OLAUDAH EQUIANO - African, slave, author, abolitionist"

This sculpture of Olaudah Equiano was made by Christy Symington MRSS. Symington's practice has a focus on highlighting the contributions of frequently overlooked historical figures. Equiano, a key figure in the fight to end the slave trade within the British Empire, wrote the most important autobiography of an enslaved person's life in bondage and tells of his path to freedom. Despite his important historical position, there is only one plausible representation of him that was taken from life.

The artist has suggested that the broken chains and shackles reflect Equiano’s important role as an abolitionist and the shape that forms the back of the shoulders implies the continent of Africa. The Brookes slave ship diagram is directly represented on the back of the sculpture through a printmaking and bronze casting combination. This diagram represents how enslaved people were crowded into ships that crossed the Middle Passage and it became symbolic and the most widely used image by abolitionist campaigners. There is an enlarged detail of an enslaved female from the diagram on the side.

The figure is dressed as a late 18th-century man of a higher social standing; a further reminder of his unusual place in society as a formerly enslaved person who had gained his freedom and public acclaim for his writing.

The artist made her discovery of Equiano at the National Maritime Museum leading up to the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807 commemorations and made the sculpture from the widely used image and book covers. The bust generally resembles the portrait of Equiano included with his autobiography, but is not a replica or 3D version of the portrait. It was originally intended to be accompanied by an artwork of his name and dates made by the artist that remind of Equiano’s place in society and varied roles.

Object Details

ID: ZBA8731
Type: Sculpture
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Symington, Christy
Date made: 2006
Credit: © Christy Symington MRSS/DACS 2020 /Photo: © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Display: 700 mm x 320 mm x 300 mm

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