Fort-de-France, 1991

Josephine was the wife of Napoleon I and the first Empress of France after he proclaimed himself Emperor. She was the daughter of a powerful sugar plantation owner in Fort-de-France, Martinique, who claimed ownership of over 300 enslaved people. It is believed that Josephine persuaded Napoleon to re-establish slave labour soon after it was abolished to protect her father’s interests.

Slavery continued for another 50 years. In the mid-1800s, Napoleon III commissioned a monument to Josephine’s memory in Fort-de-France. In 1991, the statue — depicting the Empress holding a locket with Napoleon’s portrait — was beheaded and splashed with red paint, as it remains today.

Sam Durant, Fort-de-France, 1991, (2018) Graphite on paper, 168.9 x 141 cm. © Sam Durant, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Photo: Makenzie Goodman