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.
Phases of Sugar 2017/2022
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.
photography AatJan Renders