the sugar archive
Absent Voices has been devised to explore and preserve in words, pictures, song and sound - the legacy of Greenock’s once mighty sugar industry.
The sweet smell of sugar has always been in the air for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my father would come home and discard his dusty white work clothes in the dirty washing, reeking of that unmistakable sweet smell of syrup and molasses. Money was tight but but we never ran short of sugar on our cornflakes or in our tea! I have wanted to dedicate a project to the sugar industry for many years now for personal reasons, but also in recognition of the fact that Inverclyde seems to have forgotten this once mighty industry. Shipbuilding is well documented in local art and history but sugar seems to have fallen silent.
Greenock, or Sugaropolis as it was known, was a key town in the production of sugars and syrups that would end up on the tables of millions of families across the globe. The town boasted 19 refineries at one time and certainly employed a huge amount of people all dedicated to producing our own white gold. The idea for Absent Voices was born out of frustration to redress this silence and I hope that the archive produced through the wonderful work of all the Absent Voices artists will stand as a legacy for future generations.
Each artist has responded in their own very unique way to ideas and visions about what the sugar industry has meant to them. Some have very close associations through personal stories and family connections and others have taken a much broader view, looking at issues to do with slavery and the sugar trade as it once was. The refineries are gone now. The sugar that once flowed through the streets of Inverclyde has ceased to exist. Sugar is now a memory that only comes to mind for some when walking down Jamaica Street or Virginia Street, perhaps pondering the origin of such street names as they go.
It has been a great privilege to be involved in the project and with the wonderful array of talented artists who took part. I hope that the archive goes some way to telling our story and voicing our own personal responses as to how we viewed things from our individual perspectives.