Between 1788 and 1791, two opposing figures stood up in Parliament as the bill for the abolition of the slave trade was first debated. William Wilberforce found himself leading the campaign for abolition, speaking for hours at a time on the inhumanity, deception, and mortality rates endemical to the slave trade. In opposition, Lord Sheffield (John Baker Holroyd) voiced his defence of the slave trade with reference to the rights of the plantation owners over their property, ie. slaves – at all costs, the sanctity of ownership should be preserved within the arms of an enlightened Empire.
To read the excerpts from these two arguments in Face-Off, I ask the viewer to literally change their point of view, as the two ‘sides’ become visible only from different angles. If they walk round the work, another two images of Faith and Family trees also demand a kind of chasing of paths. In John Baker Holroyd, I have an ancestor through whom the concept of ownership and inheritance is materially and geographically manifest. William Wilberforce however, is a figure of faith whose Christian beliefs I share, representing the deeper lineage of a church family. Produced and exhibited in my birth city of Bristol in 2007, as the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade was being celebrated, this piece explores opposing notions of identity from this heritage.