Artists and the Memory of Slavery

This article first appeared in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Slave Route’s series of monthly interviews

Generations of artists have, ever since the abolition of slavery, seized, revisited, rehabilitated, and transmitted these legacies to draw new horizons for intercultural relations. The growing interest of creators for the slave trade and slavery demonstrates the multifaceted relation that this tragedy continues to maintain with our present.

To continue the reflection initiated within the framework of the event “Artists and the Memory of Slavery: Resistance, creative liberty and Legacies”(UNESCO Paris, 4 September 2015), the Slave Route project has produced a documentary and short video interviews on the relation between contemporary creation and the memory of slavery.

Watch the documentary “Artists and the Memory of Slavery”

Video interviews

Each month, on this page, the floor will be given to an artist or specialist in a given field on the issue of interaction between history, memory and artistic creation.

The historian Myriam Cottias, the actor Jacques Martial, the musician Archie Shepp, the dancer Rhodnie Désir, the philosopher Alain Foix and the visual artist Roberto Diago, each in their respective fields, will invite us to explore the importance of the memory of slavery in contemporary artistic creation.

Myriam Cottias

Historians produce positive knowledge based on existing archives and sources. Artists can freely detach themselves and recount history differently. Beyond words, artists can touch us directly. Fruitful possibilities of dialogue between research and artistic creation are highlighted in the video interview with historian Myriam Cottias.


Jacques Martial

Artists have the ability to touch the mind, senses and emotions. Through identification and empathy, they deeply move the human being in its entirety and offer keys to deconstruct history and to understand the contemporary world. The artist’s responsibility to the audience is explored by the actor Jacques Martialin an exclusive interview.


Archie Shepp

There is a tradition of conscious and committed artists which have made of their music of hope and struggle a voice of contestation and a weapon of denunciation. The legendary jazzman Archie Sheppadheres to this emancipatory tradition by stating that he wishes his music to tell the story of his people. In this exceptional interview, he highlights the power and class stakes at play in racism and asserts that slavery is a worldwide history that everyone should know about.

Rhodnie Désir

As to be living, memory, such as traditions, needs to be personified. The individual body, site of reappropriation, negotiation, struggle and transcendence, thus becomes the medium through which the collective body can express itself. In this original interview, Rhodnie Désir, dancer choreographer and initiator of the project Bow’t trail, reveals the importance of transmission through dancing the memory of slavery and the living cultural expressions it generated.


Alain Foix

Art is a powerful media to convey memory and to address a society’s present. According to Alain Foix, by choosing to confront a painful collective past such as slavery in his creation, the artist undertakes a process of liberation. Through it, memory becomes objectivized and exteriorized. In a singular interview, the intellectual Alain Foix explores art’s relation with the memory of slavery and the current stakes of societies.


Roberto Diago

By its evocative power, artistic creation can simultaneously address the present and the past. It thus reveals the latent and vivid traces of history and memory in the contemporary inequalities and injustice. In an exclusive interview, the visual artist Roberto Diago exposes his multiple inspirations and calls for everybody’s commitment to achieve a fairer and more equal world.