Working in partnership with Chepstow Museum and the University of the West of England, and artist Eva Sajovic, Hidden Presence invited participants from schools and community groups in Monmouthshire, Cardiff and Neath to produce artwork for exhibition, and an interactive online platform, inspired by the life of Nathaniel Wells.
Nathaniel Wells was the son of a slave owner and enslaved woman, who through an extraordinary series of events progressed from the sugar plantations of the West Indies to a position of high social standing and wealth in 19th Century Britain. Taking his life as inspiration, and the complex moral issues that surrounded it, the project creatively challenges the notion that forced labour and the global exploitation of people is confined to our history, rather than something that continues to effect everyday life here in Wales.
The Hidden Presence project set out not only to extend peoples’ understanding of the extraordinary life of Nathaniel Wells, but to use his important legacy as a means to examine a range of issues linked to national identity, cultural heritage, and modern slavery. The schools and groups explored the social history of Wales’ international trade links, and what it means to be Welsh - particularly for people who for social, racial or economic reasons feel outside of mainstream society. Through exploration of the importance of Nathaniel’s life in the context of contemporary society, the work presented here hopes to raise awareness of the rich cultural history of the area and to generate discussion around ethnicity, contemporary forms of slavery and its legacy.
The project worked with children and vulnerable young people living in South East Wales using photography and digital media as a means to explore pupils’ understanding about how history and slavery has built the landscape around them, and shaped the society they recognise. The project also encouraged young adults to explore their own experiences and ideas surrounding exploitation, including sexual exploitation, through writing and image making. It fostered thought around the use of photography and film in social media, in terms of ownership and vulnerability.