The works take as their starting point a pair of Meissen porcelain sweetmeat bowls that are currently on display in a collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum. These were made between 1765–75 and would have, at the time of their production, been considered an artisanal, luxury good, symbolizing the wealth and status of their owner. Visually, they each depict turfy mounds which prop up bowls to hold sugar or sweetened dried fruits, which are in turn flanked by caricatured ‘blackamoor’ figures who gesture towards the food products in the bowls in front of them. These are part of a wider tradition of similar figurines that embody, and silently testify to, financial gain through processes of colonial exploitation.
Ten etching works on steel depict the hands of a selection of these figurines outstretched and frozen in gestures of servitude. These have been appropriated and cropped from a series of photographic images of the sweetmeat bowls and have been reproduced using a process called ‘sugarlift’. This involves the use of a sugar solution to imprint an image onto an etching plate, a process which was developed in Europe in the late 18th century, which approximately coincides with the production period of the sweetmeat bowls. In this case it has been reconfigured by the artist to allow the transfer of photographic images. By focusing on the hands of these figurines, Graham aims to use their gestures as an entry point into a discussion around the history of these objects as manifest in their decorative design.
The audio work comprises a series of edited interviews with eight V&A African Heritage tour guides. Conducted by Graham, these explore the violence of colonial history, what it means to encounter these sweetmeat bowls from today’s perspective, and personal, social and political connotations associated with sugar and sweet treats.
Holly Graham is an artist based in London. Much of her work considers the malleable and subjective nature of individual and collective memory. Bound up in this lies an interest in recording mechanisms, documents, evidence and processes of editing. She undertook her BFA at Oxford University in 2012 and graduated from MA Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in 2014, where she received the Thames Barrier Print Studio Graduate Award and the Augustus Martin Award for Innovation in Print. Concurrent to her studio practice, she leads workshops in schools, community groups and galleries. Recent exhibitions and projects include: On my island none of this would be true, Arebyte, London (2018); After Harry Jacobs: Outside, Cypher Billboard, London (2017); House Work, 53 Back Road, London (2017); Altai: Experiments in Collective Practice, RCA Dyson Gallery, London (2017); Backdrop, Cypher, Berlin / Bond House Projects with Art Licks Weekend, London (2016); Jack Petchey: START Programme, South London Gallery, London (2015-16); In Transit, Art On The Underground, London (2016); Flat-Pack, The Greenroom, Krakow (2015).