s most creative continent!
We spent last Thursday wandering around the galleries of Manchester and were transported to Mali, to Ghana, to Benin, to Burkina Faso, to Cameroon, to Senegal, to Gambia, to Nigeria, to Ivory Coast, to Niger, to Congo, to Togo... it was a veritable African West African whirlwind.
But why Manchester?
The idea of the exhibition grew from the many West African textiles in Manchester galleries; a symbol of the historic links between them. From the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the hosting of the Pan-African Conference in 1945 the connection between Manchester and West Africa is complex. Today, this connection is also reflected by the many people of West African descent in Manchester.
Despite Manchester’s direct role in the slave trade, there was a significant anti-slave trade movement. Mancunians put pressure on the British government and slave traders through public meetings, petitions and boycotting the use of sugar with influencial figures in the city, clergy and even some cotton merchants calling for an end to the slave trade. Groups such as the Anti-Society Slavery Union and the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society fought fiercely to make a difference in the North.
The city invited Thomas Clarkson the leading campaigner against the slave trade to speak in Manchester. Clarkson’s visit was a watershed that energised the anti-slavery campaign across the country. His address on 8 October 1787 at the Collegiate Church (later Manchester Cathedral) gave the national abolitionist movement a new focus. From Clarkson’s reception in Manchester and its impact, more local, regional and national anti-slavery lobbying emerged.
As well as Clarkson, the British MP William Wilberforce brought Manchester’s anti-slavery voice to Parliament. By 1807, Clarkson’s speeches and Wilberforce’s attitude helped form the Manchester Anti-Slavery Committee.
1 in 5 Mancunians signed petitions demanding an end to slavery and the President Lincoln statue stands as a sign of the city’s efforts.
Nearly a hundred and fifty years later, as the host of the 1945 Pan-African Congress, attended by future African leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah-the Pan African Federation was born- with a goal to unit Africa.
With Meschac Gaba’s work Ensemble as the poster for the “We Face Forward” exhibition, the blend of flags is a symbol that Africa will always be a part of Manchester’s history!
The stereotype of Africa is not its reality. It’s a growing continent and I’ll be writing about the exciting changes that are happening everyday.
What do you think? Comment below.