Public Archives and Colonial Traces

Words by: Black Archives Sweden Published on: 27 October, 2021

Public archives bearing of racist and violent histories have been under scrutiny in recent years. Around the world, many statues have been removed and some of those remaining have been transformed in new ways by the public. A question that has emerged in this period of reckoning has been: What do these statues commemorate and for whom?

Public demands on these public archives of violence have evoked consideration on how to confront racist histories and their aftermath, connecting the past to the present. At the well-frequented Järntorget in Gothenburg stands the statue De Fem Världsdelarna (The Five Continents) by Tore Strindberg, commonly referred to as Järntorgsbrunnen. The statue depicts five women representing the five world continents and was sculpted to praise and hail Gothenburg as a global exporter of iron ore. In the words of Lena Sawyer and Nana Osei Kofi, “Järntorgsbrunnen is a marker of imperial memory and the European colonial archive”.

In this talk, Lena Sawyer and Nana Osei Kofi pay particular attention to the bronze cast of a naked woman representing the continent of Africa. With a methodology of listening, they attend to the low frequencies of the statue: the stories, counter narratives, and refusals as well as imagining alternative visions for our public spaces. It is also a statue that speaks loudly of Sweden’s role in the transatlantic slavery and colonialism.

The talk is led by Ellen Nyman.

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