to make matter worse

Scarborough Museums Trust

Sculptures produced as part of a decolonising appraisal process that included feedback from a public exhibition. The sculptures activate audience introspection by interrogating their position as consumers and benefactors of neocolonial processes relating to the lands where the collection was originally extracted. Specifically, the work concerns the ongoing super-exploitation of the Congo region and its peoples, holding the building fabric to account through deconstructed concrete blocks.

The three ‘enclosure’ sculptures evoke human, geological and transactional situations. They examine parallel colonising processes of extraction (of resources, information, labour) and exploitation (the personal impacts on identity, dignity, experiences such as love or pain), particularly as they relate to behaviours we might recognise in ourselves.

Three written responses, ANCHOR, ACT and ALTER, were published on the project website.
enclosure a: the patron
enclosure b: the vanishing
enclosure c: pressures metal

enclosure a: the patron recalls a plastic roll-a-coin donation box you might find on the seafront. After the coin is rolled it is obscured from view, evoking links between commercial and conservation processes in the Congo region, and questioning the repercussions of our own acts of giving.

"Elizabeth Lunstrum coined the term ‘green militarization’ to encompass “the use of military and paramilitary personnel, training, technologies, and partnerships in the pursuit of conservation effort” ... Rather than misleading consumers into buying a fairly harmless product, customers are misled into funnelling money to military corporations through avenues such as donation campaigns, documentaries, and ecotourism."

- Emily Jones, from Capital and Control: Neocolonialism Through the Militarization of African Wildlife Conservation, 2021

Within the sculptures are parts of an umbrella. A number of Harrison’s photographs include a white umbrella. Seemingly innocuous, this object can be read as a prop to elevate the white man, protecting him from the elements, a tool to measure objects (or people), a pointing implement or even a weapon, separating and othering the people of the Congo from Harrison himself. In these works, the trophy-making process is turned on the umbrella, skinned, de-boned, turned into an artefact that memorialises violence and entrapment.

Fifteen concrete bricks that represent a blocked-up doorway in Woodend which enclosed a number of forgotten taxidermied heads from the Harrison collection. The doorway represents the potential for museums to conceal as well as display. Erasure is understood here as a form of enclosure, the result of plundering and hoarding objects away in colonial collections. Erasure is also used by the powerful to stifle knowledge and resistance. This opens up questions about Harrison, how casually he discarded life, as well as a need to scrutinise the not-so post-colonial museum, accountability and issues of repatriation.
enclosure a: the vanishing is a plinth for Patrice Lumumba’s tooth. The Belgian backed murder of Patrice Lumumba, father of Congolese independence, was immediately followed by the destruction of his body, save for one tooth which was kept as a trophy by a Belgian policeman, and only decreed to be returned to his family some sixty years later in 2020.

Long live independence and African unity!
Long live the independent and sovereign Congo!

- Patrice Lumumba, speech at the Ceremony of the Proclamation of the Congo’s Independence (transcribed and translated from French), 1960, 201 days before his murder.

enclosure c: pressures metal evokes coinage, jewellery and toil. In the bling, familiar genre of self-decoration prompts comparisons to Harrison’s own conquest exhibitionism. The spatial tectonics of mining attempts to place the collection in the historical context of the scramble for Africa and its resources, particularly the design of the Congo as, primarily, an extraction area.

“monstrous intimacy” [is] the subjective power[s] of geology, where gold shows up as bodies and bodies are the surplus of mineralogical extraction.
- Kathryn Yussoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, 2019
Including photographs by Jules Lister.
Archival photographs courtesy Scarborough Museums.