Europe Supported by Africa & America by the British-Nigerian artist Sokari Douglas Camp CBE is an installation in the sculpture gallery at the V&A, strategically placed as you arrive at the Africa Fashion exhibition.
As all the entrances to the V&A have re-opened, Janette and I arrived through the tunnel from the underground station and this work captured my eye as we climbed the stairs; admittedly we were on our way to lunch but this amazing work held us.
The inspiration came from a 1796 engraving by William Blake made as abolitionist propaganda but in Douglas Camp’s version the figures are equal in stature, adornments and attire and she gives them fashionable Nigerian clothing and gèlè head ties.
Made from sheet steel, gold leaf and copper, the figures are dressed in outfits which evoke the style of each continent:
Europe wears a Mondrian-like pattern; Africa a West African Kente cloth; but America is dressed in Paisley – a textile whose patterns are of Persian and Indian origins, but whose name derives from the Scottish town and centre of production of that fabric.
In order to draw attention to the Niger delta’s devastation from the fuel industry, the figures are draped in a wreath ending in a nozzle from a petrol pump!