Blood Sugar

Colonialism, slavery and all its consequences are important themes in the work of visual artist and cultural activist Patricia Kaersenhout. Patricia therefore gladly accepted Cargo’s invitation to make a work about underexposed Dutch slavery. In her research she repeatedly encountered the relationship between Dutch sugar production and the slave trade. It was clear to her that the Low Countries had enriched themselves with a flourishing sugar industry since the sixteenth century at the expense of the lives of countless slaves.

Following the Spanish blockade of the Scheldt in 1585, the emerging sugar trade of Belgium moved up to the north, where Amsterdam merchants enthusiastically invested in this lucrative market. The Dutch would appear to be pioneers in both sugar production and its trade across the Atlantic. The West India Company, which was founded in 1621, captured the richest sugar plantations in Brazil from the Portuguese and for a long time served as a ‘role model’ for other Caribbean plantations. When the Indigenous plantation workers died in large numbers under the influence of deplorable work and living conditions, the colonizers took a different approach. Because of the demand for sugar, people from Africa were put on transported to the other side of the ocean, to work as slaves on the sugar plantations.

The migration of labor and capital across the Atlantic is just as intertwined with the production of sugar as the history of Atlantic trade with slavery. In fact, the sugar industry was one of the cornerstones of the new Atlantic economy.

In Cargo, Kaersenhout brings the slave trade and its ever tangible consequences to the imagination. The series of bloodshot sugar cones in the project space is a metaphor for the suffering that has been done. On the wall we are made aware of the names of the slaves.

At the same time as in Cargo, Kaersenhout participates in the group exhibition Colonial Stories, Power and people at the Holtegaard Museum in Holle (DK). Since there are many historical agreements between the Netherlands and Denmark concerning the slave trade, a webcam connection is made between its installation there and those in Cargo.


(translated and excerpted from Cargo in Context)

Note: 150 sugar loafs blood infusions 100 names of enslaved people printed on sailing cloth  photo print mirror foil

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photography AatJan Renders

Phases of Sugar

Phases of Sugar, commissioned by Gammelt Holtegaard for the show ‘Colonial Stories-power and people’, is a work with regard to the rich sugar history of Denmark.

In 2017 Denmark “commemorated” that it sold the Virgin Islands to the United States 100 years ago. Hundred faces of black men, women and children are cast in plaster and covered with blood and caramelized sugar. The faces are placed on the museum floor so the public is forced to walk around them carefully. Sugar and blood are inextricably linked, because during the production process enslaved people lost limbs and blood ended up in the raw sugar.

The faces also refer to death masks, which were made in earlier times to capture the last facial expression of the deceased. But they also have connotations with the physical anthropological research that was performed on black people during slavery and colonialism. Since there are many historical connections between the Netherlands and Denmark, Phases of Sugar is simultaneously shown in Denmark with the installation Blood Sugar at Cargo in Context in Amsterdam.

Note: 100 faces cast in plaster, blood, burnt sugar

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photography David Stjenholm

Guess who's coming to dinner too?

‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Too?’ Is a tribute to 36 Black women and women of color, “heroines of resistance.” With this project, I cite ‘The Dinner Party’ (1979) of Judy Chicago.

The title Guess who’s coming to dinner too? has an ambiguous meaning. On the one hand, it refers to The Dinner Party where the uninvited guests are the Black Women and women of color, on the other hand, it also refers to the famous movie from 1967 with Sidney Poitier who has an interracial relationship with a white woman.

The film hits the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mixed relationships and racism in segregated America, but does not make a strong statement about the problematic topic. Sidney is invited but actually he remains the uninvited guest and we are never hear his point of view on the complex matter. It is as Sarah Ahmed states
Whiteness is produced as host, as that which is already in place or at home. To be welcomed is to be positioned as the one who is not at home. With the table I hope to create a place where everyone is welcome and feels at home regardless of race, cultural background, gender, age and sex.

That’s why I chose men to join this project in the form of a HAKA, a spiritual battle dance of the Maori. The histories of the 36 women are printed on the linen. So the men are literally wearing the stories of these women on their bodies whilst dancing the HAKA. I deliberately chose for the whole project to evolve and to be exhibited in the poorest neighborhood in the Netherlands. Offering a possibility to participate in this project by embroidering the table runners, was a way for women living in this neighborhood, to encounter other women with different cultural backgrounds, class and ethnicity. Stories were shared and hopefully more understanding and respect for each others differences. The 36 table runners were brought to Dakar where they were partially embroidered by local women to support them financially. The touch of their hands on the cloth connects them with all the other hands who helped embroidering. Without realizing the women have created a ‘communal body’ connecting them also with the histories of the women who are honored at the table. In 2019 the table will be completed with glasses and plates designed and produced in collaboration with several women.

Note: table size: 10m x 10m x 10m, bamboo grid, digital print on polyester mesh embroidered with beads, 30m of white cotton, 36 crystal glasses, 36 bamboo plates, 36 napkins with silk screen print, 36  designed tunics, digital print on linen

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photography AatJan Renders