Sophie Gresswell: On the Wings of a Wirebird

15 Sep-29 Oct 2022


Departure Lounge is delighted to present On the Wings of a Wirebird, a participatory exhibition from multidisciplinary artist Sophie Gresswell.

Based locally in Luton, Gresswell is initiating a year-long international project including a residency on the island of Saint Helena, an overseas British territory in the South Atlantic with a little-known history and small diaspora in the UK. Considering the legacy and history of empire and the Commonwealth, the project will explore themes of identity, mixed heritage and belonging, while also asking what it means to be ‘British’ today.

Inspired by personal history and heritage – the residency is the first time a member of the artist’s family has visited St Helena, since her grandfather migrated to the UK in the 1940s – this project represents the opportunity for Gresswell to reclaim a greater sense of her own identity. It will also develop a wider understanding of the extremely remote island’s largely hidden histories - which include trade links with India and East Asia via The British East India Company, the exile (and later death) of Napoleon in 1815 and later that of Zulu Prince Dinuzulu between 1890 - 97, as well as the shocking unmarked burial site of approximately 8,000 ‘liberated African slaves’ who lost their lives during decades of illegal transatlantic slave trade, which continued beyond abolition in 1807. These unspoken histories form the spine of Gresswell’s project and aim to foster debate and to reframe the complex interconnected heritage of the term ‘British’ both for the artist’s own familial connections and heritage, and for wider communities both home and aboard. Gresswell will produce a publication that will record all stages of the project and act as an archive for both the contributions of her family and the wider public, and their impressions on the undiscussed histories of the island and legacies of empire.

Sophie Gresswell is a multi-disciplinary artist exploring identity and belonging. The purpose of much of Gresswell’s recent work is to visualise a connection between us which transcends our individual lifespan, and amplifies the way our human stories interconnect through generations to bring us to the current moment in time, and inform the very people we are today.

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