Marcus Wood is a painter, performance artist and film-maker. Since 2003 he has also been Professor of English and Diaspora Studies at the University of Sussex.
For the last thirty years Marcus has been making art and writing books about different ways in which the traumatic memory of slavery and colonization have been encoded in art and literature. His books include Blind Memory Slavery and Visual Representation in England and America (Manchester University Press and Routledge New York, 2000); High Tar Babies - Race, Hatred, Slavery Love (Clinamen Press, 2001;) Slavery, Empathy and Pornography (Oxford University Press, 2003); The Horrible Gift of Freedom Atlantic Slavery and the Representation of Emancipation (University of Georgia Press, 2010) and Black Milk Imagining Slavery in the Visual Cultures of Brazil and America the first big study of the visual slavery propaganda generated by the two biggest slave cultures in the Atlantic Diaspora (OUP May 2013).
Marcus’s latest book is The Black Butterfly: Slavery and Memory in Brazilian Literature (University of Virginia Press October 2019) focuses on the slavery writings of three of Brazil’s literary giants—Machado de Assis, Castro Alves, and Euclides da Cunha. The book ends by setting up a wider literary context introducing a comparative study of two great earlier abolitionists writers Luís Gonzaga Pinto da Gama and Joaquim Nabuco. The Black Butterfly is a revolutionary text that demands that we see how Brazilian culture has always refused a clean break between slavery and its aftermath. Brazilian slavery thus emerges as a living legacy subject to continual renegotiation and reinvention.
Marcus is also currently working on a big project Exploding Archives: Meditations on Slavery, Brazil, America and the limits of cultural memory. The project will result in a monograph, various performances and installations and a film. This work fuses both the academic work and visual art which Marcus has been producing for over three decades on the subjects of Racism, Atlantic Slavery, and the lying construction of the crime of Slavery by the slave powers. This project is important for the following reasons. Firstly it violently denies the adequacy of the extant archive of slavery, and demands that we address ways of incorporating the records and art left by the cultural legacy of the slaves themselves. Secondly it demands the physical and ideological expansion of the parameters of slavery’s memory in to syncretic religions of the Diaspora. Thirdly it exposes the falsity and bad fictions encoded within the extant Colonial archive of slavery. Wood’s new slavery archive warmly embraces pets, cooking, beads, dancing (batucada, jongo, samba, frevo) dolls, dried coprolites, wigs, walking sticks, Frederick Douglass thongs and boxers. This cultural gallimaufry exists outside what might be termed the proper, the paper, or the White Male archive. Exploding Archives is out to celebrate a new inclusive-anarcho-democratic-expanding-slavery-museum.
Follow this link for documentary footage I shot in the Serrinha Favela, Rio de Janeiro, showing the Angolan evolved dance of Jongo and children practicing samba percussion . This film gives an idea of the material and ideas which the new work grows out of.
Marcus Wood’s major art projects, represented in detail on this site are as follows
[Participation in over 50 Group Shows in Africa, Asia, Australia, the Americas and Europe are not listed for reasons of space]:
2000-2002 High Tar Babies The HTB project (sponsored by the AHRB and Elephant Trust) resulted in a one-man show at the Henry Moore Galleries, RCA, installations, a catalogue and a film. HTB concerned contemporary constructions of the ‘tar baby’ myth.
2002-20005 Grubbing Around in Oceanic Ground encompassed a one man exhibition of paintings, prints, drawings and installations at the CSA gallery, Canberra April 2002; the sculpture ‘Six foot under’, now in the Australian National Sculpture Garden, Canberra; the short film ‘Grub the Movie’ supported by the Australian National Film Museum and Archive, Canberra, released 2005.
2006 The Great Blacks in Wax, Baltimore. Documentary, 30 minutes (Bigslugsister Films, 2006 DVD). The film has been screened at conferences and festivals in Baltimore, Padua, Melbourne, Dundee and most recently Rio de Janeiro.
2007 Bat Installation of 12 ft. and 4 ft. wood, gold leaf, and marble dust baseball bats. Performance, ‘Kiss the Bat’ Gardener Centre, University of Sussex. The film Bat released 2008, DVD, Bigslugsister Productions.
2008-9 The Horrible Gift of Freedom. Documentary 45 mins. Covering the events generated in Great Britain, Brazil, France and Ghana around the 2007 bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade.
2009 – 10 Bully Off MJU, Baroda Faculty of Fine Arts, Gujarat. Installation, sculpture, exhibition, performance and film, exploring the icon of the Hockey Stick as a fetish in Indian Culture, and confronting the outfall of the brutal religious riots that took place in Gujarat in 2002. The film Stick was released in 2011.
2013 Swastika Triumphans, 10 performances by Marcus Wood and Hetal Chudasama Paris, Marseilles, Padua, Baroda, Jaipur, Goa reclaiming the Vedic Swastika from Nazi Occupied Europe.
2019 and into the future. Marcus is currently working on a Brazilian project which will use the Sloth the Hammock and the Sedan Chair as its central symbols. All three symbols are used as cultural trauma points to bring into focus the relations between the indigenous populations of Brazil, the European Diaspora and the African Diaspora.