Bicentenary of the Parliamentary Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

A programme of activity at the British Museum

22 March 2007 – 13 January 2008

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Parliamentary Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade the British Museum has devised a programme of exhibitions and public events which highlight not only the abolitionist campaign of the 19th century but the important part played by enslaved people in their liberation. The programme also acknowledges the continuation of forms of slavery down to the present day. The display of La Bouche du Roi by Benin artist Romauld Hazoumé forces us to confront the horrors of a slave ship whilst reminding us of modern forms of economic bondage. The exhibition Inhuman Traffic provides an overview of the Slave Trade through an examination of the commodities which encouraged such a barbaric use of labour. The public programme offers an opportunity to explore these themes further, the focal point being a commemorative public day, ‘Resistance and Remembrance’, on the 25th March, the anniversary of the passing of the act in Parliament.

La Bouche du Roi, an artwork by Romauld Hazoumé       

22 March - 13 May 2007

Room 35, Admission free

The structure of La Bouche du Roi is based on a famous late-18th century print of the Liverpool slave ship the Brookes, and is both a powerful memorial to the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and a thoughtful reminder of its terrible and enduring legacy. It is a multi-media artwork, the main components of which are over three hundred ‘masks’ made from plastic petrol cans used by motorcyclists who run black market fuel between Benin and Nigeria. The cans and motorcyclists are metaphors for modern forms of enslavement and resistance respectively. Liquor bottles, beads and cowrie shells are included as examples of material which was used to barter for slaves, as are tobacco and spices, their aroma mixing disturbingly with the terrible sounds and smells of a slave ship. The artwork has been recently acquired by the British Museum with the help of the Art Fund and the British Museum Friends. After the display at the British Museum, it will embark on a British Museum Partnership UK tour to Hull, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle and the Horniman Museum, London. The tour is funded by Arts Council England, with additional support from the Dorset Foundation

Resistance and Remembrance:
Marking the 200th anniversary of the Parliamentary Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Sunday 25 March 2007, 14.00 – 18.30

Venues across the Museum, Admission free

Join us for an afternoon of reflection and acknowledgement at the British Museum to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Parliamentary Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Placing a strong emphasis on resistance to the slave trade, the day will include poetry readings, storytelling and dramatised contemporary accounts of life as a slave. The day will culminate at 17.30 in a Ceremony of Remembrance in the Museum’s Great Court. In association with the Royal African Society and Rendezvous of Victory


Inhuman Traffic: The Business of the Slave Trade

24 May 2007 – 13 January 2008

Room 69a, Admission free                                                          

This small exhibition explores how the Transatlantic Slave Trade functioned. Gold and Ivory first brought European traders to West Africa, and tobacco, guns, textiles, sugar and rum enabled trade to flourish. The display examines the commodities involved in the Slave Trade and the way Africa, Europe and the Americas were linked in a global trade network. The exhibition covers more than 500 years and examines both the Parliamentary Abolition of the trade in 1807, and important resistance leaders including Toussaint l'Ouverture, Olaudah Equiano and Nanny of the Maroons, and their struggles to end enslavement. 

Public Programme

In addition to the event on the 25th, the Museum has planned a full programme of lectures, events and seminars as well as a film season exploring the legacy of the Slave Trade. The film season will include a mixture of contemporary and classic films and is organized in partnership with the London Borough of Camden. Highlights of the programme include a special event on 8 March,  ‘Ghana after 50 years of independence’,  featuring a keynote address by the Ghana High Commissioner to the UK and a panel discussion on Black History and contemporary Britain featuring Paul Gilroy, Lola Young, Gus John and Jean Stubbs (26 April). A special event ‘The Word from Africa’, celebrating African languages in literature, music and the visual arts is planned for 2 June in partnership with Africa Beyond.


Mind-forg’d Manacles: William Blake and Slavery

A Hayward Gallery Touring / British Museum Partnership UK Exhibition to commemorate both the bicentenary and the 250th anniversary of Blake’s birth.

From April 2007 an exhibition of William Blake’s work will tour to venues in Hull, Glasgow and Manchester.  For Blake (1757-1827) the idea of slavery was fundamental to his art and writing. He was fervently opposed to slavery and bitterly contemptuous of the forces in Britain that tried to prolong it.  He viewed slavery as both a physical and a mental state. A person or a nation with false ideas, such as a belief in or condonement of slavery, was enslaved. To have limited perceptions, to pursue materialistic ends, to affect superiority over others, to follow conventional religion or science was to be held with ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ of one’s own making. In Blake’s art the contorted body expresses emotions through extremes of transformation. Mentally restricted figures are enclosed within themselves, while those free of mental shackles fly upwards like birds.

For further information or images please contact Hannah Boulton on 0207 323 8522,

Notes to Editors

  • Tour dates for La Bouche du Roi are:
  • Hull, Ferens Art Gallery: 2 June – 15 July 2007
  • Liverpool, International Slavery Museum: 4 August – 2 September 2007
  • Bristol’s City Museum: 15 September – 28 October 2007
  • Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery: 10 November 2007– 3 February 2008
  • Horniman Museum: 5 December 2008 –1 March 2009
  • Tour dates for Mind-forg’d Manacles are:
  • Hull, Ferens Art Gallery: 7 April – 20 May 2007
  • Glasgow, The Burrell Collection: 3 November 2007 – 6 January 2008
  • Manchester, The Whitworth Art Gallery: 26 January – 6 April 2008