Unshackled Memory 2008, Elshafei Dafalla Mohamed


The Cultural Production program at Brandeis is attempting to bring this important installation work to Brandeis in Fall 2009.
Possible date: Monday, November 16, 2009


We anticipate an installation of this work, consisting of many small paper boats, during a single evening on campus. We may do readings aloud of the names of enslaved persons, as well as the details of the slaves ships that sailed into Boston harbor, bearing slaves captured and purchased in Africa, in the period between 1638-1761 . We may also read aloud the names of persons caught in other slave trades, including in the modern-day Sudan, and in other forms of modern-day trafficking around the world.

Resources on the slave trade to Boston/Mass:



Artist's statement:

Unshackled Memory is an installation and performance piece memorializing those African people sold in the trans-Atlantic slave trade who did not survive the journey from the west coast of Africa to the Americas.

The installation is comprised of 3400 paper boats painted in colors representing the vibrant hues of traditional African dress, as well as the multitude of flags from African nations. The representation of African clothing evokes the time before contemporary nation-states, manifesting an African identity expressed in both celebratory and everyday dress. Similarly, the boats themselves signify the importance of the boat as a tool of livelihood along the west coast of Africa, before the arrival of the slave ships which introduced the idea of the boat as weapon in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The installation was first displayed in 2008 at the Senghor Museum in Joal, Senegal, accompanied by a performance of ten drummers whose presence brought to life the tradition of drumming as a communal language of celebration, encouragement, and resistance. After the exhibit travels the east coast of the United States and the west coast of Africa, it will end with a ceremony in which children will release the boats as a spiritual offering into the Atlantic sea, where they will vanish under the waves, accompanied by the lament of the talking drums.