The 'Castaways Project,' an on-going art installation inspired by the coastline of West Africa, was begun in 2003. First exhibited in Accra and in the capital of Ashanti, Kumasi (2004-2005) and then in Palazzo Trinci,Foligno and Corciano in Central Italy.

The first large scale exhbition was shown at the Whitworth Art Gallery at the University of Manchester ( June-July, 2007)and then at the Spoleto International Festival in italy, 2008

The Castaways Project in Manchester:

The Castaways Project is a multimedia installation featuring rows of collaged compositions together with a surround-sound ambient audioscape designed to evoke the waves and shorelines of beach in Ghana, which were departure points for the slave trade. The work has been created by artist Virginia Ryan and musician Professor Steven Feld, in collaboration between The Whitworth Art Gallery and the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester.

The installation is concerned with the memory of gold, slavery, oceans, beaches, people and displacements. The collaged Castaways are each constructed from objects that were once desired and purchased, used and worn, carried and discarded, left to wash out on the tide and then carried back in. These found materials are whitewashed and shot through with grey and gold, reminiscent of the sand and foam on the shorelines where they were collected. Virginia Ryan's use of washed-up objects is about human pasts as well as place, remembering and recording the simple stuff of people's contemporary needs and desires along the one-time Gold Coast of West Africa.

Steven Feld describes his response to the Castaways 'as though I was putting my ear to a huge seashell and listening to the detritus of history'. Composed from recordings made along Anomabo beach, Feld's composition Anomabo Shoreline creates an acoustic memory of where the Gold Coast becomes the Black Atlantic.

The Whitworth Installation exhibits the Castaways as a collective artwork of more than six

hundred pieces, hung close together in rows and surrounded by the aural environment of the shoreline in a continuous wave of memory and repetition.

The exhibition is linked to a series of commissions for the Whitworth, which ask individual artists to respond to the legacy of slavery by creating new work. The project is not simply artistic or academic though; it also aims to bring to the Gallery local communities in Manchester who are affected by the legacy of slavery. In the case of the Ghanaian community the exhibition has special resonance, as this year also marks the 50th anniversary of national independence.

This installation is one of a series of events being held as part of Revealing Histories, to commemorate the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act

For more information and to purchase the publication:

View images in 'The Castaways Project ' Gallery.

From a viewer/blogger at the exhibition:

My reflections:

A long white room with a grey concrete floor. Ceiling sloped like a wave. One wall a brick fa├žade. The opposite, a collection of Virginia Ryan?s Castaways. 11 x 51. Shoes, including a child?s Reebok thong. An abandoned teddy. Dolls? heads and other parts. Combs, toothbrushes, trowels, bottles and other unidentifiable miscellanea. Sandy objects held in a neat white frame, some restricted by the boundary, some moving beyond. And all the while, the sound of waves crashing on the shore, carrying out and washing back up.

It made me think of "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" by T.S. Eliot:

The memory throws up high and dry

A crowd of twisted things;

A twisted branch upon the beach

Eaten smooth, and polished

As if the world gave up

The secret of its skeleton,

Stiff and white.

A broken spring in a factory yard,

Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left

Hard and curled and ready to snap.

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