Pascale Marthine Tayou’s site-specific installation for the Redwood, Remember Bimbia (2018) is a pile of painted paving stones that moor the American flag – American history and American futures – in the rubble of its repressed past. The artist’s call to memory, to remember Bimbia, is both a specific invocation of what was once the key slave market in Tayou’s native country of Cameroon— an¬d with it, an acknowledgement of the role that Africans also played in the slave trade— and a larger appeal for us all to accept slavery as “part of our communal history; it is a history that belongs to us all,” as Tayou explains. The slave trade powered the economies of the new world as much as the old. And it was central to the prosperity of the “lively experiment” of Rhode Island: to Newport as a city, and to the Redwood specifically.
This institution’s founder, Abraham Redwood, owed his wealth to the triangle trade and to his sugar plantation in Antigua, where he held nearly three hundred slaves. Even as he championed the Enlightenment ideals of reading and learning, he also represented the contradictory notions of equality that defined colonial America as a slave-owning “democracy” of and for white men. This institution acknowledges the contradictions and complexities of its past, and with this temporary installation, it invites Newport residents and visitors to remember the slave market of Bimbia and the thousands of West Africans who arrived in Newport enchained. At the same time, Remember Bimbia celebrates the contributions of people of all “colors,” evoking the revolutionary spirit of 1968 – fifty years ago this summer – through its “riotous” color and the paving stones flung in the name of liberty.
Commissioned by the Redwood Contemporary Arts Initiative, through the generosity of Cornelius C. Bond and Anne E. Blackwell.