In celebration of Black History Month, Saints and Saviours is a new installation by Mary Evans (b. 1963, Lagos, Nigeria) that pays homage to the rich migratory history of the city of Southampton and its people, a history that continues to expand today.
Southampton is a port city that is built on migration, transit, movement and globalisation. It’s migratory history stems from the Roman’s establishment of the port of Hamwic, which in turn established Southampton as a substantial Saxon town. In Mediaeval times ships from all over the world brought in sailors and travellers of diverse cultures to trade extraordinary goods.
Today, Southampton has a vibrant migrant community that includes people and families of those who have settled from the Caribbean predominantly from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Many people from the Caribbean, popularly known as the ‘Windrush Generation’ took up work in Southampton’s light industries, transport and nursing services, who in the first instance rented rooms in the Newtown & Nicholstown area until they could afford property, and subsequently pay to bring over their families.
Evans herself migrated to Britain as a child, where her artistic practice connects to stories centred on migration. The title Saints and Saviours references Southampton and its former Afro Caribbean community that has grown and adapted in line with societal and political forces. Luxury cruises leave from Southampton and the glimpse of a liner amongst the cityscape reminds us of the more humble ocean vessels that preceded them and brought diverse people to the UK’s shores, not so long ago.
Saints and Saviours invites us to consider ourselves in relation to the installation as we stand before it. The silhouetted human shape asks us to look beyond the generic form to really see and consider all of humanity. The installation is made from disposable brown packaging paper and connects with what Evans considers to be the itinerant, migratory nature of the city. During Black History Month, Evans invites us to contemplate our own (in)visibility and to consider our own position within humanity – how far we have travelled whether physically or metaphorically. Who are the saints and who are the saviours? Who is visible and who is in invisible? Furthermore, who gets to decide?
For this new commission, Evans has been exploring Southampton City Archives and the newly-formed Southampton Black Archives to create site-specific installations that reflect on the experiences and impact of emigration, while looking to question ideas around representation, cultural change and globalisation.
Presented in partnership with Black History Month South, Saints and Saviours can be found at John Hansard Gallery and Marlands Shopping Centre (from 2 October).
About Mary Evans
Mary Evans studied at Goldsmiths and the Rijksakademie and has been a recipient of the Arts and Literary Arts Residency at the Rockefeller Foundation and the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, Washington DC, USA. Recent exhibitions include La Banque, France (2020), the 11th Mercosul Visual Arts Biennial, Brazil (2018), EVA – Ireland’s Biennial (2016), Southbank Centre, London (2014), Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2013), University of Massachusetts (2013, and Meditations, her solo exhibition at Baltimore Museum of Art (2008).