Friday, October 19 marked the opening of a new exhibition at the Swedish Church in New York City. “Perpetual Distance” features oils by Elin Juselius, a young woman originally from Östra Grevie, Sweden. Juselius, who is currently pursuing her M.S. in historic preservation at the Pratt Institute, is interested in visually expressing the connection between heritage conservation and the arts. To this exhibition Juselius has brought more than paintings; she has—like any artist worth her salt ought to do—brought a message: the story of the Castle of Elmina and the slave trade of Ghana.

I haven’t been to Ghana and thus have never seen the Elmina Castle, nor had I ever heard of it. Yet, its story is so haunting that it is worth re-telling.
The oldest European building in existence below the Sahara, the castle was erected by the Portuguese in 1482, and with time became one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade. While the upper parts of Elmina housed luxury suites for the Europeans, there were dungeons below, cramped and filthy, in which as many as 200 people were locked in at a time, without enough space to lie down. As a result of centuries of impacted filth and human excrement, the floor of the dungeon is now several inches higher than when it was built.
Juselius went to Ghana last summer and turned what she saw and experienced into art. In one painting, the upper echelon of the castle, with luxuriously heavy red drapes, elegant furnishing and French doors, is juxtaposed with the dark dungeon right below and its ominous “door of no return.” One can imagine the screams from below would sift through and be heard upstairs. It is the only painting in her series from Ghana which does not have the color blue in it.
Juselius began painting as a toddler, and continued doing so throughout her childhood. Eleven years ago, her family, because of her father’s work for Tetra Pak, moved to the U.S., and Juselius has stayed here. She also spent some time in Ireland.
“But I didn’t paint much there, so I thought I’d better get back to New York.”
In June Juselius went to Ghana and was touched not only by the story of the slave trade and the horrific conditions in the castle dungeon, but also by present day Ghana: The fishermen mending their nets on the beach is a beautiful painting, as is another painting of a little boy holding a blue rugby ball.
“He didn’t hold it like most kids would, like a toy, or anything,” Juselius said. “He held it up in front of his face like it was something very precious.”
Commodities like rugby balls aren’t things children play with in Ghana, they are much too expensive for that. In fact, children don’t have toys at all, Juselius said, explaining that she saw a boy on the beach enjoying himself by jumping back and forth over a heap of stones he had built. These boys may in a few years become fishermen.
“The fishermen are young,” Juselius explained. “They cannot be too old because it’s quite a feat to fish there, and they emerge from the water scratched, scarred and chafed. They are looked down upon, the fishermen, even though they do something that’s so important for survival. It takes five months alone to mend the nets.”
In her artist’s statement, Juselius writes: “Distance in time and in space seems to enable a cognitive dissonance. Because 'not knowing better' is not an excuse we can make for the past. During my research I have learned about remarkable 
individuals throughout history, who saw sense and devoted their lives to making others see the truth.”

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“Perpetual Distance” takes a look at not only the past of Ghana, but also the present: Foreign pirate fishing, and a ship full of waste from the west (which most certainly will fill up the countryside). It’s a reminder to all of us to acknowledge the connection to the past and start, much like the fishermen in Juselius’ painting, mending our nets for a brighter future ahead.
“Perpetual Distance” can be seen at the Swedish Church until November 10. All paintings are for sale.
For more information: http://www.svenskakyrkan.se/default.aspx?id=546526