Raising Hercules 'Remembering the Nine'
Location: Ramphal Building Foyer
Raising Hercules is an exhibition by Julia Austin, a postgraduate student with the department of Theatre and Performance Studies. Funded by a Lord Rootes travel scholarship, the exhibition was conceived as a contribution to the nationwide programme of 2007 events that commemorate the bicentenary of the Parliamentary Abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire. Raising Hercules developed out of the artist’s research into the ways in which America is remembering slavery. Basing herself in Philadelphia, the birthplace of American freedom and the ideals of the Founding Fathers, Austin followed the fight for a memorial to mark the brutal truth that at the same time that George Washington supported the Bill of Rights, he kept nine enslaved Africans in America’s first ‘White House’. The exhibition takes its title from the slave name of Washington’s head chef, Hercules. Despite his position as the most famous cook in the country, Hercules desired America’s promise of freedom. In March 1797, he successfully escaped. In the following weeks, Prince Louis-Philippe of France visited Washington. His manservant spoke with Hercules's 6-year-old daughter, and suggested that her father’s absconding must have hurt her. The girl replied, "Oh! Sir, I am very glad, because he is free now." Beginning at the former site of Washington’s Presidential House, Austin traces the ghostly presence of the enslaved nine. The act takes her on a journey that is at once painful and joyful; after taking a tour boat to Washington’s country estate in Virginia, ‘home’ to 316 slaves, she returns to the ‘White House’ via the stories and memories of present day African Americans. Through a combination of poetry and photography, Austin attempts to bear witness to the legacy of the nine.