Skip to main content
Lux OnlineHomeThemesArtistsWorkEducationEducationToursHelpSearch

A Ship Called Jesus

Keith Piper

A Ship Called Jesus

An examination of the complex and ever shifting relationship between peoples of African descent and the economic and symbolic power of the Christian church and its iconography.

The show was divided into three multimedia installations entitled:

The Ghosts of Christendom
The Rites of Passage
The Fire Next Time

A Ship Called Jesus, first exhibited at the Ikon Gallery in Piper's hometown of Birmingham and then at Camden Arts Centre in London, can be read as the inscription of a desire to find new practices of freedom by asking what art can do to liberate subjectivity from the obligations of an identity tethered to the signifying chains of history. With its three component sections - The Ghosts of Christendom, The Rites of Passage, The Fire Next Time - the installation explores the historical relationship between slavery and Christianity, and the various ways in which the fundamentalist desire for certainty, whether religious or political, expresses a response to the unrepresentable experiences of chaos, trauma and loss.

Taking its title from 'the Jesus of Lubeck', the name of an English Navy ship endowed by Queen Elizabeth 1 to Sir John Hawkins, the son of a Plymouth merchant-cum-pirate who led slave-raiding voyages off the West African coast against the Spanish and the Portuguese, A Ship Called Jesus begins with a series of large-scale, computer-montaged transparencies mounted on lightboxes so as to resemble the stained-glass windows of a church. Interspersed among portraits of these historical dramatic personae are a headstone and a grave, made form the shards of a shattered mirror, commemorating the unnamed millions of the Middle Passage. The presence of the lost or unknown ancestor is also evoked by a crucifix lightbox in which, from a background composed of hands, chains, fire and royal insignia, two feet emerge bearing the stigmata of the cross. Completing the metonymic invocation of the crucifix, we see a pair of hands and their opened palms in another panel.
From Witness at the Crossroads. An Artist's Journey in Post-Colonial Space, Kobena Mercer in Relocating the Remains, inIVa, 1995 p62

Go to top of                             page