Inside the powerful new educational art initiative spearheaded by Yinka Shonibare

the world reimagined
Yinka Shonibare leads new art initiativeCourtesy

In seven cities across the UK, until the end of October, you will find a series of beautiful globes – each painted by a phenomenal artist. These are not simply gorgeous objects (though they are impressive), nor are they just a pretty public art project; they are the brainchild of The World Reimagined, a new UK-wide charitable art education initiative created to plug the deficit in our understanding of Britain’s role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade – spearheaded by the legendary artist Yinka Shonibare. As we enter Black History Month, these art installations could not be more significant.

The World Reimagined was co-founded by designer Dennis Marcus and actor and singer Michelle Gayle who, watching the events of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, felt a distinct lack of collective comprehension about Britain’s role in the slave trade.

“They felt like it was a big chapter of British history that was just kind of missing,” says the project’s artistic director Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye, who works as the global head of research at renowned architectural firm Adjaye Associates. “They wanted to raise public awareness and were inspired by the Manchester City bombing response, which was a sculpture trail that really brought the community fabric back together. It sparked an idea.”

Photo credit: Marcus J Leith Photographer
Photo credit: Marcus J Leith Photographer

The trail took its shape (quite literally) when Adjaye got Yinka Shonibare on board. The famed artist came up with the globe concept and gave the project its name – when he called his first globe ‘The World Reimagined’. The trail would eventually encompass more than 100 globes, each by a different artist, including Larry Aponsah, Phoebe Boswell, Gabriel Choto and Vashti Harrison.

“The globe is such a significant shape,” says Adjaye. “There is no beginning and there is no end that we are on in this continuum. Thats because the slave trade was one of the earliest real acts of globalisation. I think that's a really critical piece about using the globe – we need to understand how connected we are, and always have been, in this shared history.”

Better understanding of the collective history of the slave trade is one of the most significant facets of the project. “One of the largest goals of this entire project is to really make clear that this is a shared history,” Adjaye explains, aware that this initiative spans Black History Month. “We were asked questions often about why is it not just Black artists, and my response as artistic director was, this is not just Black history. This history is the history of how Black people were enslaved. They are central in that history. But it is not just their history. They didn’t enslave themselves! It is our global history.”

Indeed, Adjaye describes how many Black artists praised the project but declined to participate. “They didn’t want to sit with the trauma and I totally understand that,” she says. She goes on to explain that, actually, some of the most confronting experiences had by the participating artists were white artists uncovering uncomfortable truths. “One of our artists, Gregory Daines, looked into his personal history, and looked at the church where his parents were married. It turns out that that church was deeply involved in the trade and it was a really painful shock for him. That’s why his globe brings in all of this religious symbolism and looks critically at the Church of England.” In many ways, it was the ethos of the project in action.

Photo credit: courtesy
Photo credit: courtesy

Adjaye and her team worked hard on bringing together a group of artists they knew they wanted to work with but were adamant about also having an open call. “That was really the chance to get the whole artistic community involved, whether they were straight out of art school, or had a very established practice,” she says. They also brought over American artists – like Vashti Harrison – and five Caribbean-based artists for three weeks of research and three weeks of production at a residency in Scotland. “That was incredible, having this global perspective, which added another layer to these larger stories.”

Vashti Harrison was one of many artists challenged to participate in a medium not her own. One condition of the project was that all creatives used acrylic paint. Harrison is an acclaimed writer and illustrator – whose forte is children’s books that foreground young Black characters and exceptional Black leaders and visionaries – and who has lent her illustrations to Lupita Nyongo’s series of children’s books. She is not, at her own admission, a natural painter.

“I was terrified!” she tells me. “Literally I had never worked with the materials before. I was very fortunate that the other artists helped get me off the ground running. By the time I was done, I was used to it, but it was such a challenge – a rewarding one though.” Harrison also loved working collectively with other artists, a stark contrast to what she calls the often ‘isolating’ world of her own work. “I got to see what went into all the globes they were making and I think the key thing that came out of it was the conversations that we got to have through it,” she says. “In my globe, I've referenced with these tiny little Easter eggs, these shout outs to different American artists in my work and it was great to share these references with the artists I was working with.”

Harrison’s globe, through her use of children and the promise of a better tomorrow, is one of optimism. “I knew immediately I wanted to make something that felt hopeful,” she says. “I knew there would be globes overtly discussing the transatlantic slave trade with paintings of ships and ropes. Instead, I wanted to bring to life this idea raised by Langston Hughes in his essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain that we can't separate our Blackness our from our art – and, in fact, it's what makes our art unique and special. I wanted to celebrate that.”

Photo credit: courtesy
Photo credit: courtesy

Adjaye tells me she is immensely proud of the finished trail, not least the school’s education project and grassroots activism funding it has raised. It is now a full-blown charity and its legacy looks set to last long after the globes have gone. Adjaye also discusses how interesting it has been to create new monuments of memory at a time where we are readdressing several of our statues.“I think one of the things that this project offers, while they're not permanent, is a way to include more stories in what is monumental,” she says.

The power of art to affect change, or at least to provoke reflection, is the driving force of the entire project. “I love the old analogy that art is either a mirror, a window or a sliding door,” Harrison says. “Mirrors provide a reflection of ourselves, windows let us see outside of our world, and sliding glass doors helps us step outside of our world into someone else's. It can be scary to look into a mirror, it can be scary to look outside the window, and it can be scary to step outside of our own experiences, but I think art is an engaging and welcoming way to do all of that.”

For more information, and to find globes closest to you, visit

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