Property of a Gentleman 1807

Property of Gentleman 1807 is a quintessential Fowokan work full of the ambivalence he sees in the deep-rooted spiritual and mental conflict between the African and the European. The title’s words are taken from an auction catalogue entry for a highly polished black marble bust of a Negro in classical, canonical European fashion, while the numbers are a direct reference to the date when the British Parliament abolished the trade in African slaves.
Appreciation of that conflict -white versus black, European versus African is essential, to not just understanding this work but Fowokan’s oeuvre. He uses his work’s physical and metaphysical presence to mediate in that conflict, heroically exposing the once enslaved spirit and soul of the African Diaspora and its triumph over European cultural and artistic hegemony.
Physically, the wide nostrils, the full lips, the chiselled jaw line all are Fowokan’s sculptured references to the noble African using the language of classical European sculpture. That auction piece which inspired Fowokan Property of Gentleman 1807, might have been the bust of an eighteenth century African, prize-fighter owned by a European gentleman; in the same way that gentleman might have owned a thoroughbred racehorse. Both were to be pampered ready to go into the ring or onto the race course at his master bidding on the chance of becoming a champion and in doing so bring fame and even more wealth to their owner. The polished marble bust, a memento of the glory the prize-fighter gave his master.
Metaphysically this is not the kneeling chained slave of the eighteenth century, anti-slavery motif pleading on bended knee - Am I not a man and brother? - this is the African standing tall declaring - I am a man! There is a proud, dignified self-righteous humanity found in the piece’s firm upright posture, proud chest and steady gaze. The chain is broken; the African is free not bound by the European - as of 1807 no longer to be auctioned as the Property of a Gentleman.

November 2008


Martin, S.I. (1999), Britain’s Slave Trade, London, Channel 4 Books
Gerzina, G. (1995) Black England Life Before Emancipation, London, John Murray
Tibbes, A. (ed), (2005, Trans Atlantic Slavery, Against Human Dignity, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press
Fryer, P (1984) Staying Power The History of Black People in Britain, London, Pluto Press
Fowokan, (2008), accessed Friday, 28 November 2008