For SB14, Martiel presents two commissioned projects that further his research on the African diaspora, systems of value and cultural histories. Having previously focused on the impact of the slave trade in the modernisation of Central and South America, the artist has recently turned to scholarship and archival records documenting the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century slave trade and related industries that link East Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.
In Sabor a Lágrimas and Eslabón (both 2019), Martiel explores these subjects in conjunction with pearl diving. On Saturday, 9 March 2019, he presents Sabor a Lágrimas in Bait Obaid Al Shamsi’s madbas, a room once used for pressing dates to produce molasses. Simulating an underwater environment, he restages the act of pearl diving while suspended from the ceiling, performing with the traditional rope and accessories used by divers in their daily work. The physical strain and mental endurance of Martiel’s undertaking commemorate the labour of this historic industry—a major economic driver in the region until the 1930s. Arabic sweets adorned with pearls are offered to spectators in the space.
On the roof of Bait Obaid Al Shamsi, the artist’s second work, Eslabón, is both a performance and installation that involves an accumulation of cage-like traps used for fishing in the Gulf region. Martiel performs the work by placing himself inside one of the fish traps, remaining isolated from spectators, yet still within sight. Here, where city, port and water converge, the artist invites viewers to contemplate the labour that sustains life and establishes maritime culture within a larger history of coastal urbanisation and trade.