Black Mary; or Molly, 'Princess of Wales'
The two-channel video installation titled Black Mary; or Molly, ‘Princess of Wales’ (2016), explores the life of Mary Prince, a Bermuda-born “West Indian” slave whose c.1831 narrative, written down from “her own words”, was instrumental in furthering Britain’s abolitionist movement. This print-based work draws upon early 19th century toy theatricals and their associated printed ephemera, as a site for addressing the “performance” of Creole identity in the circum-Atlantic context through conflation with historical portrait traditions. Mary's story is performed on a replica toy theatre stage using live footage and animated printed / paper components. While the white family members in this "portrait" remain as lifeless card cut-outs, frozen in place and silenced, the black slave girl, Mary, comes alive to theatrically recite her story through song in five Acts. Appearing as a young girl “still innocent of her 'condition' as a slave”, she recounts her painful narrative of abuse at the hands of her owners, and of her struggle to escape slavery, while role-playing with a surrogate doll. A large-scale video projection positioned directly across the room includes a collection of ‘portrait heads’ - witnesses from various time periods who emerge from the darkness to remark on the staged performance. Their comments either confirm or challenge the 'received' history of Prince's slave narrative.