Exhibition seeks to spark debate about Mary Slessor

A new art exhibition in Dundee seeks to analyse the significance of Presbyterian missionary Mary Slessor.

It shares her beliefs and motives alongside opinions of her from people in Nigeria, Western Africa where she worked for nearly 40 years and is regarded as a heroine.

Titled She’s Game Boys, the exhibition in Dundee’s waterfront gardens, named after Ms Slessor, has been created by artist David “Cully” McCulloch.

It comprises of 18 billboards.

Mary Slessor Art
An art exhibition is being staged in Dundee to explore the story of Mary Slessor

Mr McCulloch was assisted in research by Dona Robertson, a member of The Steeple Church in the city which bears a bronze plaque to commemorate the missionary’s work.

Born in Aberdeen in 1848, Ms Slessor was a mill girl and unorthodox Sunday school teacher inspired by the legendary explorer, Dr David Livingstone, to work as a missionary in Calabar in 1876.

Determined to overcome the challenges of her early years and largely self-taught, she combined her missionary zeal with a practical approach to helping those in need.

Ms Slessor, who died in 1915 at the age of 67, worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life of people against a background of prejudice and opposition.

Mother of All The Peoples

Despite several bouts of illness and constant danger, she lived with the tribes, learned their language and traditions, earning their respect and putting an end to some barbaric practices, such as the killing of twins.

Ms Slessor adopted some of the twins she saved.

When Southern Nigeria became a British Protectorate, she became the first ever female Magistrate in the British Empire and a skilful diplomatic emissary.

Ms Slessor is remembered as a great Christian woman and someone who became “The Mother of All The Peoples” and lovingly known as “Ma”.

Her image adorns the Clydesdale Bank £10 note and will soon be immortalised in the Hall of Heroes at the Wallace Monument near Stirling.

Mary Slessor
Mary Slessor

Mr McCulloch of Carse of Gowrie said: “This artwork responds to the naming of the gardens after the Christian missionary.

“It reimagines Mary Slessor through the visual trope of a sliding puzzle game.

“Questions are raised about what motivated her to leave Dundee to live and work in Africa and why her intervention to prevent the killing of twins is so significant.”

Renewed meaning

Mr McCulloch said the exhibition title references the stained glass memorial window in the McManus Galleries in Dundee

“It refers to a story about how one night in Dundee, a gang surrounded Slessor in the street,” he explained.

“The leader swung a heavy lead weight on a cord threateningly close to her head.

“As it shaved her brow she stood her ground.

“The lad smiled and exclaimed ‘she’s game, boys’.

Mr McCulloch said the work, part of his Masters Degree in Art, Society and Publics at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, acknowledges the way people read words, history, belief and tradition by giving them renewed meaning in the present.

David Cully McCulloch
David "Cully" McCulloch

Ms Robertson said: “I was really excited when David McCulloch first spoke to me about the art installation and saw how it developed in his mind, and how he expressed his ideas in the work.

“It raised an interesting point about what Mary Slessor and other missionaries did in the Victorian period.

“How their work is now viewed and perceived here in Scotland, and more importantly in Calabar.

“It's wonderful that this art work draws together opinions about Mary from both countries she so loved.”

God

Ms Robertson said she imagined the missionary would be “very confused by all the fuss”.

“Mary Slessor simply saw herself doing what she believed God had called her to do, and would want Him to be honoured, not herself,” she added.

The exhibition is on until Aug 31st and Ms Robertson and Mr McCulloch are taking part in a discussion about the missionary this Sunday at 1.30pm at the site in Slessor Gardens.

Robertson
Dona Robertson